Friday, December 19, 2008

IATA Expects Business Travel And Premium Revenues To Fall Sharply Next Year

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) expects business travel and premium revenues next year to fall sharply following most economic forecasts suggesting recession will not bottom out until mid-2009.

In a statement here today, Iata said the steep decline in premium and economy travel continued in October, with a 6.9 percent fall in premium passenger numbers and a 1.8 percent fall in economy.

It said this was slightly less than September's eight percent decline in premium travel but there were some distortions caused by strikes in Europe last October, and early indications for November suggested a larger decline.

"The downward trend is clear," it said.

Iata said economic conditions certainly deteriorated sharply for both business and premium leisure travel due to the near collapse of parts of the banking sector in late September and October.

"The slumping confidence last month will also cut travel from other sectors as surveys of business confidence in the US, Europe and Asia revealed a severe deterioration in October.

"The recent slump in confidence suggests this scale of decline in business travel could well be reached by early 2009," it said.

The group said the weakest major market for premium travel remained within Europe, which fell over 14 percent in October.

"This market has been in decline for a number of years as business travellers shift to cheaper seats on short-haul markets.

"However, even the previously more robust long-haul premium markets are now weakening," it said.

Source : Bernama
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Malaysia Airlines Opens One-stop Ticket Centre At KL Sentral

The newly upgraded Malaysia Airlines ticket office in KL Sentral, a one-stop centre that offers everything one needs for travel, was opened on 15 Dec 08.

Occupying 3,800 square feet, Malaysia Airlines' flagship store boasts 27 counters manned by 60 staff, offering all services for the national carrier, Firefly, MASwings, Enrich, Golden Holidays, and more, the airlien said in a statement Thursday (18 Dec).

Staff can also assist customers with ticket refunds, application for Australian visas and even handle medical cases. On top of this, the opening hours are long, from 4.30am to midnight daily to ensure that customers' travel needs are taken care of.

Opening the flagship store, Malaysia Airlines Chairman, Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid said the national carrier is committed to ensure that the customer's travel experience is seamless all the way.

"This one stop centre will make it easy for customers, and even travel agents to conduct all the necessary transactions. We have a bigger waiting area, dedicated counters, and up to 60 staff on 3 shifts to ensure that we can better serve our customers," he added.

Refreshed with MH=Malaysian Hospitality's colourful look and feel which reflects the multi ethnicity of the country, the ticket centre looks warm and inviting, a perfect place to cater to more than 20,000 customers, including travel agents, every month.

"More and more people prefer to do their transactions at KL Sentral, and our sales have increased 420% since we started operations in 2002. It makes perfect sense to upgrade the centre to cater to the increase in demand and offer the entire suite of products and services that we have," he added.

Munir also said the ticket centre is part of Malaysia Airlines' plan to intensify and consolidate its ticketing operations in the Klang Valley.

"Our focus is customer convenience. As such, our plan is to have two centrally located one-stop centres, the flagship store in KL Sentral to cater to customers in the city and surroundings, and another in Subang Skypark for those in the suburbs.

"Work on the ticket office in Subang Skypark will begin next week and we expect to open our doors in February 2009."

Source : MySinChew
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

MAS in talks with Qantas

MALAYSIA Airlines said on Tuesday it has begun talks with various carriers, including Australia's Qantas, to form tie-ups including joint ventures as carriers face a tough economic environment.

The airline's managing director and CEO Idris Jala had previously denied reports that Malaysian and Australian carriers were in merger talks.

Mr Jala made the latest comments after Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak reportedly said the government was open to a tie-up involving Malaysia Airlines. The government owns more that 90 per cent of the national carrier.

'The present conditions in the world dictate to us to be creative and innovative provided we can agree on the participation of foreigners on a win-win basis,' Mr Najib was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Reserve newspaper.

Mr Jala said that while Malaysia Airlines would pursue strategic partnerships, the government would have the final say in the decision to go ahead with a tie-up.

'Any partnership that we pursue will require engagement with, and approval by, key stakeholders,' he said.

'Malaysia Airlines is very pleased with the continued strong support from the government. We will do everything possible to fulfill the interests of the airline in line with the aspirations of the nation.'

Mr Jala said that 'more details will be announced as and when we have finalised the terms of any of these partnerships. At this stage, we have no further comment.'

Malaysia Airlines has undergone a sweeping turnaround programme, including staff layoffs and route closures, which ended a series of disastrous losses and produced a record profit in 2007.

Last month however, the carrier said net profit for the third quarter shrank 90 per cent to RM38 million (S$15.7 million), from RM364 million in the same period last year due to higher fuel costs.

The International Air Transport Association last week said the aviation industry is expected to post a loss of US$2.5 billion (S$3.69 billion) in 2009 due to the economic crisis.

'The outlook is bleak,' said Giovanni Bisignani, the association's director general and chief executive

Source : TheStraitTimes
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TA Enterprise buys Westin Melbourne for RM390m

TA Enterprise Bhd is acquiring the property and business known as The Westin Melbourne in Australia for RM389.12mil from RPHT Pty Ltd and RPHT Operations Pty Ltd.

TA Enterprise told Bursa Malaysia yesterday the acquisition of the freehold five-star hotel, which is part of the 16-storey Regent Place Development, only included the 262 rooms and hotel amenities located on nine floors of the development.

It said the net book value of the hotel was A$137.41mil as at June 30, 2008.

The company added that for the 12 months ended July 31, 2008, the hotel occupancy had increased to 82.8% while the average room rate had risen to A$311.22.

Source : Star
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Four New Economy Fare options from MAS

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is offering four new fare options for economy class travel that will provide customers value and choice while giving them full control of their travel experience.

Its managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala said the four fare choices, MHlow Fares, MHbasic, MHsmart and MHflex, are currently available for domestic travel.

He said for international travel, the national carrier planned to introduce it in February next year.

Explaining further the new fare options, Idris said MHlow fares offers up to a 70% ticket discount and required 30 days advance purchase, MHbasic offers a 50% ticket discount and only requires 14 days advance purchase, MHsmart allows a baggage allowance of up to 25kg and 75% Enrich miles accrual while MHflex offers businessmen the most flexible ticket, in providing 125% Enrich miles accrual.

“We are all multiple type travellers depending on the occasion and our new fare options have been customised to cater to the different travel needs,” he said during a media briefing on the new fare options here on Monday.

Source : STAR
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Hotel industry risk of recession at 99.9%

This morning economic research firm in conjunction with Smith Travel Research announced that following a decline of 1.9 percent in October, HIP fell by 3.2 percent in November. HIP, the Hotel Industry's Pulse Index, is a composite indicator that gauges business activity in the U.S. hotel industry in real-time. This decline brought the index to a reading of 92.4. The index was set to equal 100 in 2000.

Looking at HIP's six-month growth rate, which historically has signaled turning points in U.S. hotel business activity, HIP went down by an annual rate of 13.5 percent in November, further worsening its decline of 9.2 percent in October. This compares to a long-term annual growth rate of 3.2 percent, the same as the 38-year average annual growth rate of the industry's gross domestic product.

Looking at the results, Chief Economist Evangelos Simos of said, “Using the NBER methodology to identify the peaks and troughs of the business cycle, the peak was in November of 2007 for the industry. Since then, the index has been declining and so far the recession is 13 months old. Looking further at the six month growth rate, at this time, the recession appears to be similar to what the industry felt in late 1979 through early 1980, but not yet quite as bad as 2001.”

The probability of a recession in the hotel industry, which is detected in real-time from HIP with the help of sophisticated statistical techniques, registered 99.9 percent in November, up from 95.7 percent reported in October. Historically, when this recession-warning gauge passes the threshold probability of 35 percent for a few months, the U.S. hotel industry has entered a recession. As a result, the odds of business expansion in the hotel industry were at the 0.1 percent mark in November, becoming even more dismal than October’s reading of 4.3 percent.

The Hotel Industry Pulse, or HIP for short, was created to fill the void of a real-time monthly indicator for the hotel industry that captures current conditions. What the indicator does is provide useful information about the timing and degree of the industry’s linking with the US business cycle, or simply put it tracks monthly overall business conditions in the industry, like an industry GDP, and points in a timely way the changes in direction from growth to recession or vice versa. The composite indicator is made with the following components: revenues from consumer’s staying at hotels and motels adjusted for inflation, room occupancy rate and hotel employment, along with other key economic factors which influence hotel business activity.

Source : Financial Collapse
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Thailand Hotel struggle as occupancy rate plunges 19%

Employees of luxury hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket have seen a cut in their working days as operators try to reduce operating costs without having to lay off workers in the light of plunging tourist arrivals.

Prakit Chinamourpong, president of Thai Hotels Association (THA), said on Tuesday that luxury hotels in Chiang Mai had reduced employees' working days to five days a week due to fewer customers.

Many hotels in Phuket and Bangkok have also cut working days to four and five days per week.

"Some luxury hotels are running with a single-digit occupancy rate, sharply down from the average 70 per cent rate recorded in the same period last year."

"For the overall hotel industry, the average occupancy rate this month alone has declined 19.1 per cent," he said, adding that the impact of the Bangkok airports' shutdown was greater than the 2004 tsunami.

From January to early this month, the average occupancy rate is 65 per cent, down from 68 per cent over the same period last year.

Prakit said some luxury hotels in Bangkok had also decided to cancel their gala dinner packages already booked for New Year's Eve after customers cancelled reservations.

THA forecast that the hotel sector would slow until June 2009,with small and medium sized hotels suffering the most, so THA is asking the government to help by granting soft loans.

He said that about 30 per cent of workers in the hotel sector are expected to lose their jobs next year.

The closure of the Bangkok airports caused damage which could amount to Bt130 billion as the country could lose up to 2.3 million foreign tourists.

Airports of Thailand (AOT) said about 15,000 flights had been cancelled during the eight-day closure of airports, but all airlines had resumed operations at Suvarnabhumi International Airport with the total number of flights now close to the usual 547 flights per day.

However, Phornsiri Manoharn, governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), remains optimistic, saying the tourism sector's growth could be revived as TAT and six other industry bodies plan to launch a series of post-crisis promotional campaigns.

TAT also plans more sales and marketing activities to boost domestic tourism next year.

Meanwhile, industry sources said Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the world's largest international hotel chain operator, is considering the shut down of its regional Asia Pacific office in Bangkok, following the work-hour cutback at some luxury properties in major tourist cities.

The regional office was part of a world wide business expansion covering its multibrand management of hotel properties, including Le Meridien, Westin, Sheraton, St Regis and W Hotel.

Source : FinancialCollapse
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HKIA records further air traffic decline

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) handled 3.8 million passengers in November 2008, representing a year-on-year drop of almost six percent. Air traffic movements fell by over one percent from November 2007 to 24,815.

The decline in passenger throughput was driven mainly by contracting visitor volume, particularly from long-haul markets including North America and Europe. The Chinese Mainland and South-east Asian markets also showed a considerable decline. The closure of Suvarnabhumi Bangkok Airport from November 25 to December 3, during which over 230 flights were cancelled, also contributed to the drop in passenger and cargo throughput last month.

Passenger volume and air traffic movements in the first 11 months of this year grew by over two percent each over the same period in 2007, to 44.5 million and 276,535, respectively.

Source : TravelWeekly
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Malaysia to establish one-stop centre for business events

Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, YB Dato’ Sri Azalina Dato’ Othman Said, outlined the details of the establishment of the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) at a press conference held recently at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

This follows the announcement made on December 3 by Deputy Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Abdul Razak to strengthen Malaysia’s tourism industry by targeting the business events market.

MyCEB will be a one-stop centre in coordinating business events activities in the country. Its goals are to secure business events for Malaysia and establish the country as the preferred business events destination worldwide.

MyCEB will have an advisory council made up of experienced individuals and leaders from the private and government sectors. An initial budget of MYR5 million (about US$1.4 million) has been set aside for its establishment.

A total of 1,013,104 tourists visited Malaysia for business events purposes in 2007, an increase of almost 24 percent over 2006.

Source : TravelWeekly
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Source : shoppingNsales
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Singaporeans still big spenders in M’sia despite slowdown

Singaporeans, despite facing some tough economic conditions back home, are still the big spenders in Malaysia.

Figures gleaned from the 2008 Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival statistics showed that Singaporeans spent the most with a whopping RM64.7mil in credit card transactions.

Indonesians are next with RM42.9mil and that is why Tourism Malaysia is confident that the Malaysia Savings Sale 2008, which began on Nov 29 and ends on Jan 4, will enjoy the same success, if not better.

Speaking at the Johor launch of the Malaysia Saving Sales 2008 at the Plaza Pelangi on Friday night, Datuk Idros Mohd, the chief executive officer of Pempena Sdn Bhd, the Shopping Malaysia arm of the Tourism Ministry, said that Singapore was still the country's No 1 market.

"There is no denying that we depend a lot on Singaporeans as far as tourist arrival figures are concerned. In fact, last year we welcomed an estimated 10.5 million Singaporeans. "In a way, the Malaysia Savings Sale 2008 is targetted primarily at the Singapore market and Johor Baru being the closest to the republic is our main focus.

"People say that during these tough economic climate, shopping is the last thing on their minds. But I see it as a blessing in disguise for Malaysian retailers. "Times are tough and consumers are more careful with their money. That's why it's so attractive for Singaporeans to make their short hop-over to Johor Baharu to shop because of the favourable exchange rate," he said.

The opening of the new Customs and Immigration Complex scheduled for Tuesday also means that Singaporeans will enjoy a smoother drive into the city, Idros added.

The Malaysia Savings Sale 2008 was first launched by Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said at the Pavillion in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 29 and since then it had launches in Langkawi, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, Penang and now Johor Baru.

Source : STAR
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Resorts World in Genting among nine considered for top spot

RESORTS World Bhd (RWB), Malaysia’s leading leisure and hospitality conglomerate, added two more accomplishments to its portfolio when it was named the World’s Leading Casino Resort by the 2008 World Travel Awards and secured the fourth place in Malaysia’s Most Valuable Brands (MMVB) 2008 awards.

The resort topped nine other casinos in the world namely Caesars Palace Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Monte Cristo, Johannesburg and MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, USA to be named as the World’s Leading Casino Resort.

RWB is also a five-time winner in the Asia’s Leading Casino Resort Award category, besides winning the Asia’s Leading Family Resort Award early this year.

On top of the world: Resorts World senior vicepresident of marketing and sales Paul Chan (right) receiving the award at the World Winners Award Ceremony at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa.

“It is indeed a great honour for RWB to receive this award. We are proud and pleased to be acknowledged by travel professionals worldwide. Much of our success comes from the hard work and relentless efforts of our 13,000 employees at Genting Highlands Resort and this award is dedicated to each and every one of them. But, we will not rest on our laurels and will continue to evolve and innovate in our quest for world-class standards,” said RWB senior vice-president of marketing and sales Paul Chan upon receiving the award at the World Winners Award Ceremony at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos on Dec 2.

The awards was initiated in 1993 to acknowledge and celebrate excellence in the world’s travel and tourism industry.

Now in its 14th year, travel professionals and discerning travellers have come to regard the winners as the best endorsement that a travel product or service could aspire to receive.

Thousands of votes cast globally were by travel professionals from 167,000 travel agencies, tour and transport companies and tourism organisations in over 160 countries.

Winning a World Travel Award (dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as the ‘Oscar’ of the travel an tourism industry) has become one of the highest accolades a travel product or organisation can achieve.

Additionally, Genting Highlands Resort also shone in the local scene when they secured the fourth rank for the Malaysia’s Most Valuable Brands (MMVB) Awards 2008 with its flagship brand Genting – City of Entertain-ment receiving due recognition.

RWB was feted in an award ceremony on Nov 25 at PJ Hilton.

Organised by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) and The Edge, the valuation for the awards was conducted by Interbrand, a brand consultancy.

Over the years, RWB has carved its name as a leading integrated entertainment, leisure and hospitality operator in Asia. The renowned Genting Highlands Resort with its myriad attractions ranging from casinos to theme parks plus international shows and concerts, is a positive contributor to the tourism industry of Malaysia.

With its tagline ‘City of Entertainment’, the Resort is continuously upgrading an introducing new attractions and services for its esteemed customers.

Source : STAR
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Legoland Theme Park at RM750m to start 2010 in Johor

Work on the RM750mil Legoland theme park at Bandar Nusajaya in Iskandar Malaysia will start in 2010 and the opening slated for 2013.

The park, to be built in the city centre of Nusajaya, will have a 5.5 million sq ft of gross floor area within the 58.679ha land dedicated for the lifestyle-theme development.

Merlin Entertainment Group Ltd managing director for Legoland Parks, John Jakobsen said the theme park would create about 1,000 job opportunities in the park itself and it could reach up to 5,000 during construction period and indirectly upon the completion of the project.

Sectors which would benefit from the opening of the park would include retail, hospitality, services and food and beverage to cater for tourists and visitors.

“We want to position our Johor park not only as a leading tourist attraction in Malaysia but also in the region,’’ he said.

Jakobsen said the park was expected to attract between one and two million visitors yearly.

“The figure is based from our four existing parks with revenue between US$40mil and US$100mil per park,’’ he said.

Merlin, which is controlled by Blackstone Group of New York, an investment and advisory firm, has 70% equity in Legoland theme parks while Lego Group holds 30% stake.

Legoland has four theme parks.

The park in Billund, Denmark opened in 1968, Windsor, England (1996), California (1999) and Germany (2002) and in Dubai, which will open in 2011.

Other theme parks under Merlin stable include Madame Tussauds, London Eye, Thrope Park, Sea Life Sanctuaries, Dungeons in Europe, 28 aquariums and six hotels across the world.

“We have considered coming to Malaysia about four years ago and we started seriously looking into it about eight months ago,’’ he said.

He said the company’s investment decision in Iskandar was based on the development activities to be implemented.

Jakobsen said the Legoland park in Johor would not only attract visitors from other parts of Malaysia and Singapore but visitors from other countries in the region.

He said visitors from other countries in this region would find it more convenient to come here than going to Europe or North America.

Jakobsen said Malaysia offered a strategic location in Asia with 60% of the world’s population.

“Legoland park is different from other parks as our attractions are made to appear as if they are built out of Lego bricks,’’ said Jakobsen.

He said Legoland park targeted at children aged from two to 12 years old accompanied by their parents or grandparents and not teenagers and young adults which was the main focus of the other theme park operators.

Source : Star
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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

240,000 tourists stranded in Thailand

Thailand's Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said on Monday that the number of stranded foreign tourists in Thailand have risen to 240,000.

Weerasak is due to hold a foreign press conference at BITEC exhibition hall in Bangkok, which opened on Monday as the international flight check-in for the U-Ta Pao airport although the later is some 200 kilometers from Bangkok.

Weerasak said he would do everything to send news to the world that Thailand is doing its best to send stranded travelers home.

The minister added that he would ask for the special financial package worth 10 billion baht (about 290 million U.S. dollars) to help small and medium-sized operators in the tourism and related industries which have been hard hit by the shutdown of Bangkok airports.

Since the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) seized Bangkok's two airports last week, all the domestic and international flights fly-out or land-in Bangkok were forced to stop service.

Last Thursday, Thailand airport authority opened the U-Ta Pao airport, a military air base, as the temporary airport of Bangkok. Since the airport which locates in Chon Buri Province has some three hours driving distance from Bangkok, all the passengers were advised to check-in seven hours before the bounding time.

Source : Hotels
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Monday, December 01, 2008

Restarting operations at Thailand's Airport will take a week

Restarting operations at Thailand's main airport will take at least a week once a sit-in by anti-government protesters ends, officials said on Monday, as attention shifted to a court verdict that could end the crisis.

The general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport said it could take a week to resume operations because security and computer systems had been compromised during the blockade by People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters.

"Normally, checking the IT systems takes one week," Serirat Prasutanond told Reuters, adding the delay would be even longer if any of the airport's systems needed repair.

"We have to check, recheck, check, recheck," he said.

Thousands of yellow-clad PAD protested defied police and occupied Suvarnabhumi for a seventh day on Monday in a campaign to topple Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom they accuse of being a pawn for his brother-in-law, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup and exiled since.

As a result, tens of thousands of foreigners have been stranded in Thailand or are unable to even begin their holidays during what should be the peak tourist season.

The main domestic hub, Don Muang, has also been occupied, and the air cargo industry has ground to a halt.

Forecasts for an economy already suffering from the global financial crisis are grim.

Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech told Reuters on Monday the economy might be flat next year, or grow by just 1 to 2 percent, after earlier forecasts of between 4-5 percent.

Thailand's Board of Trade director said the cost of the airport closure was "incalculable," but a senior board member offered a figure, telling the Nation newspaper lost export earnings ran at around 3 billion baht ($85 million) a day.

Somchai has been in the north of the country since returning from an overseas trip last week but is supposed to attend a ceremony to mark the king's birthday in Bangkok on Tuesday.


Also on Tuesday comes the end of a vote fraud case that could deliver a crippling blow to the six-party coalition government.

The Constitutional Court has moved with uncharacteristic speed to wrap up the case and is widely expected to order the disbanding of Somchai's People Power Party (PPP) and two other coalition partners.

If it does, Somchai and other leaders would be barred from politics and many cabinet ministers would have to step down. The PPP's dissolution, however, will not necessarily mean a snap election as many MPs will simply switch to a new "shell" party.

The stakes have risen with thousands of government supporters now also rallying in the capital, the first show of strength by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) in a week.

DAAD leader Veera Musikapong has denounced the court case as a "concealed coup" and government supporters have threatened to take to the streets if the ruling goes against Somchai.

There was some cheer on Monday for the tens of thousands of tourists affected by the airport closures, when PAD officials said they would allow 88 aircraft stuck at Suvarnabhumi to leave.

Operators said they intended to bring them quickly into service to pick up passengers from U-Tapao and other airports outside the capital, the Bangkok Post said.

The government is providing free hotel rooms and meals for those stranded, but dealing with the estimated 100,000 people affected is proving a logistical nightmare and many are falling through the net.

"We are so tired. When can we go?" 25-year-old Iranian Ali Golbabaei said at Suvarnabhumi airport on Monday, recounting his real-life version of Hollywood movie "The Terminal."

Golbabaei said he and two friends were told accommodation vouchers had run out, and they had no money left after holidaying in the beach resort town of Pattaya.

"Nobody is helping us. We are the last tourists in this airport."

In an ironic twist, "The Terminal" -- in which Tom Hanks plays a traveler stuck in New York's JFK airport after his passport is revoked -- was inspired by the true story of an Iranian man who lived in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years.

The chaos has worried Thailand's neighbors, due to meet in two weeks for a regional summit. Surin Pitsuwan, head of Southeast Asia's 10-nation grouping, ASEAN, said a postponement might be wise.

Source : Reuters
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Friday, November 28, 2008

Bangkok airport closings disrupt travel

The escalating protests in Thailand forced the closing of Bangkok's second airport, Don Muang, on Thursday, effectively cutting off all air travel to and from the Thai capital, which is a major hub for international air transport in the Asia-Pacific region.

The airport had been used to reroute some flights after protesters clamoring for the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat closed down Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnabhumi, late Tuesday, leaving thousands of travelers stranded just as Thailand's main tourist season got under way.

"The airline industry is used to dealing with operational disruptions, such as typhoons, in the region," said Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, which represents 17 airlines in the region. "But this is particularly severe, as Bangkok is a major hub for the whole region."

Travel volumes had already fallen 10 to 20 percent from the political instability in the country over recent months, but traffic remained high, he said, meaning the latest disruption was major.

Suvarnabhumi alone last year handled 261,592 commercial flights, more than 41 million passengers and 1,209,720 tons of freight, making it one of the busiest in the region.

The closure of both airports for the Thai capital left airlines and officials scrambling for alternatives for rerouting flights and getting passengers to their destinations.

Passengers seeking to leave the country were told to drive to other international airports in the country. Chiang Mai is an eight-hour drive north of Bangkok, and Phuket is nine hours to the south. All air cargo operations in Bangkok were also suspended.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's largest carrier, canceled all flights to Bangkok for the second day running Thursday, and Thai Airways said the airports' closure meant estimated daily losses of more than 500 million baht, or $14 million. Thai Airways, which operates 140 flights a day to and from the main airport, is considering using the old U Tapao Airport in the nearby province of Chonburi, Reuters reported. The government said Thursday that it could make this facility available to airlines.

The disruption comes as the winter tourist season is getting under way and is thus especially ill timed for the tourist industry, a key element of the Thai economy.

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said 850,000 Britons visited Thailand last year alone, 40 percent of them on package tours, and many Britons would be stranded amid the unrest. Thailand is the second most popular long-distance destination for British vacationers, he said.

Meanwhile, security consulting firms like Control Risks have advised clients to postpone travel to Thailand for at least the next few days. "It does not look like the airport will reopen until the political situation is resolved, and even when it does, there will be a 48- to 72-hour backlog," said Jacob Ramsay, an analyst for the region based in Singapore.

However, he emphasized that the advice to avoid travel resulted from the inconvenience caused by the turmoil rather than the nature of the security environment in the country. The protesters who have been campaigning for the resignation of the prime minister have not directed their anger at foreign travelers, he said.

In Mumbai, where attacks killed scores of people on Wednesday and Thursday, the immediate economic and logistical fallout was apparently limited, with operations at the Mumbai international airport continuing near normal.

Manish Kalghatgi, a spokesman for the Mumbai airport, said Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Northwest Airlines had each canceled one flight to Europe late Wednesday after a blast in a taxi led the authorities to block off a road near the airport, preventing passengers and crew from reaching the airport in time.

During the day Thursday, about 15 to 20 domestic flights were canceled or pooled, as passengers postponed travel plans. European and U.S. airlines will probably monitor the situation before deciding whether to cancel any flights to Mumbai, Kalghatgi said.

Meanwhile, the airport itself, unlike the two in Bangkok, remained operational, though security measures like checkpoints and mobile patrols had been stepped up, he said.

Even if flights were to be canceled to Mumbai, the disruption to travel would be localized, Herdman of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines said, as the logistical importance of Mumbai to air transport in India as a whole is much less than that of the Bangkok hub for Thailand and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Thomas Fuller contributed reporting from Bangkok and Caroline Brothers from Paris.

Source : IHT
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Thailand braced for bloody night to break airport siege

Thailand is braced for a potentially violent end to the three-day blockade of Bangkok's main international airport as the government declared a state of emergency and rumours of an imminent army coup spread. The Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, unable to return to Bangkok because of the protest, gave security forces powers to oust 4,000 People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters who hold Suvarnabhumi airport.

Last night, more than 40 police vans moved into position around the terminal and officers set up roadblocks at all entrance routes to the airport, searching all vehicles going in and out. There was no immediate sign of a move to forcibly remove the protesters although one PAD source said they were preparing for an attempt to evict them early today.

Inside the departure lounge, beside the main airport information screen still showing Wednesday's cancellations, someone had put up a yellow sign in English. "Our only aim is to fight until the PM resigns," it read. "If in doing so we have caused you any inconvenience we sincerely apologise."

The Prime Minister's declaration empowers the government to suspend some civil liberties, restrict the movement of people and prohibits mass assembly in certain places. Mr Somchai accused the right-wing and essentially anti-democracy PAD of "holding the country and the public hostage". He added: "I do not have any intention to hurt any members of the public." But the emergency measures raise the possibility of violent clashes if the authorities move on Suvarnabhumi and the city's older, smaller Don Muang airport which is also held by protesters.

The Public Health Minister, Chalerm Yoombamrung, said he had 30 emergency medical teams on standby to deal with the aftermath of any crackdown. He added that police would try to negotiate first. "But if the negotiations fail, let's keep our fingers crossed," Mr Chalerm said. "I want them to be successful because I don't want to see bloodshed."

Earlier, Mr Somchai urged the army to stay in its barracks as coup rumours swirled. A government spokesman, Nattawut Saikuar, denied Mr Somchai planned to sack the army chief, Anupong Paochina, a day after the general called for a snap election to defuse the crisis. "Troops should stay in their barracks and the Prime Minister is not going to sack anybody," Mr Nattawut said after a cabinet meeting in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

PAD, which has been demanding the resignation of Mr Somchai and his government, seized the airport on Tuesday, forcing cancellation of all flights in and out. They accuse Mr Somchai of being a proxy for the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Thaksin, who is Mr Somchai's brother-in-law, and former owner of Manchester City football club, is in exile and wanted in Thailand for violating a conflict-of-interest law. Mr Somchai took over as Prime Minister last December after winning elections called after the previous military coup in 2006 in which Mr Thaksin was ousted. Although the right-wing PAD is demanding new elections, it also argues for less democracy, believing that poor Thais should be disenfranchised and the country controlled by the middle and upper classes. The blockade has already cost the country millions in lost revenue and next week is the start of the main tourist season. But the army is unlikely to want to act rashly. Having transferred power to a democratically elected government less than 12 months ago, they do not want to be seen to be overthrowing it and supporting the protesters. But by doing nothing they appear impotent, encouraging the government and the opposition to further entrench their positions.

Yesterday appeared to be more of a carnival mood. Outside the terminal, a band had set up on the concourse playing Thai pop songs, and small stalls sold mats, flags and rattles shaped like hands. Many protesters had brought food, bottled water, and even first-aid kits for those staying overnight.

Don Dualai, 52, had arrived earlier in the day with bags full of toiletries. He was planning to stay for a few hours but had to go home later to look after his young son. "You wait till Friday and the weekend and there will be 200,000 people here," said the business consultant. "Everyone is angry; Thaksin is a traitor and Somchai is his puppet. No one here will leave until they are gone."

Many Western travellers had left for the poolside of the nearby airport hotel. "If it's not open tomorrow we're going to hire a van and drive to Penang and fly to Kuala Lumpur," said Dick Matthews, 62, from Minnesota, who had been on a golfing holiday with his wife. "We've had enough now. We can't wait here forever."

Thailand 'Land of Smiles'

* Thailand has a population of 63 million, slightly more than Britain.

* Almost four-fifths of the population are ethnic Thais. About a fifth are Chinese. The remainder are Malay or from hill tribes or other minorities.

* The national religion is Theravada Buddhism which is practised by more than 95 per cent of Thais.

* Thais pride themselves on their friendliness to strangers (if not necessarily to one another). The country calls itself the "Land of Smiles".

* Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. King Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej is the longest reigning Thai monarch, having reigned for more than half a century.

* Thailand is the only country in South-east Asia that has not been a European colony.

* Beaches, temples and the Bangkok nightlife make Thailand a popular tourist destination – it attracted14.5 million visitors last year.

* The tourism authority hoped that 15.5 million people would visit this year and 16 million in 2009, but the recession has lowered expectations.

* The average foreign tourist stayed for nine days in 2007 and spent over 4,000 baht (£75) a day, earning the country more than £9bn.

* Japan and Malaysia provide the most visitors. Britain is the biggest Western market. Officials are targeting the Middle East and eastern Europe as potential growth areas.

* During an upsurge in protests two months ago, nearly two dozen countries issued warnings to their citizens to avoid travelling to Thailand.

* Bird flu, a dispute with Cambodia and violence in the Islamic south have also hit tourism.

Source : Independent
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Taj Mahal on Fire

The Government has condemned the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which have claimed more than 100 lives.
Wisma Putra said in a statement Thursday that the Government is shocked and saddened over this senseless act of violence.

MAS to fly to Utapao to bring back stranded passengers

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will on Friday operate one flight from Kuala Lumpur to Utapao, near Pattaya to bring back hundreds of its stranded passengers in Bangkok.

MAS’ area manager for Thailand, A. Vijayakumaran, said two more flights would be operated on Saturday, using the Airbus aircraft with passenger capacity of 290 people, compared to the normal capacity of 144.

Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation has agreed to allow airlines to use the airport, which is located about 140km from Bangkok, following the closure of the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in the capital since Monday by antigovernment protesters.

Vijayakumaran said the MH782 flight on Friday would leave Kuala Lumpur at 3.15pm and arrive here at 16.20pm (Thai time), before the return MH783 departs at 5.10pm and lands in KLIA at 8.15pm.

On Saturday, MAS will operate two flights, starting with MH784 at 9.10am and arriving here at 10.15am (Thai time) and departing (MH785) Utapao at 11.10am.

The second flight (MH788) will depart KLIA at 12.25pm and arrive at 1.30pm while the return flight (MH789) is scheduled to leave at 2.15pm (Thai time) and arrive at KLIA at 5.25pm.

Vijayakumaran said passengers with tickets would have to make their own arrangements to travel to Utapao while those without tickets could purchase them from the airline.

He said the passengers could call MAS office at Tel: 662263056571 or Tel: 6621343184 to get more information.

Source : STAR
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thai unrest: Butterworth trains run on schedule

Train services to Bangkok and vice-versa continue to operate as normal despite the chaos in Bangkok.
A Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd official here said the Bangkok Express from Bangkok arrived here at 12.55pm and continued its return journey at 2.20pm yesterday.

He said about 60 passengers, mainly foreigners, left for Bangkok.

"Based on feedback, we do not foresee any disruption to the train services."

The official said there had also been no reports of cancellation of tickets by passengers.
The southern province of Songkhla is reported to be stable.

The border towns -- Danok near Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah, Pekan Siam at Padang Besar and Wang Kelian-Wang Prachan -- are calm.

The Malaysian consulate in Songkhla said it was business as usual there.

"Songkhla and all the border towns are free from violence and protests.

"The people here are more interested in business. They are far away from the political scene.

"Malaysians travel across the border freely without any signs of a high-security alert."

There are 150 to 300 Malay-sians who work and live in Songkhla.

Source : NST
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Japan Air, Singapore Air Cancel Flights to Bangkok

Japan Airlines Corp., Singapore Airlines Ltd. and other Asian carriers canceled flights to Bangkok for a second day today after the city's two main airports were shut down due to anti-government protesters.

Japan Airlines, Asia's largest airline by sales, canceled five flights to Bangkok, according to faxed statement from the airline today. Singapore Airlines, the region's most profitable, has suspended all flights to the city until further notice, the carrier said in a statement yesterday.

The Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports that are gateways to Southeast Asia's second-largest economy were shut yesterday after anti-government protesters stormed a terminal and blocked roads leading to the airfields. Thailand Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat rebuffed a call to step down and hold early elections after the seizure of Bangkok's main international airport.

Somchai returned yesterday to the northern city of Chiang Mai from an overseas trip. He said the government will have a cabinet meeting today to decide on measures to restore order.

Thai Airways International Pcl, the country's largest carrier, suspended all flights from the Don Mueang airport, the carrier said in a statement. Airports of Thailand Pcl shut the facility until 6 p.m. local time today, the carrier said.

The airline yesterday said it loses about 500 million baht ($14 million) in revenue per day from the closure of the Suvarnabhumi airport.

All Nippon Airways Co., Japan's second-largest airline, will make a decision about its evening flight to Bangkok later today, spokesman Kazuo Yoshioka said in a telephone interview today in Tokyo. Tiger Airways Pte, the budget carrier partly owned by Singapore Airlines Ltd., canceled its flights to the Thai capital for a second day today, according to its Web site.

The protests are headed by the People's Alliance for Democracy, a group comprised mostly of the Bangkok middle class, royalists and bureaucrats. Alliance members have blocked roads, seized buildings and wielded guns and metal bars with impunity in protests that started May 25.

Source :
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Thailand shuts down second airport in capital

Thai authorities have closed a second airport in the capital after anti-government protesters stormed the terminal.

The country's main international airport has been closed since early Wednesday because of tens of thousands of protesters laying virtual siege on the terminal in their push for the government's resignation.

Serirat Prasutanont, chief of Thailand Airport Authority, says that the city's main domestic airport, Don Muang, was closed early Thursday as authorities feared that protesters might harm passengers and planes.

He said authorities are considering using an air force base outside Bangkok and have alerted all airports nationwide to be ready to receive more diverted flights.

The closure of Don Muang cuts off Bangkok completely to air traffic.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — A call by Thailand's powerful army commander to end the country's deepening political crisis was rebuffed Wednesday, as the prime minister rejected his suggestion to step down, and protesters refused to end their occupation of the country's main airport.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat justified his stance saying he came to power through elections and has "a job to protect democracy for the people of Thailand." He spoke from the northern city of Chiang Mai, a stronghold of government supporters.

His rejection of Army Gen. Anupong Paochinda's plan seemed to put him on a collision course with the military although the general has said he would not launch a coup.

The anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy insisted it would continue its airport occupation and other protest activities until Somchai resigns. It rejected the general's proposal for new elections, pushing instead for the appointment of a temporary government.

As the deadlock continued, political violence spread Wednesday to Chiang Mai, where government supporters attacked a radio station aligned with the protesters. Separately, there were unconfirmed reports that one man was killed and several people assaulted in an attack on the city's local airport.

However, it was the occupation of the international Suvarnabhumi Airport, just outside the capital Bangkok, that put the world on notice of the turmoil that has reduced Thailand to a dysfunctional nation.

European Union and Britain's Foreign Office both issued statements of concern about the political situation.

Thousands of travelers were stranded in Bangkok when members of the alliance swarmed the airport Tuesday night, forcing a halt to virtually all outgoing flights.

Several thousand passengers were bused to city hotels Wednesday to await developments, but many other passengers spent a second night at the airport after a day of behind-the-scenes negotiations failed. All flights have been suspended until further notice.

Among those stranded were Americans trying to get home for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.

Cheryl Turner, 63, of Scottsdale, Arizona, had asked neighbors to pull an 18-pound turkey from her freezer a day ahead of time to defrost so she could cook it for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

"My turkey is sitting in the sink at home," she said.

Some travelers took the inconvenience in stride.

"It's really horrible to be delayed and I'm missing my friend and things, but the local people have given us food, offered us drinks, and the airport's actually quite a nice place at the moment," said Andy Du Bois-Barclay, an English traveler .

Protesters were also occupying late Wednesday the passenger terminal at the older and smaller Don Muang airport, which appeared to effectively cut off civilian aviation services to the Thai capital.

The protest alliance accuses Somchai of acting as the puppet for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a September 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin is in exile, a fugitive from a conviction for violating a conflict of interest law. Somchai is Thaksin's brother-in-law.

PAD, as the protest alliance is known, launched their current campaign on Aug. 26, with a failed attempt to take over a government television station, after which they stormed the grounds of the prime minister's office, which they continue to use as their stronghold.

The group has also tried twice to blockade Parliament, in one case setting off a daylong street battle with police that left two people dead and hundreds injured.

They prepared for their "final showdown" Sunday in an almost festive atmosphere at their Government House stronghold. Even as they pushed through police lines Monday to blockade parliament and the temporary government office at Don Muang airport, crowds remained relaxed as police yielded to them.

The situation soured Tuesday, with scattered violence between political rivals in different parts of Bangkok. At one point, government supporters threw rocks at a truckload of alliance members, who shot back with pistols and then chased and beat their attackers.

Skirmishes continued in several spots Tuesday night and Wednesday, leaving more than a dozen people hurt.

Their action came as the group's public support seemed to be waning and they appeared to be seeking out confrontations to up the ante in their struggle.

"It is no secret that the PAD are armed with guns, bombs, knives and wooden batons. They constantly break the law with impunity," said Ji Ungpakorn, an associate professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

In an open letter, he charged that the alliance, along with the military, the opposition Democrat Party and "the Conservative Establishment would rather see total chaos in Thailand rather than allow democracy to function."

In a televised press conference, Paochinda said, "the government should give the public a chance to decide in a fresh election."

However, he insisted he was not pressuring the government and ruled out staging a coup.

"We have considered every option including a coup, but it will not resolve the problem," he said. Government supporters have said they would forcefully resist a military takeover.

Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the protesters, said the group would not abide by the army chief's plea to leave the country's international airport or other occupied government facilities

"If the government does not quit, we will not quit," he said.

Late Wednesday night, in response to a petition by the state airport operator, Bangkok's Civil Court issued an injunction ordering the demonstrators to immediately leave Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The protesters have ignored similar orders, but the document provides a legal basis for security forces to remove them.

Airport director Serirat Prasutanont, who had tried to negotiate with the protesters to allow passengers to fly out, said the takeover "damaged Thailand's reputation and its economy beyond repair."

Tourist income during the high season — from late October to February — could slump to about half the expected $6.8 billion, said Kongkrit Hiranyakit, head of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

The airport, the 18th-busiest in the world, handled over 40 million passengers in 2007.

Terror in India with Taj Mahal Palace & Oberoi attacked by Terrorists

Indian troops have reportedly stormed Mumbai's luxury Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace hotels after coordinated terrorist attacks which left scores of people dead and Westerners taken hostage.

At least 78 people have been killed and more than 200 injured after terrorists armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades carried out the attacks across India's financial capital this morning.

Targets included the Oberoi and Taj hotels, the city's main Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, the Cama hospital, and the Cafe Leopold, near the Taj Hotel and perhaps the most famous restaurant and hang-out for tourists in the city.

This morning the Taj Hotel was on fire and explosions had been heard in both the hotels. Hostages were believed to still be inside. Indian TV showed people being rescued out of windows at the Taj, which was built in 1903.

Acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean says at least two Australians have been injured in the attacks. DFAT spokesman Angus Mackenzie says there are no reports of Australians having been killed. Anyone concerned about friends or relatives can call DFAT on 1300 555 135.

"We have shot dead four terrorists and managed to arrest nine suspected terrorists," PD Ghadge, a police officer at Mumbai's central control room, said.

Trade delegation trapped

A trade delegation from New South Wales was among the guests staying at the Oberoi Hotel, which is also called the Trident.

The delegation of about 20 people includes representatives from several companies in New South Wales as well as some departmental staff.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of State and Regional Development says the leader of the delegation called the department when alarms were going off in the hotel and they were being asked to leave their rooms, but the department has not been able to contact him since.

An Australian in Mumbai, Bernard Carpenter, says it appears the city has come to a standstill.

"I believe the railway station is OK now, although 15 people were killed there," he said.

"The Taj Hotel, which is probably one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, these people still have control of that.

"I'm about 100 metres from there and I'm hearing bombs go off every hour, which is pretty frightening for someone who hasn't experienced that before."

Mujahideen claim

An organisation calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in an email sent to Indian media organisations.

One witness at the Taj hotel said the attackers had been searching for people with British and American passports.

"I guess they were after foreigners, because they were asking for British or American passports," said Rakesh Patel, a British witness who lives in Hong Kong and was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on business. "They had bombs."

"They came from the restaurant and took us up the stairs," he told the NDTV news channel, smoke stains all over his face. "Young boys, maybe 20 years old, 25 years old. They had two guns."

Speaking to ABC2's News Breakfast program, former ABC reporter Savitri Choudhry said the attacks had plunged the city into chaos.

"There have already been three explosions inside the [Taj] hotel," she said.

"There have been reports that the commandos were trying to storm the hotel but ... they're not sure how many people they are up against.

"I was in the Taj Hotel myself earlier this evening. As soon as I heard about the blast I called [my friend]. She was holed up in her room ... she said she could hear them outside her door. She turned off her lights and television ... we've been trying to call her but there's been no response yet and that's been very disturbing.

"People have been calling out, some have even escaped. There are a large number of guests who have been cordoned off and are in a safe part of the hotel."

An Australian woman caught up in the attacks says the city is in chaos.

Chloe Papazahariakis told the Nine Network Mumbai is in total lockdown.

She says she has just moved to Mumbai to be married in four days and has about 20 friends with her for the wedding in the midst of the chaos.

Ms Papazahariakis says she and her friends have locked themselves inside the restaurant where her reception is to be held.

She says a nearby hospital has been bombed by terrorists.

She also says one man was shot dead in a gun battle between police and terrorists just 10 metres from the restaurant they are in.

Source : ABC
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Las Vegas Sands Lay Off 11,000 Workers in Macau

Macau has become so popular among gamblers over the past few years that they have surpassed Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world in terms of revenue generated. The best of times, however, has given way to the worst of times lately in Macau.

The casino industry is struggling as a whole. No matter whether it is in Macau or Las Vegas. From small states in America to territories in other countries, not many casinos have survived the current state of the economy unscathed.

Las Vegas Sands is one of the companies that has been hit the hardest during these tough times. Owner Sheldon Adelson has done everything in his power to keep the company above ground, including selling common shares last Friday.

Even with the increase in financial liquidity, a top executive for the company has said that they are planning on cutting up to 11,000 jobs in Macau. Many of the jobs will come from the construction filed where workers were building multi-million dollar projects.

"Regrettably there will be people from Macau in the construction areas that we cannot continue to employ," said Sands' President for Asia, Stephen Weaver. He did indicate the company is trying to relocate some of the workers to other projects the company is working on.

The expansion projects are what has put Sands in this precarious financial situation in the first place. They were working on projects in Singapore, Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, and Macau. They are still planning on finishing the Singapore project.

Source : Financial Collapse
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Smart deals for hard times

Times are tight, but clever travellers know there are big discounts to be had, writes Jane E. Fraser.

And now for the good news...

The economic cloud hanging over Australia might be putting a dampener on spending but it does have a silver lining for determined travellers.

Those who keep an eye on the market over coming weeks can expect to find some bargains as operators drop prices to shore up demand. While some are raising prices to offset currency fluctuations, others are starting to discount rates and packages to encourage Australians to keep travelling.

Adding to this are ongoing reductions in airline fuel surcharges, due to a drop in the price of crude oil.

Airlines including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, Air Mauritius and Lufthansa have lowered their fuel surcharges in recent weeks.

There are some good international airfare deals in the market, with carriers sticking to their traditional pattern of releasing earlybird specials towards the end of the year for travel the following year. Flights to Europe are selling from about $1900 and earlybird specials for package tours and cruises are also available.

Singapore Airlines says it has released its earlybird fares earlier than normal, to help restore confidence in the market, and has extended the concept to more destinations.

Even rail operators are getting in on the act, with Rail Plus offering free days and discounts of up to 25 per cent on rail passes for next year.

Agencies that specialise in cruising are reporting unprecedented discounts from the international cruise lines that normally rely on US and British passengers to fill their berths. Cruises from Australian ports are selling at half or even a third of normal rates as cruise lines scramble to boost passenger numbers.

The managing director of Creative Cruising, Ernie Skalsky, says: "In most cases you can get on to the four-and-a-half to five-star vessels for around $100 a day, all inclusive.

"That's tremendous value for money."

Luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent is offering a two-for-one deal for Clipper Odyssey South Pacific cruises booked by the end of this month. The cruises are priced in US dollars, so travellers will still feel exchange-rate pain, but the deal represents unusual savings for the traveller.

It is difficult to pinpoint which sectors of the industry are suffering most, with agents and operators reporting mixed results. There is general agreement the market for older travellers has dropped and luxury operators are starting to concede they are losing bookings.

Source : TheAge
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Hotels Struggle, but Guests Less So

FOR the hotel industry, recently riding high on years of record profits, the good times have ended suddenly, and no one knows when they may resume.

Both domestically and internationally, many properties managed by major hotel companies are reeling from an unanticipated drop in demand that began in late summer and abruptly accelerated with the economic crisis on Wall Street.

A top executive with an international luxury hotel chain, who did not want his name used for fear of losing his job, told me recently that the dominoes are falling among full-service hotels frequented by business travelers in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris and even New York. Until recently, hotel rates in New York were buoyed by robust demand by financial services executives and by foreigners lured by a favorable exchange rate.

The good news, at least for corporate travel managers, is that for the first time in many years, they have negotiating power as they put together contracts for next year.

“Very tough negotiations are going on,” said Jan D. Freitag, a vice president at Smith Travel Research. Some tough corporate managers have even insisted on reopening rate negotiations that were completed in late summer, given the rapid recent deterioration in pricing power at hotels.

Until recently, most industry projections were that hotel revenues would continue growing, despite a softening worldwide economy, although at a slower rate than since the most recent boom began in 2004.

Those projections are rapidly being challenged.

PKF Hospitality Research recently revised rosy earlier projections and predicted that revenue per available room, the standard measure of hotel performance, would decline 4.3 percent, and profits would decline 7.9 percent for domestic hotels next year.

Smith Travel Research projected a slight increase in revenue per room this year and a decline of 2.5 percent next year. That is a major turnaround in revenues, which rose annually by an average of 7.5 percent from 2004 to 2006.

Meanwhile, new properties, planned during the early stages of the boom years, continue to open, suggesting further hotel rate cuts as fewer people travel. Currently, “supply growth is exceeding demand growth,” Mr. Freitag said.

The effects are not evenly felt. Egencia, the corporate travel arm of, recently reported that many business travel markets will remain strong as companies scramble to hold onto existing clients and attract new ones. But, it said, hotels in certain major markets would be hurt because of excess capacity and, in some cases, sharp reductions in airline service.

The biggest losers among hotels, with projected average room rates declining 10 percent or more next year, are in Chicago, Phoenix, New York and San Diego. Egencia did not include in its assessment major leisure travel markets that have been the most severely affected by the weak economy and a decline in air service like Hawaii, Las Vegas, the Caribbean and Orlando, Fla.

Nobody rejoices in this kind of news for hotels, which are important local employers and economic drivers. But any glance at the copious recent promotions for leisure travel to the Caribbean, Hawaii and elsewhere — including Europe and Asia — shows that bargains can be had for those with the inclination and money to travel.

Even the haughtiest hotels, which are famously loath to cut prices in bad times for fear they will not be able to raise them in good times, are in a deal-making mood, said Peter Greenberg, the travel editor of “Today” on NBC.

Online travel booking sites are now filled with promotions that offer packages with airfare and rooms from all levels of hotels. But Mr. Greenberg said he liked to book a full-service hotel by phone.

“And ask to speak directly to the general manager who, frankly, will be very happy to hear from you,” he said. “You say, ‘Hey, can you offer me any incentives?’ Right now — and remember, this won’t last forever — they are going to throw in some things that will make a real difference in the amount you actually pay, even if they don’t technically reduce the published room rate.”

Source : NYTimes
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MAS slashes fares for KL-Singapore

1 to 24 December 2008 - Only RM199 to Singapore

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has slashed its fare for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route for December to RM199 one-way all-inclusive in a bid to retain market share on the sector which opens up to intense competition on Dec 1.

Once controlled by MAS and rival Singapore Airlines (SIA), this has been the most expensive air sector for a 45-minute flight. Fares are as high as RM900 for a return trip.

“We believe in liberalisation but filling up four million seats a year can be very challenging. If we do not do anything we will lose money on the sector,’’ MAS senior sales general manager Datuk Bernard Francis told StarBiz in an interview yesterday.

The sector has been open to competition since early this year but from Dec 1 low-cost carriers plying the route will be allocated additional frequencies. The liberalisation of the KL-Singapore market is part of a larger agenda to free the skies above Asean to facilitate intra-Asean travel.

Other carriers flying the route are AirAsia, JetstarAsia, Tiger Airways and SilkAir.

The fight for market share will be fierce. Tomorrow, MAS kicks off its “One price, all seats, all flights’’ campaign that ends on Dec 24.

It will offer one-way fares of RM199 ex-KL and S$89 ex-Singapore for travel in December. Fares are inclusive of taxes, fuel surcharges and administrative fees.

“We are offering all seats on the aircraft and bookings must be made at least seven days in advance,’’ Francis said.

Francis said MAS made six to eight daily flights or 100 flights per week.

Come Dec 1, SIA and SilkAir will each operate four flights daily, AirAsia will increase its two daily flights to seven, Tiger will offer five flights from one and JetstarAsia, three from one.

Francis said MAS would continue to review the pricing on the sector and make adjustments when necessary.

MAS yesterday also cut fares for 66 domestic and international destinations under its “all-inclusive low fares goes global” campaign.

Source : STAR
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AirAsia urged to look into KL-Tashkent route

Budget carrier AirAsia has been urged to look into the viability of providing a direct air link between Kuala Lumpur and Tashkent.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he had conveyed this to AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes who has agreed to consider this.

“I told Datuk Tony Fernandez of the opportunities here and he said AisAsia would study this immediately. It will be good if a Malaysian carrier can also provide air services to this part of the world.

“Also, since AirAsia is a low cost carrier, it will be easeir for them to start the service,” he told Malaysian reporters at the sidelines of his three-day official visit to Uzbekistan.

In his talks with President Islam Karimov earlier, the Uzbekistan leader had requested the Malaysian Government consider providing air sercices to Tashkent.

At pesent, the only direct link between the both capitals was provided by Uzbekistan Airways. It has been flying twice weekly between both cities since 1996.

Abdullah said both countries could also expand on economic and tourism activities if there was a direct air service between both countries.

“Since Uzbekistan is a land locked nation, it would be good if we could have more flights to increase the movement of people and goods,” he said.

He said although bilateral trade between both countries has increased from RM90mil in 2006 to RM130mil in the first nine months of this year, this was relatively small.

Abdullah said it was also important that another air service was provided to enable more Malaysians, particularly Muslims, to visit Islamic historical sites here. Among these are the ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent which were important Islamic civilisations.

Also located here are the mausoleums of famous Muslim scholars such as Imam Bukhari, Ibnu Sina, Al Termizi and Bibihanoum.

Asked why several memoranda of understanding signed between both countries in 2005 had yet to take off, Abdullah said Uzbekistan, a former republic under the Soviet Union, was a young nation which was still in the midst of introducing reforms.

“They are conducting reforms but this is taking some time. They are liberalising several aspects of the economy and administration and once this is done, I am sure it will be a conducive place to do business,” he said.

Abdullah said Karimov also praised Malaysian oil company Petronas which has been carrying out extensive oil and gas exploration projects in the country’s four regions.

“Petronas has also set up joint ventures with companies from other countries and has been doing a tremendous job.. He told me that the government was considering giving more concessions to Petronas as it has proven to be a worthy and credible investor,” he said.

He said Malaysia was also prepared to take in more students from Uzbekistan to pursue tertiary education. At present, there were some 70 students from here studying in Malaysia.

Abdullah, his wife Datin Seri Datin Jeanne Abdullah and the members of his delegation would leave for Turkmenistan on Wednesday for a two-day official visit to the former Soviet republic.

Source : STAR
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