As the sun rises over the snow capped peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains, Abdul, a local school teacher and volunteer guide points out a mud shack that sits on the edge of the Oxus river.
‘This is the only school in the area’ says the smiling 27 year old- an old man where the life expectancy is as low as 35 years. ‘We teach the local children all the subjects. They especially like history.’
It isn’t surprising when you think that this beautiful and remote valley has been host to some of Asia’s most important developments for over 2000 years. Alexander the Great entered the Wakhan Corridor in his conquest of the unknown world in 326 BC, Marco Polo trekked here on his mission to reach China in the 13th century and the Pamir knot (as the convergence of the Hindu Kush, the Pamir mountains and the Himalayas is known) was the scene of great exploration and political intrigue during the days of the Great Game in the 19th century.
Abdul leads the way along a boulder strewn valley covered with high green grass and buttercups where Yaks munch contentedly, watched over by their nomadic keepers. An ancient mud fort clings to a clifftop reminding the visitor of his ancient predecessors. Further up, as the mountains loom large and the river is reduced to a narrow torrent, toothless herdsmen grin from their Mongolian style Yurts and give a friendly wave. There is no violence here. The Wakhan Corridor is so remote that it has been almost completely ignored for the 20th century. The Russian Army barely bothered with the region and the Taliban have never been here. Ten years of war in Afghanistan might as well be a million miles away. For the local nomads, their valley is virtually an autonomous region, ethnically, linguistically and even religiously distinct from the rest of the country. Their only problems are economic isolation and lack of education and healthcare.
For the past three or four years, the first intrepid adventurers have been enjoying the pristine remoteness of the Wakhan and the generous hospitality of the Wakhi and Kirgiz tribesmen. For the first time in over 30 years, Afghanistan is open to tourists and a trek to the Wakhan is fast becoming the ultimate in remote expeditionary travel. David James, a former British Officer came here in 2009 determined to make a difference. He founded the charity Mountain Unity to support the growth of tourism in the region. James says he became convinced that there would be no peace in the country until Afghans had other methods of generating income other than narcotics, corruption, and insurgency.
He is not alone. Greg Morteson, the bestselling American author (Three cups of tea and Stones into Schools) and mountaineer has been setting up schools in the Wakhan for the past three years after falling in love with the place and the people. More and more travellers are taking advantage of the improved access and peace to be one of the few people to explore the remote area before the tourist hordes arrive to the levels before the civil war. Mountaineers, climbers and ordinary trekkers are all allured by the prospect of an untouched mountain paradise in an enigmatic destination.
A trek in the Wakhan takes in not only some of the most incredible and untouched mountain scenery in the world but also offers a chance to visit Lake Zorkul, one of the famed sources of the Amu Darya or Oxus River. Sitting at over 4000 metres it is a testament to its local name- the roof of the world. Travellers might also witness some of the majestic wildlife- brown bear, wolves, Marco Polo sheep and even snow leopards that inhabit the crags and peaks.
Furthermore, visitors can rest assured that their dollars and pounds are really helping out and injecting some much needed currency into the local economy and encouraging development in this long forgotten land. Abdul stops on a hillock that looks back down the breathtaking valley and smiles. ‘We don’t want sympathy, we just want to share this wonderful place with new visitors.’
Levison Wood is a former British Officer and has worked and travelled in Afghanistan over the past 7 years. He currently runs the pioneering expeditionary service Secret Compass and plans to lead a team into the Wakhan in July 2011. He is currently seeking volunteers to join the expedition. For more information see www.secretcompass.com
In response to increased numbers requesting travel arrangements in exotic parts of China, Far East specialists Bamboo Travel have created two ground breaking tours of the South West province of Yunnan.
“The Burma Road & Tropics of Yunnan” tour explores the historic town of Tengchong in the western corner of Yunnan province in an area blistered by volcanoes, hot springs and volcanic lakes. Located on the old Southwestern Silk Route the town was a gateway for traders from Sichuan destined for markets in Afghanistan and India.
Dotted around town are relics from the days of the “Flying Tigers,” a group of American fighter pilots who flew over the treacherous Gaoligong mountain range to protect the “Burma Road” military supply route from Japanese forces during World War II.
The tour includes a visit to the nearby Gaoligong Mountains Nature Reserve which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its immense biodiversity.
After visiting Dali and Lijiang the tour heads over the Tropic of Cancer to the Southeast Asian region of Xishuangbanna bordering Laos and Myanmar, an exotic area of China rich in colourful minority villages, bustling local markets and lush rainforests.
The end point of Deqin is a time-forgotten corner of China bordering Eastern Tibet lying under the shadow of the Buddhist holy mountain Kawa Karpo, considered to be one of the most sacred mountains in the Himalayas after Mount Kailash. Highlights along the way include time in the Bai minority heartland of Dali, an overnight stay in a rural Yunnan village, foraging for the highly sought after Pine Mushroom (July to September only), exploring the beautiful cobbled town of Lijiang, and a spectacular two day trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Dubai, U.A.E – Underlining their relentless commitment to offering the best inflight entertainment in the air, Emirates has won the ‘World’s Best Airline Inflight Entertainment’ award for the sixth year running at the 2010 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
Emirates faced stiff competition from other leading airlines to win the accolade at the 2010 Skytrax World Airline Awards which took place in Hamburg on 20th May, 2010.
In an extremely competitive marketplace where many airlines are spending significant sums in their inflight entertainment (IFE) products, Emirates has maintained its leadership position by concentrating on technical innovation and quality content. Since developing ice (information, communications and entertainment), its ground-breaking audio and video-on-demand system, in late 2003, Emirates has continually improved and expanded its IFE offering and has become the benchmark for all other airlines.
Patrick Brannelly, Emirates’ Vice President Corporate Communications (Product, Publishing, Digital & Events), who received the award, said: “When we won this prestigious award for the fifth time in a row last year we knew that we could not rest on our laurels, and we immediately focused on improving ice even further. We’re thrilled that so many Emirates passengers have recognised this by voting for us.”
ice, which is available on over 80 per cent of the Emirates fleet, offers a staggering choice of up to 1200 channels of entertainment including 230 movies from around the world.
In 2009-2010 Emirates selected movies from over 15 countries that were available in over 20 languages, as well as many with the option to choose Closed Captions for the hard of hearing, still a first in the airline industry.
Since becoming the first airline in the world to install TVs on every seat, on every aircraft in 1992,
Emirates has made significant investments to offer the widest range of entertainment to passengers.
Edward Plaisted, Skytrax Chairman said: “Emirates continues to excel in this category, and yet again are a repeat winner of the Best Airline Inflight Entertainment Award.
This aspect of the travel experience gains in importance each year as customers become more demanding, and Emirates are clearly matching these expectations to have been voted the world’s best by passengers.”
The awards follow a 10 month survey between July 2009 and April 2010 of 17.9 million air travellers from over 100 different nationalities.
The survey measures over 38 different items of customer satisfaction for each airline’s product and service standards.
Priority Pass, the world’s leading independent airport lounge programme, announces the addition of six new lounges in the Middle East to its worldwide portfolio, making it even more attractive to frequent travellers in the region.
The addition of five new lounges in Saudi Arabia, covering Damman, Jeddah and Riyadh, as well as another in Abu Dhabi, means that coverage is even more comprehensive in the region.
Members of Priority Pass can use any of the lounges in the programme whenever they travel, regardless of which airline or which class of travel they are flying.
For members in the Middle East, this means that virtually all major city airports in the region have lounges available for their use, together with over 600 lounges at airports throughout the world.
Priority Pass now includes the following lounges in the Middle East:
Bahrain Bahrain Dilmun Lounge
Jordan Amman Crown Lounge
Kuwait Kuwait Kuwait Airways Lounge
Lebanon Beirut Cedar Lounge
Oman Muscat Oman Air Lounge
Qatar Doha The Oryx Lounge
Saudi Arabia Damman Al-Fursan Golden Lounge New for 2010
Jeddah North Terminal First Class Lounge
South Terminal Al-Fursan Golden Lounge New for 2010
Al-Fursan Golden Lounge New for 2010
Riyadh Terminal 1 First Class Lounge
Terminal 2 Al-Fursan Golden Lounge New for 2010
Terminal 3 Al-Fursan Golden Lounge New for 2010
UAE Abu Dhabi Main Terminal Al Ghazal Lounge
Airport Hotel Lounge
Dana Lounge New for 2010
Terminal 2 Al Ghazal Lounge
Dubai Terminal 1 Dubai International Business Class Lounge
Terminal 3 Marhaba Lounge
Sharjah First and Business Class Lounge
Soukalin Ghosh, responsible for Priority Pass business development and marketing in the region, commented, “Priority Pass has an outstanding selection of lounges across the Middle East, and adding six more for 2010 makes it an even more comprehensive selection,”
“Priority Pass membership is not only attractive to individual frequent flyers, but also to banks, telecom companies and others who wish to offer a powerful and highly-valued incentive to attract new customers to premium products, and to build loyalty among existing customer base.”
As Sofitel prepares to open the new 438-room Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach this summer, the French-based company proudly announces five additional properties that will strengthen the brand’s worldwide portfolio.
In the Unit-ed Arab Emirates, the brand is developing the Sofitel Dubai Sheikh Zayed Road and the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Capital Plaza. In China, three new contracts have been signed in the country’s eastern and southeastern regions. These five new Sofitel properties are already under construction and scheduled to begin opening at the end of 2010.
These openings will bring a total of 2,000 additional rooms to the hotel’s prestigious pres-ence in these regions.
“The signing of these five contracts is a significant stage in Sofitel’s development across these two regions of the world,” said Robert Gaymer-Jones, COO Sofitel Worldwide. “It is evidence of our dynamic growth despite the current economic situation and of the appeal of the brand’s new positioning to investors.”
- In the United Arab Emirates:
Sofitel Dubai Sheikh Zayed Road is located on the city’s main thoroughfare with a view of the Burj Dubai Tower, just a short walk from the Dubai Mall shopping center.
The hotel boasts 435 guestrooms and suites, 147 apartments with services and various facilities in-cluding restaurants, bars, a fitness club and large sauna, two pools, a ballroom and several meeting rooms.
Comprehensive facilities for business meetings and close proximity to the Dubai International Financial Center and the Dubai World Trade Center will position the ho-tel as a prime option for the MICE market (meetings, incentives, conferences, events). The hotel is scheduled to open by 2012.
Sofitel Abu Dhabi Capital Plaza is currently under construction and will welcome guests in 2010 to a beautifully refurbished building. It will feature 233 guestrooms and 47 suites, a fit-ness club and sauna, a pool, restaurants, bars, several meeting rooms and the “Millesime Club” executive lounge on the top two floors with sea views. The hotel is located at the tip of the main island of Abu Dhabi, on the Corniche – one of the oldest districts and a major at-traction in the city.
The hotel will appeal to leisure travelers for its sea views and exceptional character, and business executives for the neighboring central business district.
Sofitel is continuing development in the region, with five other hotels currently under con-struction: the Sofitel Karachi Clifton in Pakistan, the Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Beach Resort in Bahrain and the Sofitel Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia. In September 2009, the Sofitel Dubai Ju-meirah Beach and the future Sofitel Dubai Palm Jumeirah Resort & Spa will open in Dubai.
Located close to Jinan next to the city’s business district, the Sofitel Qingdao will provide 231 guestrooms and suites decorated by Leo Design Bangkok, a fitness club (So Fit), a spa (So Spa), an indoor pool, an outdoor pool on the beach and shops. For business, the hotel will feature adaptable space, a ballroom, several meeting rooms, a business center and a convention center close to the beach.
Sofitel Dongguan (Southern China)
The Sofitel Dongguan West is located in the business district of Huanghe, not far from Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The hotel’s dining facilities will include the Lobby lounge, a tea room, a Chinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and a Western restaurant. The hotel will offer 443 guestrooms including 85 suites, a ballroom, several meeting rooms, a business center, a fitness club (So Fit), spa, indoor pool and shops.
Sofitel Guangzhou (Southern China)
Between Macau and Hong Kong, the Sofitel Guangzhou Sunrich will be strategically located at the heart of Tianhe, the busiest central business district in Guangzhou.
With 496 rooms including 46 suites, the hotel will provide a variety of adaptable space, a ballroom, several meeting rooms and a business center. Leisure travelers will be pampered with a fitness club (So Fit), spa (So Spa), indoor pool, beauty parlor, game-room and pool-room.
Air Arabia, the first and largest low cost carrier in the Middle East, and Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB), the largest Islamic bank in UAE, announced today (4 July) the launch of a new ticket payment method for Air Arabia customers via DIB’s electronic banking channel.
Easy payments for Air Arabia tickets can now be made from the comfort of one’s home anywhere in the world through DIB’s Al Islami online banking services.
Earlier this year, Air Arabia and DIB, signed an agreement to provide a fast and convenient ticket payment facility for Air Arabia customers. DIB is currently in the process of enabling Air Arabia payments through the bank’s e-channel network, including mobile banking, phone banking, Cash Deposit Machines (CDM), and Automated Teller Machines (ATM).
Ali Al Hamdany, Director of IT and Corporate Projects, Air Arabia, said: “We are delighted to announce the new service. This step further enhances the ease and convenience we offer to our customers seeking to travel to the 46 destinations we serve worldwide.
In a highly competitive market, excellence in service, innovation and outstanding customer service play a significant role for a fast-growing airline like Air Arabia. This new payment service in conjunction with DIB will enable our customers to choose from a range of destinations and holiday packages from the comfort of their homes.”
Musabbah Al Qaizi Head of Electronic Banking, DIB, said: “DIB’s strengthened partnership with Air Arabia is a testament to our commitment to provide value-added services for our customers. Air Arabia and DIB customers can now make their Air Arabia tickets payment through Al Islami online banking,. DIB’s partnership network is growing steadily and now includes alliances with numerous reputed companies and service providers. DIB continues to assess opportunities and add more electronic services, demonstrating our commitment to provide our client with unmatched services.”
Air Arabia (PJSC), listed on the Dubai Financial Market, is the Middle East and North Africa’s leading low-cost carrier (LCC). Air Arabia commenced operations in October 2003 and currently operates a fleet of 16 new Airbus A320 aircraft, serving 46 destinations across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Central Asia through its main hub in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Air Arabia recently started operations from its second hub at Mohamed V Airport, Casablanca, Morocco, through the launch of Air Arabia Maroc, a joint venture company and Morocco’s newest low-cost airline. Air Arabia Maroc offers service to a wide range of European and African destinations.
Air Arabia is an award-winning airline that focuses on offering comfort, reliability and value-for-money air travel. For further information, please visit: www.airarabia.com
About Dubai Islamic Bank: Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB), established in 1975, is the first Islamic bank to have incorporated the principles of Islam in all its practices and is the largest Islamic bank in the UAE. DIB is a public joint stock company, and its shares are listed on the Dubai Financial Market. The bank enjoys a reputation as a leader and innovator in maintaining the quality, flexibility and accessibility of its products and services.
The bank currently operates 57 branches in the UAE. As part of its expansion plans announced in early 2009 and in line with its aim to ensure customer satisfaction through accessibility, DIB will increase its nationwide network to 64 branches by the end of this year. In addition to regular, full-service branches, DIB is also planning to launch Express Banking Centres, which will provide fast, efficient services to DIB customers at various convenient locations like shopping malls, hypermarkets and megastores
By the end of 2009, DIB forecasts that the bank’s total customer base will increase by approximately 15 per cent, reaching some 900,000 customers, while its retail assets business will grow by approximately 20 per cent.
DIB has been proactive in creating partnerships and alliances at both the local and international level. The bank has established DIB Pakistan Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary. DIB has also opened its first representative office in Turkey to enhance its access to that market. DIB has also acquired a stake in Al Khartoum Bank and in Emirates and Sudan Bank, as well as contributing to the launch of Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank.
DIB has won the respect of its peers around the world for many years, and its leading position has been reaffirmed by the 34 awards that it has won in 2008 across diversified areas within banking, be it retail, corporate or investment banking. The bank was recently named “Best Islamic Bank” for the 4th consecutive year by Banker Middle East magazine. DIB has also received many awards from international organisations, such as the prestigious “Bank of the Year” award from The Banker (Financial Times), along with prestigious accolades from UK based Euromoney and NY based Global Finance magazines.
The Age reports that AirAsia X’s CEO Azran Osman-Rani said a location had already been chosen in a Gulf state but that it would not be disclosed for several weeks.
“This will open up completely new markets, and we won’t always have to have the planes based in Kuala Lumpur, which limits us to an eight-hour radius,” Azran told reporters.
“There will be many in the aviation industry who think this is crazy because the traditional low-cost model is to do only point-to-point flights… to keep it simple,” he said.
Azran said AirAsia X would hire existing services for cargo, catering and maintenance.
Initially, the carrier will operate flights from Kuala Lumpur to the Middle East hub, before branching out next year by using it to jump to destinations that could include Morocco, Turkey, Spain or the Czech Republic.
Azran said the plan was also triggered by potential problems accommodating new aircraft, amid doubts that Malaysia’s airports authority will complete a new low-cost carrier terminal in Kuala Lumpur by 2011 as scheduled.
Dubai, UAE, 7th May 2009: Hertz, the world’s largest car rental firm, is to open its first Middle East corporate office in Dubai as part of a new regional investment programme.
Michel Taride, President of Hertz Europe Ltd and Executive Vice President of Hertz Corporation, announced the move today during his first visit to the UAE when he also outlined plans to increase support to the Middle East’s 11 Hertz franchisees.
“We will be taking steps to set up the Dubai office over the next few months and it will officially open on 1st January 2010,” said Taride, who has been present this week at the Hertz stand at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“It is part of our three to five-year Middle East investment plan which is designed to deliver increased support to our franchises and other partners in the region.
“The new corporate operation will be headed by a regional commercial director, and we are also in the process of identifying an experienced regional sales manager.
He added: “We have a good deal of new business in the pipeline in the Middle East and we are taking steps to ensure that the Hertz brand is in the best position for growth and strong performance once the market bounces back from the effects of the global economic crisis.”
“We see the Middle East is an increasingly important market and want to bring more of the innovative services and technology that we have already introduced elsewhere in the world to this region,” he said.
Taride took a break from Arabian Travel Market yesterday afternoon to visit Hertz UAE’s headquarters in Rashidiya.
Hertz UAE, which is part of the Al Futtaim group of companies and has been in operation since 1993, provides a comprehensive range of car rental and leasing services and runs a nationwide network of 13 outlets in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah
At Arabian Travel Market Hertz UAE has been promoting new pre-paid outbound car rental packages for holiday makers heading overseas this summer as well as attractive monthly rental deals for local residents who want to avoid the hassle and expense of buying cars.
Last night Taride outlined the Hertz regional investment plans to regional franchisees and other Middle East business partners at a cocktail reception at the Burj Al Arab.
Fifth Arabian Hotel Investment Conference
Madinat Jumeirah Convention Centre
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
May 2-4 2009
Dubai, April 2009: Arabia continues to remain a favourite among investors and operators in the tourism and hospitality sector, in particular those in the budget segment, according to Jonathan Worsley, co-organiser of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.
Worsley, co-organiser the event, now in its fifth year, said that industry figures show that the region is still considered a hot-spot, although 10 and 20 per cent of the 500-plus planned hotel projects in GCC have been put on hold.
“Recent numbers issued by Jones Lang LaSalle estimates that 680,000 new hotel rooms will enter the market next year in the greater Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) – compared to an original prediction of more than 800,000. It seems that many are jumping on the budget hotel bandwagon that is sweeping through the GCC.
Worsley suggested that budget hotels are set to revolutionise the scale of choice for the consumer and open up new market categories for business and leisure travel.
He noted that Emirates and Whitbread Hotels have entered into a joint venture, with the Premier Inn brand and plan to operate three hotels in Dubai later this year.
Darroch Crawford, Managing Director Premier Inn, said that the launch had been well received. “The limited-service hotel sector presents the best opportunity in the hospitality sector in these times as even more individuals, and certainly most businesses, look for value for money. We are offering guaranteed consistency at a low price that will be in big demand.
“Lower operating costs allow budget hotels to make excellent returns, even at modest occupancy levels. There are good investment opportunities, particularly as land and construction costs are returning to more realistic levels. The best opportunities lie in GCC capital cities where the limited-service sector currently has little or no representation.”
Crawford’s view is echoed by Sami A Ansari, CEO of Ishraq Gulf Real Estate, the developer behind Holiday Inn Express. Ansari said that his hotels in Dubai have outperformed the market occupancy average in the city by as much as 15 percent in the past four months.
“Budget hotels have historically been shown to be recession resilient. The model continues to generate targeted profits for investors, as they operate on much lower margins than their full service rivals,” he said.
“We will continue our development of the Holiday Inn Express brand in the region at full speed. We are opening of our fourth property near Dubai airport this summer. Construction is at full speed in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Fujairah and Doha.”
Other low cost brands announced for the region include Hilton’s Garden Inn in Saudi Arabia, easyHotels in Dubai and Rotana’s Centro in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“Despite the spread of budget and mid-market hotels, top names are still being attracted to the region to plant their flag,” said Worsley.
“We have seen names such as W debut in Doha. Radisson’s Missoni will open one of its first two hotels in Kuwait and has recently announced a second resort in Oman, while Langham and Taj both have projects in Doha.
Another new player, The Address Hotels & Resorts from Emaar, is looking both in the GCC and in North Africa in its initial expansion phase. According to CEO, Marc Dardenne, brand distinction will be an imperative for survival for all existing and new players in the hospitality sector.
“The region has varied drivers including leisure and business tourism. The MICE sector will contribute immensely in the coming months. All new players must identify their niche and create properties that are focused on specific sectors.”
In addition, the 2009 conference includes a half-day summit on Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference is organised by Bench Events and MEED Events. Details can be found on www.arabianconference.com
• The hospitality sector has scaled back its Middle East ambitions with planned construction down 10 percent since the financial crisis hit and more declines ahead, according to a new report by Lodging Econometrics.
• The delay rate for projects earmarked for completion by 2015 could be as high as 40 per cent, according to an industry report by global hotel investment services firm Jones Lang LaSalle Hotel.
Blue and Silver SIRIUS card holders staying at any Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts worldwide will receive Gold member benefits during their stay including an upgrade to the next room category, access to the Club Executive Lounge and facilities, daily complimentary breakfast in any of our breakfast restaurants and a complimentary late check out until 2.00pm. This offer also includes complimentary airport transfers, daily newspaper, free internet access and 10% food discount on any of the hotel’s restaurants.
Gold SIRIUS card holders staying at any Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts worldwide will get 20% food discount on any of the hotel’s restaurants plus 2000 bonus points credited to their SIRIUS account in addition to the standard Gold benefits.
Validity: Until – 20th April 2009
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