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Oman asks tourists to apply for visas in advance

Monitoring Desk

MUSCAT: After revising its visa policies last year, Oman is now specifying that visitors to the country will need to apply for visas a week in advance of travel.

“It is recommended to have the application sent at least one week before you travel,” the Royal Oman Police said in a statement reproduced by The Times of Oman.

The directive applies to those applying for tourist and express visas which need to be used “one month from the date of issue,” according to the statement.

In an attempt to streamline how it processes applications, in March last year, Oman introduced an e-visa system, specifying that both classes of visas will need to be applied for online and applications “and will not be received at the visa service desks”.

Visa application fees for visitors from outside the GCC were also increased from OR5 (AED47) to OR20.

Courtesy: (

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Sabah hits record-breaking tourism numbers

Monitoring Desk

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s tourism industry registered its highest-ever tourism receipts last year, booking RM8.342 billion from a record-high 3.879 million arrivals.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew said figures represented a 5.3 per cent increase in tourists and 6.6 per cent in income compared to 2017’s RM7.83 billion.

“Overall international arrivals recorded an increase of 10.2 per cent while domestic arrivals increased by 2.8 per cent,” said Liew, citing statistics compiled by the Sabah Tourism Board (STB) that is under her Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry.

Liew said visitors from China, Sabah’s top international source, surpassed its half-million mark with  593,623 arrivals last year.

As of December 2018, there were 125 direct weekly direct flights from China into Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).

South Korea came in second with an increase of 8.5 per cent for a total of 337,100 visitors while the Singapore market grew by 9.1pc last year.

“I am very pleased with our performance in 2018. It was a very good year for Sabah. As of today, we are now connected to 26 international destinations by 12 foreign carriers.

“We will be emphasising more on domestic tourism into Sabah since we have opened up many new tourism areas in the state’s interior and the east coast,” she said in a statement here today.

Liew also said that there were currently 444 flights connecting Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak, and Labuan to Sabah, with a capacity of close to 75,000 seats weekly, reflecting the further potential of the sector.

Last year, Sabah added 19 more new direct international flights including the reinstatement of the Kota Kinabalu-Bangkok flight by the Thai wing of AirAsia.

“The rest of the services connected Sabah to international cities such as Beijing, Xiamen, Fuzhou (Xiamen Air), Singapore and Wuhan (Malindo Air), Shenzhen (China Southern Airlines, AirAsia), Macau and Kunming (AirAsia) and Muan (Jeju Air). Tawau too is expanding its connectivity with a direct flight to Kuching.

“2018 was also a significant year for charter flights as Sabah airports (KKIA and Sandakan) welcomed a total of 343 non-scheduled flights compared with 215 the year before,” she said, adding the charter flights brought passengers from China, South Korea and Japan.

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Chinese tourists visit museum, historic sites in Peshawar

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR: A 15-member delegation of tourists from China on Tuesday visited the Peshawar Museum and other historic places in the city.

The tourist delegation comprising men and women evinced a keen interest in the findings and discoveries of Buddhism and Buddhist heritage.

Upon their arrival, the officials of the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) welcomed the Chinese tourists.

They briefed the visiting dignitaries on the archaeological sites in Peshawar, Buddhism, a gallery of Buddhist statues, antiques and artifacts.

They said there were over 6,000 archaeological and heritage sites in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where research was being carried out to revive these sites properly.

“The followers of Buddhism would find a treasure trove of Buddhist statues and heritage after thorough research and revival of these sites,” the officials told the delegation.

They said that the visit of foreign tourists was meant to highlight the importance of heritage and archaeological sites related to Buddhism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa besides promoting religious tourism in the province.

The KP government has taken a number of steps for attracting foreign tourists, scholars and researchers to the province, the delegation was told.

The officials said a comprehensive policy had been evolved for preserving and protecting the archaeological sites and places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

They informed the tourists about the initiatives being taken for carrying out the excavation on archaeological sites along modern techniques and methods.

The officials mentioned about the latest discoveries and the rich Gandhara heritage in various parts of the province.

“The government is giving top priority to repair, renovation and preservation of archaeological heritage, and historical buildings in the province,” the officials said.

They said that a plan had been chalked out to protect and preserve all ancient places and building in a proper manner.

They expressed the hope that the visit would provide an opportunity to the visiting tourists of the delegation to share their experiences and knowledge among archaeologists and researchers, which could be beneficial for excavations on archaeological sites and historic buildings.

The delegation also visited historic Masjid-e-Mahabat Khan, Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Sarafa Bazaar (Andar Shehr), Ghanta Ghar, Chowk Yadgar and other sites in the city.

The foreign visitors said that Peshawar was a historic and safe city.

They said the people of Peshawar and elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were hospitable and friendly.

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Turkish tourism sector eyes international congresses

ANKARA (AA): Timur Bayındır, head of the Hotel Association of Turkey (TÜROB) told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview that the country and its most popular touristic destination Istanbul will reenter the routes to international events this year.

“Congress tourism requires long-term planning, as the proposals for the organizations to be held in 2021 and 2022 have already been received,” Bayındır said.

“Turkey will return to its former world ranking position if we don’t experience any negativity in the next 2-3 years,” he said.

Pointing the development of congress tourism in Turkey in the last decade, Bayındır said: “In 2013, which was a record-year, Turkey hosted 221 international meetings to become the 18th country in the world.”

He noted that the leading countries in this field are the U.S., Germany, and the U.K., while the prominent cities are Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, and London.

Turkey has no security issue      

“Turkey suffered from the cancellation of many approved organizations over the past three years following a fabricated negative security perception.

“As of 2016, the country lost its place in the top 10 and Istanbul couldn’t hold its rank among the first 20 cities in the world,” Bayındır said.

TÜROB’s head stressed that there is no security issue in Turkey, where the quality of service/accommodation is first-class.

“Increasing tourism revenue is more important than tourist numbers,” he said. “We have not yet reached the desired price levels compared to European cities.”

To promote congress tourism, Bayındır suggested that value-added tax exemptions on international events would be beneficial for attracting visitors with high-income level.

Last year, Turkey welcomed 39.5 million foreign visitors, as the country’s tourism revenues reached $29.5 billion.

‘Bleisure’ gives Turkey advantages

Selçuk Boynueğri, vice chairman of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), told Anadolu Agency that Turkey will see a recovery in congress tourism sector which was negatively affected by political incidents.

“Leading international congresses will be held in Turkey this year and in the upcoming years,” Boynueğri said.

He pointed out that congress tourism yields more revenue compared to individual and package tours.

“The world average congress delegate expenditure is around $2,200 per events.

“If Turkey’s congress tourism income rises to the world average, it can give acceleration in the general tourism revenues,” he said.

Boynueğri noted that more than half of international congresses and meetings are held in Europe.

Asserting the shining trend of “bleisure” – the combination of business and leisure trips – Boynueğri said this concept gives Turkey advantages to be preferred.

“Turkey’s historical, cultural and natural beauties along with the technological infrastructure of hotels, congresses and event centers may make the country a key destination in this field,” he added.

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New Zealand tourism faces Huawei backlash from China

Monitoring Desk

SYDNEY/HONG KONG: New Zealand has felt the wrath of China, its largest export market and second largest source of foreign tourists, with many scholars calling it a backlash for the South Pacific country’s snubbing of Huawei Technologies.

Earlier this week Beijing abruptly announced it had postponed a tourism event scheduled for next week in Wellington. Although the event, meant to usher in a “year of tourism,” had been in the works for years, Beijing cited a scheduling snafu for the postponement.

The announcement, which came earlier this week, pricked the attention of New Zealand, which received almost 350,000 Chinese holidaymakers in the year through this past October, an 11.7% increase from the previous 12 months, according to Tourism New Zealand. The rate of increase is higher than that for tourists from any other country.

New Zealand’s tourism industry is “poised to take a large financial loss,” says a report published this week in the Global Times, a tabloid that is part of the People’s Daily media group, a Chinese Communist Party organ. “New Zealand’s strained political relationship with China — following the ban of Huawei from building part of its 5G networks — is costing the country more than it can afford.”

The tabloid, known for promoting Chinese nationalism, quoted an outraged Beijing tourist who canceled his 15,000-yuan ($2,200) trip to New Zealand. “Is it a kind of robbery? New Zealand stabbed us in the back but asks for our money?”

International tourism contributed 17.4% to New Zealand’s total goods and services exports, according to official statistics in 2016. The sector directly employs 7.5% of the New Zealand workforce, and China is the country’s second largest source of tourists, after Australia.

“Tourism could have an imminent impact,” said Yuan Jingdong, an associate professor at the University of Sydney who specializes in Chinese defense and foreign policy. This impact will not only hit tourism, he said, but other sectors will likely have some time before they are affected.

The postponement of the tourism show and other little-explained happenings are “clearly expressions of deep annoyance in Beijing about Wellington’s growing China wariness and more public criticism of Chinese policy,” Yuan said.

He added that New Zealand’s decision to cancel Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G network is seen as a “direct rebuke of China,” seriously harming China’s economic interests and tarnishing Huawei’s reputation.

“The irony of all of this,” Yuan said, “is New Zealand, like Canada, has been one of the few Western countries that have adopted an open and friendly attitude toward [China], hoping that economic interactions and people-to-people contacts help narrow, not widen, the gap between the [countries].”

While Chinese tourists can be an important source of revenue for the countries they visit, they also sometimes act in accordance with Chinese foreign policy.

About three years ago, after Taiwanese voters replaced a president who was friendly toward China with an independent-minded leader, the number of Chinese tourists to the island dropped precipitously. South Korea suffered a similar falloff after it deployed U.S. antimissile batteries equipped with radar capable of peering into Chinese airspace.

It was late November when New Zealand at least temporarily blocked Huawei from selling next-generation 5G technology to a cellphone service provider in the country.

The little-explained events began shortly thereafter. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was scheduled to visit China late last year, but Beijing called off the trip.

Last weekend, more than four hours into its journey to Shanghai, an Air New Zealand flight made a U-turn and returned to Auckland. The flag carrier said improper paperwork was to blame; news reports have cited the airliner’s references to Taipei, the capital of what China regards as a renegade province.

Other New Zealand industries also have exposure to China, the largest buyer of the country’s goods. According to New Zealand government data, the value of exports to China, mostly dairy products and timber, came to 15.3 billion New Zealand dollars (US$10.44 billion) in the year through last March.

“Was the plane turnaround politics or poor paperwork? We might never know,” said David Capie, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. “The deniability of this kind of retribution is part of what makes it an appealing tool. But when you suddenly have multiple problems and ‘scheduling issues’ cropping up all across the relationship like this, you know something’s gone badly wrong.”

Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who studies Chinese diplomacy, said giving in to paranoia regarding China serves little purpose.

“Trade and tourism figures are strong and have increased significantly in the last year,” she wrote in an email. “This is what we should be focusing on, not trying to read the tea cups as to whether the Air NZ plane being turned back or other small events add up to a deliberate snub.”

Brady has been in the news recently. Beginning in late 2017, after she published a paper on the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the Pacific, she had her office broken into twice, her house burglarized and her car damaged. She also received a threatening letter and anonymous phone calls. A detailed police investigation has turned up no leads.

Prime Minister Ardern has remained neutral regarding what China’s intentions might be. On Tuesday, she told a TV interviewer that her trip to China has yet to be rescheduled. She also described New Zealand’s relationship with China as “complicated.”

“There is no doubt the relationship comes with its challenges as our relationships with a range of countries will from time to time,” she said.

The New Zealand government denies politics was involved in the postponements of Ardern’s visit and the tourism event.

But politics, at least domestic politics, is at play. The prime minister is getting push back from the country’s largest opposition party. Simon Bridges, the leader of the New Zealand National Party, said the Sino-New Zealand relationship is “steadily deteriorating” under the Ardern administration.

And the politics of security is at the root of the deteriorating ties. New Zealand is part of the intelligence-sharing alliance known as The Five Eyes. It says it moved against Huawei due to a “significant” security risk. The U.S., also a Five Eyes partner, has been beating the drum about the potential of Huawei 5G hardware being used to funnel information to Beijing. Now New Zealand has come down on the side of its intelligence-sharing partner in the Huawei debate.

The country of less than 5 million people is also reinforcing its support of smaller South Pacific nations due to its concern about China’s growing presence in the region.

Capie, the Victoria University researcher, said the rift in the countries’ relationship has been growing for a while now.

“There’s no doubt,” he said, that New Zealand’s “coalition government [has brought matters to a head with its] sharper tone on defense policy, on [the Belt and Road Initiative], Huawei and the way [Wellington] has framed its Pacific policy as pushing back against China.

“I think there’s more stormy weather to come. Beijing sees the Huawei issue as a global one, and I think will treat a confirmed ban on using Huawei in 5G as an indication of how New Zealand sees its wider China relationship going. It won’t buy the line it’s just a technical, not a political, decision. I can’t see the decision changing, so I think things are likely to get worse before they get better.”

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Hidden village carved into mountain in Oman

Monitoring Desk

OMAN: It is one of the most remote villages in one of the most remote countries, but the settlement of Al Sogara in Oman has survived over 500 years.

Carved into the limestone, this tiny community of 25 clings to the edge of the 2980m Green Mountain.

The villagers have descended from the Alshariqi tribe from Jordan over 1000 years ago.

People have lived in Al Sogara for over 500 years.

Al Sogara has remained virtually untouched for centuries; foreigners were banned until 2005 as it used to be in the centre of a military zone. Now the basics of modern life have finally caught up.

It is described as the most remote village in the region.

.Courtesy: (

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Rapid rise of Cannabis related tourism helps fuel market growth

Monitoring Desk

COLORADO: Tourism is one of the major economic drivers for many countries. Many tourists travel aboard for vacations to see dazzling landscapes and bustling city-life and in turn, tourism drives revenue for many businesses such as food, retail, and hospitality, but now it is also helping bolster the cannabis industry.

For example, countries such as Spain and Canada allow for personal consumption and sales of cannabis in licensed facilities. However, U.S. states are also expected to witness strong cannabis sales due to tourism. Colorado, which saw 82.4 million travelers in 2016, is among the very few regions to legalize cannabis entirely.

A survey conducted by Colorado Tourism reported that the 12 million or approximately 15% of those travelers participated in marijuana-related activities. Among that group, it was reported that 5% traveled to the state specifically for marijuana reasons. The staggering number of visitors who traveled to Colorado and purchased cannabis-related products suggests that tourism is helping revenue growth in the market.

According to data compiled by Grand View Research, the global marijuana market was valued at USD 9.3 Billion in 2016 and is expected to reach USD 146.4 Billion by the end of 2025. Additionally, the market is projected to register a robust CAGR of 34.6% throughout the forecast period from 2018 to 2025. Weekend Unlimited Inc. (OTC:  WKULF) (CSE: POT), Emblem Corp. (OTC: EMMBF), Freedom Leaf Inc. (OTC: FRLF), GB Sciences, Inc. (OTC: GBLX), Medical Marijuana, Inc. (OTC: MJNA)

Colorado’s data suggests that other states such as California, Washington, and Nevada are also expected to see explosive sales. Cannabis dispensaries and distributors have focused on expanding their product line in order to meet the demand of their customer pool, including tourists. Various portfolios of products such as oils, tinctures, resins, consumables, and strains have entered into the marketplace to offer a wide range of selection.

The introduction of new products is expected to help further drive cannabis sales from both tourism and locals. Bethany Drysdale, a spokesperson for Travel Nevada, the state’s tourism board, compared pot to gaming in the state, according to Skift. “People don’t come to Nevada just for gaming anymore as gaming is now legal in many other states,” she said. “People won’t come here just for marijuana. Colorado is surrounded by states where it wasn’t legal and it made a lot of sense for them to capitalize on it.”

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Foreign tourists spent $73.1 billion in China in 2018

Monitoring Desk

BEIJING: Foreign visitors made 30.54 million trips to China in 2018, a 4.7 percent increase than that of 2017, according to China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Travelers stayed at least one night in China on 23.64 million of the trips, a growth of 5.2 percent than the figure of 2017, said a post on the ministry’s website Tuesday.

It said foreign travelers spent 73.1 billion U.S. dollars on their trips in China last year, 5.1 percent more than the amount in 2017.

The Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, Malaysia and Singapore were among China’s 10 largest source markets of tourism in 2018, according to the ministry.

China offers a 24-hour visa-free transit to eligible international travelers, while people of 53 nationalities can enjoy a 144-hour visa-free transit through a number of cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, the northern city of Shijiazhuang and the northeastern city of Shenyang.

The country’s southernmost island province of Hainan, which offered a 15-day visa-free stay for group tourists from over 20 countries for years, started to allow group and individual visitors from 59 countries to travel there visa-free and stay for up to 30 days under certain conditions in May last year.

China’s tourism revenue rose by 10.5 percent year on year to 5.97 trillion yuan (about 856.5 billion U.S. dollars) in 2018, with over 79.9 million people working in tourism and related industries.

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Greek Tourism Trade Bodies Sign Labor Deal for 2019 Wages

Monitoring Desk

ATHENS: Approximately 25,000 individuals employed in room /apartment rentals and in the food and beverages (F&B) sector, will be receiving monthly wages of up to 771 euros, following the approval of the latest sectoral labor agreement.

In efforts to ensure transparency and fair play, the Panhellenic Federation of Catering and Tourist Industry Employees and the Greek Confederation of Tourist Accommodation Enterprises (SETKE) signed the collective labor agreement this week setting the lowest monthly wage at 711 euros.

The agreement comes after a decision in January by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to raise the minimum wage by 11 percent for the first time in nearly a decade, increasing the basic monthly wage to 650 euros from 586 euros, and affecting an estimated 880,000 people – 600,000 of whom are in the private sector.

The new agreement in tourism does not in effect increase the current wages but trade bodies insist it is important as it recognizes the importance of safeguarding employees rights, adding that they will submit in the coming months to the labor ministry a registry of all members so as to ensure the terms are implemented. The wages provided in the agreement are mandatory.

More specifically, the new labor agreement for employees in room and apartment rentals, and in F&B will run through the end of the year, with salaries starting at 711 euros for D’ class staff (cleaning services, dishwashing) and reaching 771 euros for A’ class employees, which include receptionists and cooks, among others.

Greek Labor Minister Effie Achtsioglou signed ministerial decisions extending four sectoral collective labor agreements – among these for tourism – last September.

In relevant news, the country’s Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) is accepting applications for inclusion of seasonal hotels in its winter jobs program.

The program – to remain open through to April 15 – aims to preserve jobs at seasonal hotels during the winter season and in particular from 1 November 2018 to 28 February 2019.

Hotels that wish to enroll in the program must be based outside the Region of Attica and inner-city Thessaloniki; must hold a license issued by the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO); and must be a seasonal operation which closed for winter for at least two years over the 2013-2017 period (between  November 1 and February 28). Hotels that opened on 1 November 2017 are not eligible for subsidies.

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Arrival of Chinese tourists brings hope to struggling Hong Kong border mall the Boxes

Monitoring Desk

BEIJING: Shops at a struggling mall near the Shenzhen border are finally seeing signs of hope as mainland Chinese tourists are being diverted there for meals, a move expected to help ease the pressure on the city’s residential areas – and reduce complaints by locals.

After enduring a quiet year at San Tin Shopping City, also called The Boxes, since its launch last February, shop owners started to feel some momentum as for the past two weeks, tour guides had taken more than 100 visitors there each day.

From Wednesday, with a big restaurant set to open in the complex, more than 1,500 mainland tourists a day were expected to be ushered to the site for dining and shopping.

Kenny Leung, spokesman for Answer Consultant, a consultancy firm for the mall, expected the situation to improve as close to 90 per cent of the 216 shop lots were ready for business.

“Coupled with the diversionary measures for mainland tourists, we expect this place to start to thrive. You can’t find anywhere in Hong Kong with such a spacious dining and shopping area and parking. There won’t be any problems about visitors causing a disturbance for local residents,” he said.

Leung’s upbeat outlook came despite stagnation at The Boxes for the past year, as it incurred losses of HK$2 million every month with no rent collected from shop tenants.

Leung said the mall would adopt a profit-sharing model instead of asking tenants for rent.

He said tour agencies had recently started to send mainland tourists to The Boxes, located in San Tin in northeast Yuen Long, for meals before they were taken to destinations such as Wong Tai Sin Temple and Tsim Sha Tsui, following growing grievances from locals about visitors inundating residential areas.

Just over a month ago, 300 tour groups arrived daily on average, sparking anger as visitors packed residential areas such as To Kwa Wan, Kowloon City and Hung Hom.

Residents said the increase had disrupted their lives, and the already narrow streets had become difficult to navigate. Tour buses were parked outside office and residential buildings, blocking access, they said.

On Monday, restaurant owners at The Boxes said two tours, each of around 50 people, had arrived and helped to boost business. But the groups only stayed for 45 minutes and did not shop.

Tour guide Siu Wing-kin said his firm Nanhu International Travel Service told him to bring one group every day to The Boxes for lunch as the mall would provide a spacious environment for dining without the need to fight locals for space in busy urban areas.

“So far, the tourists’ feedback has been quite good. After meals I’ll bring them to other destinations. Depending on the mall’s operation, my firm may change the itinerary very soon and arrange for the tourists to stay behind for shopping,” he said.

A couple of groups have been arriving each day for the past few weeks. Photo: Winson Wong

Henry Liu, who invested about HK$500,000 in his restaurant Lan Hang Kitchen, said business had been slack for a year until the past two weeks.

“Sometimes I didn’t see any mainland tourists for a day,” he said. “Now with more tourists coming, I hope our business will get better.”

The mall’s 420,000 sq ft plot has been leased to its owner at a nominal fee of HK$1 by Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development.

Courtesy: (