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Solar-powered Private Island heats up the Maldives

Monitoring Desk

MALDIVES: Crown and Champa Resorts has opened its latest property, an eco-conscious getaway that’s powered by the sun, located in Lhayivani Atoll.

Being eco-conscious nowadays is a must for top-end resorts. It’s a major consideration factor for travellers, and more importantly, it pays a great contribution to the well-being of our planet. Kudadoo Maldives Private Island by Hurawalhi is one of these establishments, causing a stir in the sunny Maldivian paradise.

The resort features 15 villas, each with almost a thousand solar panels which generate 300kW of electricity — enough to power the three-hectare island retreat. It’s designed by Yuji Yamazaki Architecture and has been recognised as one of Architectural Digest’s Hottest Designed Hotels in 2019.

Yuji Yamazaki – Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

Architect Yuji Yamazaki stands atop the solar panels

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island uses eco-conscious materials including wood from forests in Indonesia, New Zealand, Canada, as well as locally-sourced timber from the Maldives. It will also avoid the use of single-use plastics, making sure that all of its materials are biodegradable. Furthermore, natural lighting and airflow is kept in mind throughout the resort’s design.

To provide the ultimate luxury experience, the resort provides personal butlers. Guests can stay at one-or two-bedroom residences, which are nestled in the sand lagoon. Its villas include an open floor plan with highlights that include Tasmanian Oak floors, an eco-cooling system, private outdoor decks and private infinity plunge pools.

“The icon of the place”

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives opened Kudadoo Maldives Private Island by Hurawalhi, in December 2018. According to the resorts statement: “Traditionally, solar panels are hidden in discreet areas in the Maldives and it does not have any other function, but in Kudadoo, the photovoltaic roof is decidedly visible and becomes the icon of the place.”


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Abu Dhabi introduces one of world’s fastest airport wifi networks

Monitoring Desk

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi International Airport has upgraded its wifi network to offer download speeds of up to 200 megabits per second.

The airport has installed what it calls ‘Super-Fi’ in all three of its terminals. Full access to the network is free in arrival and departure areas.

The move gives Abu Dhabi one of the best airport wifi offerings in the world.

Last year Dubai International Airport rolled out ‘WOW-Fi’ with a top speed of 100 mbps.

Boarding gates at Hong Kong International Airport boast speeds of up to 400 mbps, though not through the whole terminal.

Seattle–Tacoma International has the quickest US airport wifi, according to Speedtest, at 103 mbps.

JFK offers free, two-click wifi at 50mbps, while travellers at Heathrow must pay or join Heathrow Rewards to access speeds of up to 10mbps.

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO Bryan Thompson said:

“Access to fast internet is a crucial factor that makes a big difference for our travellers. Providing our customers with enhanced connectivity services is in line with our vision of becoming the world’s leading airports group.

“Technology is at the heart of our digital transformation strategy, and this improved internet infrastructure will open the door to further smart services and connected solutions.” (Business Travelers)

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Turkish Airlines to start new flights from Istanbul

ISTANBUL (AA): Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines will start new flights from the new Istanbul Airport, the company’s chief executive officer said on Friday.

The carrier will fly to nine domestic — Diyarbakir, Kayseri, Hatay — and foreign — Moscow, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Ashgabat, Tbilisi — destinations, Bilal Eksi said in a Twitter post.

He reminded the carrier currently flies to Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, Trabzon, Adana, Gaziantep, Baku, and Ercan from the Istanbul Airport.

The Istanbul Airport, of which first phase was opened on Oct. 29, has an annual capacity of 90 million passengers.

The annual capacity will raise to around 150-200 million passengers after the competition of its second phase by 2028.

Turkish Airlines, founded in 1933, flies to more than 306 destinations in 124 countries with its fleet of 331 passenger and cargo aircraft.

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Turkey: Hotel occupancy rate up at 66.7 per cent in Jan-Nov

ANKARA (AA): Hotel occupancy rate across Turkey rose to 66.7 percent in the January-November period, a report revealed on Friday.

The figure was up 10.3 percent on a yearly basis in the first 11 months of 2018, according to the Turkish Hotel Association (TUROB) report, based on a survey conducted by data and analysis company STR Global.

Turkey posted the highest increase in hotel occupancy rate between January and November, it underlined.

The rate was 73.3 percent in Europe on average, the report added.

Timur Bayindir, the head of TUROB, said market diversification had positive impact on prices.

Average daily rate for rooms was €70.8 ($83.9) in January-November period, rising 6.4 percent year-on-year. Bayindir added that upward trend was expected to continue thanks to positive signals from target countries.

Hotel occupancy rate in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city by population and one of its top tourist draws, rose to 71.5 percent, up from 63.1 percent in the same period last year.

In November, the hotel occupancy rate also rose 1.5 percent to stand at 63.7 percent.

According to data from Culture and Tourism Ministry on Friday, more than 37.5 million foreigners visited the country in the first 11 months of 2018, up 22.3 percent year-on-year.

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You must try this tour guide in Egypt

We’ve been promised three days of pristine beaches, snorkeling and encounters with the endangered Dugong (a marine mammal related to manatees). The bus is loud with chat and laughter. Organizers pass out water, chocolate and blue pins that say, ‘I am an Egyptian Adventurer.”

Many of the students weren’t familiar with Marsa Alam. “I never thought I’d be here,” a couple of them told me on Day 2 of our itinerary, after we’d toured Qulaan’s mangroves and lunched on grilled fish.

For many Egyptians, vacations mean popular destinations at home like Alexandria, or trendy tourist havens abroad. Foreigners, on the other hand, often see Marsa Alam as a tiny resort town where life revolves around scuba diving.

This three-day trip to Marsa Alam would be an eye-opener. Organized by tour agency Footloose Egypt, it’s one of many offerings that have put Egypt’s lesser-known wonders on many bucket lists.

1. Footloose Egypt

When Footloose organized its first trip to Marsa Alam, only about 20 people signed up because nobody knew much about the destination, says Sherif Fawzy, co-founder and CEO. But word of that trip – and Instagram-worthy beach photos – spread quickly on social media. The company’s second trip to Marsa Alam (which I joined in 2016) had a packed bus of 45 people.

“We’re no Greece, but we’re better,” organizers had enticed on the trip’s Facebook event page. “Proof? Our Marsa Alam’s shore Hankorab is listed as the 13th most beautiful shore worldwide.”

Footloose has since grown quickly among young people as a reputable and affordable tour agency perfect for youth, backpackers or solo travelers.

To date, Footloose has taken some 4,500 travellers of 36 nationalities to trips around Sinai, and offered off-the-beaten-path itineraries like stargazing in Wadi el Hitan, yoga in Ras Sidr and backpacking in Luxor. They also offer private tours, and packages for schools and organizations.

And while major travel agencies are concerned with bringing tourism back to Egypt, and convincing visitors that it’s safe, smaller agencies like Footloose are brainstorming new destinations and “trying to combine different cities in a way that’s never been offered before,” Fawzy says.

During my three days in Marsa Alam with Footloose, we snorkel, spot the illusive Dugong, dive and shop at Port Ghalib. The jam-packed itinerary includes a photographer who chronicles each episode for social media.

I return home tired yet refreshed. Others were similarly inspired, says organizer Lavinia Sawires. There were those who’ve conquered their fear of heights, or those with asthma who’ve climbed mountains.

“When we first started, on the very first trip we went to different hotels and camps, and we were the only ones there. We were the only ones in Nuweiba, and in Ras Shitan,” Fawzy says. “On our 10th trip to Wadi Hitan, we had 900 people on Facebook in four days saying they were interested in going.”

2. Cairo D-Tour

Downtown Cairo isn’t on many tourist itineraries. My first visit to Cairo included a few hours in the famous souq of Khan el Khalili and a visit to the Egyptian Museum.

I only started exploring downtown after I moved to Egypt. And I didn’t know about Cairo’s rich modern history until I explored it with a tour guide. There are no plaques on historic buildings, cinemas or squares to make a self-guided tour easy.

Cairo D-Tour is a free guided walk held every Friday morning when the city is quiet. Lead by tour guide Ahmad Al-Bindari, the tour goes through the city’s famous squares, like Tahrir, heritage sites and old cinemas that showed the Egyptian films that became famous in the Arab world.

You’ll see the Egyptian stock exchange on a sidestreet lined with potted plants, Cafe Riche, where revolutionaries once gathered to plot against the British occupation, and the Yacoubian Building, the setting for Alaa Al-Aswany’s infamous novel depicting homosexuality.

But I love how the tour goes beyond the iconic sites to offer insights into modern Cairo life. There’s a stop at the hip cafe Kafein, bar El Horryia (my favorite spot for a beer on a hot afternoon), and bookstores, theaters and art galleries.

In an age of emboldened racism and stereotypes, it’s crucial to get realistic looks at people’s real lives, joys and struggles – and to go beyond the typical postcard views.

3. Walk like an Egyptian
Cairo’s City of the Dead is a dense Islamic necropolis where people live and work “amongst the dead.” Founded in 642, it’s the final resting place for generations of rulers, royalty and conquerors. It’s also home to Egyptians who moved to the capital in the 1960s and couldn’t find affordable housing.

During my first trip to Egypt, our guide said in a hushed voice that people there live among the tombs. A mysterious, impoverished district tinged with eeriness and danger.

But the City of the Dead is also the signature tour of Walk Like an Egyptian, a tour guide dedicated to uncovering Egypt’s hidden gems.

I joined this tour and found plenty of historic tombs. But I also discovered a bustling district full of street art and glass blowing workshops full of beautiful vases and lamps.

I also toured the Mosque of Ibn Tulun with the group’s founder Asmaa. The itinerary included a stop for an authentic Egyptian breakfast and a ride in a tuk-tuk. The guides were informative and spoke insightfully about Egyptian life to give visitors an authentic experience without the tourist cliches.

4. Mosaic club

Tour Guide Muhammad Zeineddin doesn’t have a marketing department. He markets his initiative Mosaic Club – which offers city tours, trips and cultural exchanges – solely on social media.

Social media has also made researching new destinations much easier, Zeineddin says. Even the smallest towns have their own Wikipedia pages.

And Mosaic Club offers trips you won’t find elsewhere.

Last year, Zeineddin lead a “Banknote Tour” around Cairo that hit an array of mosques found on Egyptian banknotes. Tours of little-explored museums like the Abdeen Palace have also proved popular, Zeineddin says.

The Mosaic Club’s cultural exchange events also give Egyptians an opportunity to experience new cultures. Zeineddin’s posts on volunteer work or scholarships abroad get thousands of shares and inspire many to travel.

Expats and foreigners both love the tours as a safe and hassle-free way to explore lesser known parts of Egypt.

“Egypt needs to promote itself outside of the desert and camels stereotypes,” Zeineddin says. “Tour agencies need to offer more variety. They need to give people something more interesting – because we have a lot of competition.”


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Bangkok is becoming the craft coffee capital of Asia

Monitoring Desk

BANGKOK: When Han Wang moved to Bangkok eight years ago, one of the first things he noticed was the coffee.

Unlike the delicate light roasts and well-balanced flat whites Wang learned to appreciate while attending college in Australia, everything seemed “too sweet or bitter to even consider swallowing.” Starbucks had been a major player since opening its first shops in the country in 1998; its robust dark roasts and cloying Frappuccinos were as ubiquitous as the equally strong, sugary iced coffee (a.k.a. oliang) that had long been a staple of Thailand’s shophouses and market stalls.

Bangkok, a city of over 8 million that’s quietly becoming the craft coffee capital of Asia.Sutthipong Kongtrakool/Getty Images

Wang wasn’t about to give up on finding a truly great cup, though. Having recently witnessed the rise of third-wave coffee in Taiwan — Wang did a stint in Taipei before relocating to Bangkok — the Malaysian-born entrepreneur was convinced he could spark a similar movement in one of Southeast Asia’s most progressive cities. So he set his psychology degree aside and launched Phil Coffee Co. in an industrial neighborhood, with the help of his father and two sisters. Wang didn’t rush into running a cafe, instead focusing on his roasting techniques and wholesale accounts for the first three years. Eventually, the team set up Phil’s flagship shop in Bangkok’s fashionable Ekkamai neighborhood.

Roots, another coffee company in Bangkok that embraces a “farm to cup” model.Courtesy of Roots

He wasn’t alone. Around the same time, other influential Bangkok outposts like One Ounce For Onion, Rocket Coffeebar, and Casa Lapin began attracting hip locals with elaborate pour-over setups, Western-style small plates, and bottles of cold brew for beating the heat and humidity. One leading figure during these early days was Roots, a heavyweight roaster that also happens to run one of the hottest brunch spots in town, Roast.

“A lot has changed in recent years,” says Roots founder Varatt Vichit-Vadakan. “Thailand is probably the only country in the world that has a well-developed consumer market — loads of specialty coffee shops in its big cities — while also being a coffee-producing country.”

That’s the other welcome development that’s driven Bangkok’s desire for craft coffee: forward-thinking farms in Northern Thailand, putting the country on a path to becoming a world-renowned single origin region. It’s got a ways to go before it starts exporting the good stuff, however, so local roasteries like Brave Roasters, Gallery Drip, and Factory Coffee are still the best place to sample and score Thai beans that are produced and packaged in-house. “A lot of local players are seeing what they can do to improve the quality,” explains Vichit-Vadakan, “and experiment with different flavor profiles. It’s quite an exciting time — it won’t be long before the world turns its attention to specialty grade Asian coffee.”

“Our beans from

[the village of]

Baan Mai Pattana are carefully hand-picked at peak ripeness to maximize their natural sweetness,” Wang tells me, when asked about his favorite Thai farms. “And our processing is as simple as it gets, so people can taste coffee in its purest form.”

Roast Runner is another Bangkok-based small business determined to bring Thailand on par with coffee producers like Colombia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Founded by three high-school friends — including one (Waruth Tangsuriyapaisan) who competed in last month’s World Cup Tasters Championship — it roasts high quality beans from the lush region around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for a devoted cult following and cafes, restaurants, and hotels throughout the city.

Partner Tanatat Sombutphanich, who designs all of the company’s brightly colored bags himself, says he particularly likes the beans grown near the Laos border by Gem Forest Coffee. “The owner, Kaleb Jordan, is a nice American guy who knows everything about processing,” says Sombutphanich. “Southeast Asian coffee often tastes very similar to Brazil’s — nutty and chocolatey, with notes of spices or herbs. But some exceptional coffee, like Kaleb’s Java, are more complex and have floral and fruity aromas.”

Despite this groundswell of determined startups, coffee-nerd culture is still a few years away from becoming a mainstream commodity. A quick scan of Facebook and Instagram reveals a more stylized market, on par with trend-chasers in Tokyo, L.A., and New York. Just as important as the coffee itself are aesthetically pleasing spaces and photogenic drink specials like lattes cut with salted egg syrup (Eureka), purple sweet potatoes (Roastology), and butterfly pea flowers (Blue Whale). “The camera comes first,” as Sombutphanich puts it. “Some customers visit cafes simply because they’re good for taking photos, not because they’re serious about coffee.”

There are still spaces for purists, though, with laid-back spots like Ekkamai’s Kaizen Coffee Co — one of Wang’s favorites. 

“I am not a fan of fancy drinks,” he says. “I don’t serve them. To me, they’re a distraction. Maybe that’s why I think highly of Kaizen; they find a good balance between quality coffee and fancy drinks. They made it work for themselves and the customer.”

May they never have to make a triple-venti-half-sweet-non-fat-caramel macchiato again.

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Dubai’s RTA takes action against illegal taxis around airports

DUBAI (Gulf Today):Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority will deport illegal taxi drivers offering unlicensed airport transport services, said Mohammed Waleed Nabhan, the RTA’s Director of Transport Activities Monitoring. So far 39 illegal taxi drivers have been caught by the monitoring team of RTA in the last term of this year.Fines ranging from Dhs20,000 to Dhs50,000 will be imposed.

The government body is carrying out ongoing airport terminal swoops to catch out unlicensed drivers who are “undermining” the reputation of the city to residents and tourists, by flouting the law.

It is just one of a series of initiatives being spearheaded by the RTA, including efforts to tackle fare dodgers on public transport.

“The site teams of RTA carry out year-round inspection campaigns in several areas of Dubai to spot offences and illegal activities. They also monitor attitudes undermining the tourist profile of Dubai as a metropolitan city offering premium services to residents, visitors and tourists from all over the world,” said Mohammed Nabhan.

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Norwegian Air shores up its balance sheet

OSLO (Reuters): Norwegian Air(NWC.OL) announced a $230 million cost savings program on Monday along with steps including the refinancing of one Boeing (BA.N) 787 Dream liner that the budget airline said would generate more than $30 million in liquidity.

It also said it was making several changes to its route portfolio as well as to its capacity. “Combined these measures should improve the financial performance from the start of 2019,” it said in a statement.

The fast-growing carrier has been under pressure over the past 18 months to control costs and shore up its balance sheet as it looks to crack the transatlantic market by undercutting established rivals.

It said its new cost-saving program was expected to generate savings of at least 2 billion crowns ($229 million) in 2019. The airline said it would provide an update on the program on April 25 with its first-quarter results.

Norwegian’s long-haul operations have been disrupted by challenges with the Rolls-Royce (RR.L) engines on the Dreamliner.

“The Company has now reached an agreement with Rolls-Royce which will have a positive effect from the first quarter of 2019. The commercial terms of the agreement remain confidential,” said Norwegian Air.

It also said it had secured financing for all aircraft deliveries due in the first half of 2019.

“This also includes refinancing of one of the delivered (Boeing) Dreamliners, resulting in a positive liquidity effect of NOK 275 million in December 2018,” it said.

Norwegian has embarked on an ambitious expansion plan by ordering more than 200 new planes yet investors worry it is pushing up costs quickly without producing higher returns.

The process of selling aircraft continued, it said, with “significant” expressions of interest in its existing fleet as well as future deliveries.

“The Company recently signed a letter of intent for the sale of two aircraft with delivery in the first quarter of 2019. The discussions about forming a joint venture for aircraft ownership also continues with full force,” it said.

Its share price is roughly back to the level it was a year ago having erased gains made in April after British Airways owner IAG (ICAG.L) said it was interested in bidding for Norwegian Air.

The shares were not traded on Monday as the Oslo bourse was closed.

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Saudi budget airline to buy 50 planes from Boeing

LONDON (Arab News): Saudi budget carrier fly a deal has agreed to buy as many as 50 737 MAX passenger planes from Boeing as it seeks to expand its regional route network. The carrier committed to ordering 30 airplanes with options for 20 more in a deal that would be valued at up to $5.9 billion at list prices.

However, airlines typically negotiate significant discounts for such large plane orders. The deal represents a blow to Airbus, which supplied the airline’s existing fleet of A320s.

“The demand for air transport services in the domestic market of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has grown exponentially,” said Director General of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser. A new brand, with a fresh identity focused on low fares, flyadeal has brought to the market a new choice — which has been received very positively.” Saudi Arabia’s domestic air travel market is expected to expand rapidly with carriers such as flyadeal seeking to expand connections with secondary cities throughout the Kingdom.

The Saudi Arabian Airlines unit is based in Jeddah and offers flights to eight domestic destinations including Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Qassim, Tabuk, Gizan, Madinah and Abha.

The deal is subject to both sides concluding final terms and conditions and a purchase agreement, Boeing said on Friday. Al-Jasser added: “The low-fares airline will continue to expand rapidly, and the addition to the fleet aligns well with flyadeal’s target to grow its presence in the domestic market and cover new markets outside of Saudi Arabia.” The 737 is Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft, with more than 4,800 orders to date. The planes being sold to flyadeal can carry 189 passenger in a one-class configuration. It carries 12 more passengers than its Airbus A320 rival.

Middle East carriers are emerging from a turbulent period as carriers come under pressure from overcapacity and increased competition. However some budget carriers have weathered the industry downturn better than their larger rivals which have been forced to slash thousands of jobs and and look at other savings.

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Morocco vigils for murdered Scandinavian tourists

RABAT (BBC): Hundreds of Moroccans have attended a vigil in the capital Rabat for two Scandinavian tourists found murdered in the Atlas mountains on Monday.

Holding signs saying “sorry”, they gathered to remember Maren Ueland, 28, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, at the embassies of Norway and Denmark.

On Friday Norwegian police said a video appearing to show one of the tourists being beheaded was likely to be real.

Four suspects aged between 25 and 33 have been arrested.

They pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video made last week, police said. In the video, they said the murders were revenge for events in Syria.

Nine more arrests were made on Thursday and Friday for suspected links to the perpetrators, Moroccan officials said.

Hundreds more people attended a vigil in the southern village of Imlil, near where the women’s bodies were found, and flowers were also laid in the city of Marrakesh.

Who were the victims?

Ms Jespersen, who was 24 and from Denmark, and 28-year-old Norwegian Ms Ueland had been studying outdoor activities at the University of Southeastern Norway.

They had arrived on a month-long holiday in Morocco on 9 December and had travelled to the foothills of Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, 10km (6 miles) from Imlil.

Their bodies were found in their tent.

Both women had taken full precautions ahead of their trip, Maren Ueland’s mother said.