Saturday, June 27, 2009

Matta: No penalty for changing holiday plan

Holidaymakers who booked overseas trips a few months ago can postpone them if they do not want to travel now due to the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) said.

However, they would have to give ample notice to travel agents, Matta president Ngiam Foon said.

The agents should be given reasonable time to negotiate with package tour suppliers such as hoteliers and those involved in transportation.

The negotiation would include waiver of cancellation charges.

“There isn’t any fixed time when the agents need to be informed, it just must be a reasonable time. They should not inform the agents today for a trip scheduled for a day or two later. It should be at least a month prior to the departure date,” he told The Star yesterday.

Ngiam agreed that it would be difficult for travellers to decide on the new date of travel due to the uncertainty about the pandemic.

Even airline companies had allowed rescheduling of flights without charging additional fees, he added.

He said Singapore Airlines had waived rescheduling charges for flights to all affected countries while Eva Airways allowed appeals. United Airlines had waived charges for flights to Mexico.

At the Malaysian Travel and Tourism Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Ngiam noted that the pandemic was a bigger threat to the travel industry compared to the global economic meltdown.

The local tourism industry went down by 40% in the first six months of the year, he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines senior general manager (network and revenue management) Dr Amin Khan said there was no cancellation of flights to affected countries like Australia and the United States.

Passengers who had booked flights to the affected countries could make changes at no charge until Aug 31, he added.

Airline director of operations Datuk Tajuden Abu Bakar said there were enough cabin crew for flights as only those assigned to the rows of seats involving infected passengers were quarantined for seven days.

An AirAsia spokesman said the airline would allow rescheduling at a cost as there was no travel restrictions by the Government.

This was supported by the World Health Organisation when it had stated that travel restrictions did not stop the spread of disease in previous influenza pandemics, he said.

“Should the guests insist on changing travel plans, they can do so by visiting and click the option ‘Manage my Booking’ on the first page and proceed to make the necessary changes,” he added.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swiss-Belhotel opening Hotels in Malaysia

THE name Swiss-Belhotel International (SBI) may not ring a bell with most Malaysians, but it soon will.

This Hong Kong-based hotel management company, which is yet to open its first Malaysian hotel, will by end-2010 operate some 1,800 rooms in Malaysia and create between 2,000 and 2,500 jobs in the market.

It is also in talks with other developers that will lock another 1,000 rooms under its management by end-2011.

Given the anticipated openings, it is not surprising that SBI's director of projects and developments for Malaysia Carlos Velho expects that Malaysia will be the largest profit contributor to the group in two years.

"We are confident that Malaysia in the next two years will be the biggest net profit churner for the group," he said, adding that now the group's major contribution comes from Indonesia.

SBI manages 26 hotels in 13 countries. Another 26 are under development.

"We are negotiating for openings in Johor, Sarawak, Penang and Langkawi," Velho said, adding that it was close to signing on the dotted lines for all these deals.

The new projects are either four-star or five-star properties with 300 rooms on average and are slated for opening in 2011 and 2012.

Founded in 1987, Swiss-Belhotel today comprises Swiss-Grand (for five-star and boutique brands) and Swiss-Belhotel (for four- and five-star brands).

In more recent years, it created Swiss-Inn and Swiss-Express brands for three- and two-star operations.

The confirmed openings in Malaysia are Golden Palm Tree Sea Villas and Spa, Swiss-Belhotel Mont Kiara Suites and Residences, Swiss-Belhotel Zenith Kuantan and Grand Swiss-Belhotel Kota Kinabalu.

Source : HotelsMag
[tags : ]

Malaysia Revises Down Tourist Arrival Target

Malaysia has revised down its tourist arrival target for this year, from 24 million to 20 million, amid the global economic downturn and the spread of the Influenza A(H1N1) pandemic.

Acting Tourism Malaysia Director-General Datuk Amirruddin Abu said the two factors had affected the global tourism industry, including Malaysia's.

"There are already cancellations from the Middle East. However, they are still at a minimal level," he told reporters after attending a media conference on the second season of the Muay Thai reality TV programme, "The Contender Asia", shooting of which will be held in Malaysia.

Osys Group won the US$1 million bid to host the programme, beating contenders from the United States, Macau, Thailand, Singapore and Australia.

The programme is jointly produced by Imagine OmniMedia Pte Ltd (Singapore), Marc Burnett Productions, DreamWorks SKG and World Muay Thai Council.

Two Malaysian participants -- Mohd Faizal Ramli, 20, from Pasir Putih, Kelantan and Bernard Radin, 37, from Sarikei, Sarawak -- will be up against 16 Muay Thai exponents in the 15-week face-off.

The programme is expected to have 1.2 billion viewerships from 60 countries. The winner will receive USD$250,000.

Source : Bernama
[tags : ]

MAS plans more airfare promotions

Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) plans to launch more airfare promotion campaigns as the national carrier’s load factor has begun to improve on the back of such promotions, said managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala.

“With the airline industry facing an economic slowdown and the H1N1 flu affecting the business, we need to do more attractive promotions to boost sales,” he said here yesterday after the launch of the Malaysian Airlines Travel Fair (MATF) and a global low fares campaign.

According to MAS, its load factor in the second quarter rose to 66% as at June 21 from 56% in the first quarter.

“We will continue to push sales aggressively and we are planning to offer more than 70 travel fairs globally until 2010,” he said, adding that the low fare promotions were only for non-peak flights.

Nevertheless, Jala acknowledged that MAS was facing tough operating conditions and that it would be a strong challenge for them to surpass the RM15.5bil revenue posted in 2008.

Meanwhile, MAS chairman Tan Sri Munir Majid said the national carrier currently had no intention to lay off workers.

“We value our workers who have been contributing a lot to this company. We have mentioned it before and today that there will be no lay-offs. We are still at the consultation stage and discussing the best solutions for the company and the staff. We are not in a hurry to decide.”

The company had also not made a decision regarding pay cuts, he added.

The all-inclusive one-way fare promotion under MATF began yesterday and will last until July 5, with prices ranging from RM118 to Singapore, RM198 to Asean countries, RM428 to South Asia, RM488 to Australia and RM898 to Europe.

MAS is also offering promotional deals globally until June 26, with flights to Asean, South Asia, North Asia, Australia, Middle-East, US and South Africa.

MORE INFO : 22 Jun - 5 Jul : Malaysia Airlines Travel Fair

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Monday, June 22, 2009

A H1N1 Flu scare keeping tourists away

Foreign tourists, especially those from Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, are cancelling their travel plans because of the rise in A(H1N1) cases globally.

The local tourism industry was also affected as about 90% of Japanese travellers have cancelled their trips to the state, Malaysian Tourist Guides Council president Jimmy Leong said yesterday.

“Many of these Japanese tourists cancel their travel plans because they are afraid to board flights that may expose them to the influenza.

“People will only travel if they feel safe and are satisfied that proper measures have been taken at the airports,” he said in an interview.

State Tourism, Domestic Trade and Consu- mer Affairs Committee chairman Hoo Seong Chang echoed Leong’s statement, saying that there had been a decrease in foreign tourist arrivals.

“The tourism sector has definitely suffered a drop in foreign arrivals but we are working closely with the health department,” he said after a press conference here.

Hoo also said that his committee was alerting all major tourist agencies to cooperate with the health ministry and keep abreast of the latest developments.

“I have also urged local travel companies to focus on wooing domestic travellers.

“We have an average of three million domestic travellers who formed the bulk of our tourists last year.”

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Tourism Malaysia To Promote Malaysia Through Facebook

Tourism Malaysia is going big on internet promotion by engaging Facebook, Friendster, Twitter and other global social networks to attract visitors to the country, said acting director-general Datuk Amirruddin Abu.

He said the agency had just entered into internet marketing and was planning on several programmes to capture the huge and untapped market, via such social networks.

"We want to go through community-based websites such as Facebook, Twitter and others. People spend a lot of time surfing internet and its influence is networks are becoming the favourite place to keep in touch and share experiences," he said on the sideline of the Sixth Asean Leadership Forum here.

According him, Tourism Malaysia had already embarked on Web TV, banner advertisements in Yahoo, MSN and Google.

Facebook has 175 million members worldwide while Friendster has over 90 million. According to which analyses web traffic, Facebook had 104 million visitors in April in the United States.

He said, greater promotion through the internet was one of the plans adopted by Tourism Malaysia, in the wake of the global economic slowdown and its affect on the travel and tourism industries.

Malaysia, fortunately, was not much affected by the crisis as the number of arrivals in the first four months showed positive growth as compared to last year, although neighbouring countries recorded reduced numbers, said Amirruddin.

"We are lucky visitors still see Malaysia as a safe place to visit, and some tourists who earlier wanted to visit Thailand, came to Malaysia after reading reports of demonstrations here.

"Our Singapore market is still strong and the people who wanted to go on long-haul are coming to our country," he said.

Despite that, Amirruddin said Malaysia had reduced its target of attracting 24 million tourists to 20 million this year, as it foresaw slower demand due to the economic crisis, adding that the current scare over the Influenza A(H1N1) virus could also have had some impact on travellers.

"We need to revive our strategy...we work best under pressure. We learnt from the 1997 financial crisis when tourist arrivals dropped to 5.5 million.

"...but with the introduction of the Malaysia Truly Asia campaign, it increased rapidly and went up to 22 million last year, while revenue jumped from US$4 billion to US$14 billion in the same period," he said.

Source : Bernama
[tags : ]

Stay away from Australia & USA - Influenza A H1N1

Malaysians have been advised against visiting Australia and the United States as the number of influenza A (H1N1) cases in the country continues to rise.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said although the World Health Organisation (WHO) had not issued a travel ban, it was best for Malaysians to weigh the risks of going to H1N1-infected countries.

Muhyiddin was commenting on influenza A cases in the country, many of which were “imported” from Melbourne, Australia, the H1N1 flu capital of the world.

As of June 8, the US recorded 13,217 cases with 27 deaths, among the highest in the world.

Two students who returned from holidays in Melbourne and another from a vacation in the US were among the latest Malaysian victims.

SJK (C) Jalan Davidson in Kuala Lumpur, where one of the students had infected two classmates, has been ordered to be shut down for a week

and all the teachers, students and their parents have been ordered to be quarantined at home.

Source : NST
[tags : ]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US$2bil Airbus jets for AirAsia X

AirAsia announces order for 10 A350s with option for five more

PETALING JAYA: AirAsia Bhd has announced a firm order for 10 Airbus A350 XWB aircraft with an option for five more by its low-cost long-haul carrier AirAsia X, a deal valued at US$2.2bil.

Deliveries were scheduled for between 2016 and 2018, the company said in a statement yesterday after the announcement was made by AirAsia and Airbus at the Paris Air Show.

It said AirAsia X had selected the A350-900 variant for its fleet, which would be configured to seat 425 in a two-class layout.

AirAsia group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said: “Business is all about timing and long-term strategy. At AirAsia, we have always planned for the long term.”

The new deliveries would further complement AirAsia X’s fleet of A330, he said in the statement.

The airline has ordered 25 A330s which are due for delivery through 2015. Two of the aircraft have been delivered so far since October 2008.

AirAsia, on the other hand, is the largest customer for Airbus A320 aircraft. It has a firm order, signed in 2005, for 175 A320s and an option for 50 more. It has taken delivery of 60 of the aircraft and the balance will be delivered by 2014.

“The purchase indicates AirAsia X’s ambition to fly farther afield and to serve more destinations than it currently serves, including London, Melbourne, Perth and Gold Coast (Australia) and Tianjin and Hangzhou (China),” Fernandes said.

Fernandes, who is also director and founder of AirAsia X, added that during the current global economic uncertainties, where airlines were cutting routes and grounding staff and aircraft, AirAsia and AirAsia X were determined to fulfil and realise their potential.

“The economic downturn presents AirAsia with an opportunity to gain market share with our low-fare, high-quality business model,” he said.

AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman-Rani said it selected the A350 XWB for the step-change it offered, in terms of operating economics and its exceptional passenger appeal.

“We believe the A350 aircraft will be an industry game changer that will allow us to dramatically operate with unprecedented unit costs for long-haul flights to Europe and North America, opening up new tourism markets and exciting destinations.

“With the A350 XWB in our fleet, we will be able to set new standards in the low-cost long-haul market, making it possible for more people to fly farther in comfort at ever more affordable prices,” he said.

AirAsia’s passenger volume grew by 21% year-on-year to 3.1 million in the first quarter of 2009. It has so far carried over 70 million guests.

An analyst from a local research house said the purchase of 10-plus-five Airbus A350 was in line with AirAsia X’s expansion.

He said this showed the commitment of the management to grow the company. “We do not see any immediate impact on the company’s financial performance but the only concern is the gearing level of the company,” he told StarBiz.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Hotels Use Twitter

The latest must-use social media site is Twitter, and its potential applications for hoteliers are endless.

Facebook remains the king of online social media, but it is the microblogging site known as Twitter that is the undisputed Internet darling of the moment.

As a concept, Twitter is simple: Users are limited to 140 characters per post (an update is known as a “tweet”), and anyone can monitor (or “follow”) anyone else. Most of the major hotel brands now have a presence on Twitter, as do many individual hotels. Some hoteliers even have their own Twitter handles, most prominently Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. CEO Simon Cooper, who tweets as @SimonFCooper.

For hotels and brands, the default use for Twitter seems to be posting links to press releases and special room packages or discount codes. Inevitably, though, hoteliers who take the time to explore the site and interact with others find infinitely more applications for it.

In April, The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles made waves in the Twitter world by announcing a promotion to give away free room nights to 25 lucky followers of @thebonaventure. The hotel has offered variations of the contest several times since, creating intense buzz for the property each time. Melanie Boyer, the Daly Gray Public Relations account executive who is managing the Bonaventure’s Twitter account, says mainstream media coverage of the contests generated an estimated 20 million consumer impressions for the hotel.

"Twitter is the eye of the ‘it storm’ right now," Boyer says. "We’re looking at the everyday opportunities on Twitter that don’t exist anywhere else. We directly interact with our Twitter followers regularly—we’re developing a personal relationship with our consumer base."

Perhaps no hotelier has had more fun with Twitter than John Gates, general manager of Rancho Bernardo Inn, California. Tweeting under the handle @GMGoneMad, Gates garnered a good bit of publicity with the Twitter-exclusive Survivor Package; for US$19 a night, willing guests would get a room but forgo breakfast, honor bar, heat and air conditioning, pillows, sheets, lights, linens, toiletries, and even the bed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were several takers. Other Twitter promotions by the Mad GM include 50% discounts for paying with pounds sterling or half off the golf rate by showing up wearing knickers.

Twitter is viral in a way that few other social media platforms can match. Even if a hotel only has a few hundred Twitter followers, one especially popular tweet could reach tens of thousands of readers in a matter of minutes via a form of forwarding known as “retweeting.”

Twitter has promotional value in an indirect way, as well. Just as many hoteliers have launched blogs that focus not on the hotel but on tangentially relevant topics—things to do nearby the hotel, for instance, or tips for business travelers—the same principle applies with Twitter. Give the consumer relevant information and they will eventually find their way to your hotel.

Mike Taylor, media relations manager for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and the man behind @fairmonthotels, advises the managers of Twitter accounts for individual hotel properties to position their accounts as the experts for information about their locales. “You become [travelers’] go-to for anything,” Taylor says. “They will come to you and speak to you because they view you as a valued and trusted source for that destination.”

Uses Are Many

While special rate deals, goofy package promotions, news announcements and general brand visibility are the most obvious uses for Twitter, the applications for hoteliers go way beyond. Perhaps most significantly, the site serves as a free, real-time consumer focus group.

Several MGM Mirage properties use Twitter to, among other things, solicit feedback from brand loyalists. Danielle Consiglio, interactive marketing manager for Luxor Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, asked @LuxorLV’s 6,000 followers for input on a poolside text message promotion.

“My team and I came up with ideas, but we are not the customer,” Consiglio says. “So I tweeted, asking, ‘If you were laying by the pool, what kind of offers would you want to receive via SMS?’ The response was great, and we were able to add some offers to our original list that we did not think of.”

Twitter also can serve a more passive focus group function. Type your hotel’s name into and instantly see what people are saying; even better, the site’s interactivity lets you monitor and maintain your hotel’s online reputation with an ease and visibility unmatched by other social media platforms. Savvy hotel sales and marketing people can keep a real-time eye on the plaudits and criticisms of their competitive set—as well as their own property, of course—giving them a valuable leg up.

Take, for instance, an anecdote about a traveler who tweeted his annoyance at having to wait in the lobby for a few hours while his room was prepared. The hotel down the street, sensing an opportunity to grab some business, proceeded to offer him a room there at a discount, plus free dinner. That hotel not only stole some business in the short-term, but it also created a fan for life.

Using Twitter to promote deals and announce news is fine, but too many hoteliers stop there. Twitter's real value lies in the ability to connect with consumers on a personal level, says Susan Black, a New York-based travel industry social media consultant.

Develop a personable, recognizable voice for your Twitter account and focus on building brand loyalty, picking up one-off business when you can, Black says—and never lose sight of the fact that Twitter is a conversation, not a bullhorn.

"It's not one-way. It's a dialogue," Black says. "Be there to answer the queries. It's well known on Twitter that people follow other people when they know there is a person or a personality behind it."

Fairmont was among the first big brands to jump on Twitter a year ago, and Taylor initially viewed Twitter as a way to interact breezily with members of the media and as another outlet for press releases. As Twitter’s popularity soared, however, @fairmonthotels evolved into a much larger exchange of ideas.

“It’s grown now from more of a media focus to being about guests, brand enthusiasts, partners—we even have other hotel companies that we’re following and are following us,” Taylor says.

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts broke new ground with Twitter back in May when it launched the hotel industry's first Twitter-based virtual concierge. The @HyattConcierge account is staffed around the clock by specially trained agents in the corporate customer service department who are available to assist with typical concierge fare like tee times and dinner reservations. @HyattConcierge also will field assorted guest complaints and queries.

The account—which boasted more than 2,000 followers after less than a month—is not a promotional vehicle, stresses Farley Kern, Hyatt's director of brand public relations. "We wanted to have a presence on Twitter that was about our guests and for our guests and designed around our guests, as opposed to having a presence on Twitter just for the sake of being on Twitter," Kern says.

Is It Monetizable?

For hoteliers still skeptical of Twitter’s staying power, the obvious question—not counting whether Twitter is merely another here-today gone-tomorrow fad—is whether the platform will ever prove monetizable. Aside from the occasional one-off piece of incremental business from highly targeted users, will there ever be a time when hotels see a chunk of bookings coming directly from Twitter?

Maybe, maybe not. But for most tweeting hoteliers, Twitter’s ultimate value is far more abstract and indirect. As John Wallis, Hyatt’s global head of marketing and brand strategy, puts it: “It’s already monetizable if we’re keeping our existing customers happy.”

Creating brand awareness and maintaining guest loyalty are the platform’s most important purposes, says John Wolf, senior director of public relations for Marriott International and keeper of the @MarriottIntl account. “It’s not about return on investment—it’s about return on engagement,” he says.

Likewise, David Godsman, vice president of global Web strategy for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, views the company’s Twitter account, @StarwoodBuzz, as one gigantic customer relationship management tool.

“It’s a very powerful customer service and communication vehicle where our brands and customers can come together to have open and honest conversations,” Godsman says. “It’s less about pushing our hotels and promotions and more about connecting our core brand values with our guests’ daily lives.”

Source : HotelsMag
[tags : ]

All set for B747 historic landing

A B747 aircraft with a full load of passengers onboard will make a historic landing at the Kuching International Airport here tomorrow. The jumbo jet, from Kuala Lumpur, is expected to touch down at 4.40pm, shortly after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has toured the extended airport runway.

“The runway, measuring 3,800m, is the longest in Borneo,” Global Upline Sdn Bhd adviser Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing said yesterday.

Global Upline is the turnkey contractor of the RM850mil extension project. The airport terminal building has earlier been upgraded and extended.

“The runway can now take the Airbus 380,” Ting said, adding that Najib would receive a certificate from the Department of Civil Aviation to mark the event.

The certificate will then be handed over to acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

Ting said Najib would also open Global Upline’s Four Points by Sheraton Hotel near the airport.

On the RM760mil extension and upgrading project for the Kota Kinabalu Airport runway and terminal two building, Ting said it would be completed in 10 months.

Global Upline is also the contractor for a similar project at the Labuan Airport.

The RM360mil project is also nearing completion.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

MAS in discussions on salary cuts

Malaysia Airlines (MAS), which posted disappointing results for its first quarter ended March 31, is looking at various areas to further reduce costs.

Executive director and chief financial officer Tengku Azmil Zahruddin said the company was currently talking to employees and exploring additional cost-reduction measures, including reduced work days and pay cuts across the board.

“No decisions have been made on this and, at this point in time, we are gathering comments and feedback from employees,” he told StarBiz.

Tengku Azmil pointed out that over the past three years, MAS had successfully implemented revenue-generating measures system-wide, including the introduction of Everyday Low Fares, Malaysia Airlines Travel Fairs, the MAS Stimulus Package and various other aggressive promotions, to drive sales.

“Tough cost-cutting measures, such as 7% budget cuts system-wide, freeze on hires, external training and all discretionary travelling, are already in place.

“The company is on track to save between RM700mil and RM1bil in cost-saving measures in 2009,” he said.

Most brokerages had under-estimated the “quadruple squeeze” effects and had not earlier expected the airline to mark-to-market its fuel hedges. Hence, their forecasts were wide off the mark.

OSK Research said the poor first-quarter results were due to the tough business environment and hedging losses.

MAS is once again experiencing a yield pressure from the removal of fuel surcharges and lowering of air fares, load pressure arising from lacklustre demand, and cost pressure from hedging losses.

“Despite the fact that MAS has cut capacity by 11.8% in the form of available seat kilometre, the load factor numbers were shocking as domestic load came in barely above 60% and international at 55.6%.

“Lower traffic, load and yield dragged MAS into its first operating loss of RM138.4mil since the third quarter of 2006.

“Including the derivative loss of RM557mil on early adoption of FRS 139 accounting standards, the reported net loss ballooned to RM695.4mil,” it said.

MAS decided to adopt the new Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) early although it will only be mandatory by Jan 1, 2010, to improve transparency in its financial statements.

MIDF Research, which has a “neutral” call on the stock, said MAS’ fuel derivatives would increase substantially in value although it had posted below-expectation results.

“As of the first quarter of the current calendar year, the hedge amounts are marked to market at US$49 per barrel (West Texas Intermediate crude oil) and we believe that fuel prices should be at US$85 to US$90 per barrel.

“Thus, MAS is forecast to recognise RM1.9bil in gains on fuel derivatives,” it said.

HwangDBS, which recognised a “fully valued” call on the stock, expects smaller losses from MAS in the next six months in anticipation of improving demand.

“We expect passenger load factor to remain flat year-on-year in the second half of this year after the double-digit decline in the first half of this year,’’ it said.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Monday, June 15, 2009

MAS tumbles most in a month

MALAYSIAN Airline System Bhd (MAS), the country’s state-controlled carrier, declined the most in a month in Kuala Lumpur trading after reporting its first quarterly loss in more than two years.

The shares tumbled as much as 4.9 per cent to RM3.10 and changed hands at RM3.16 at 10:47 a.m. in the city. The Kuala Lumpur composite index gained 0.2 per cent.

MAS reported a net loss of RM695 million (US$197 million) in the quarter ended March after passenger traffic slumped and it made wrong-way bets on fuel costs. Credit Suisse Group AG and OSK Research Sdn. downgraded the carrier’s stock after the earnings were detailed.

OSK analyst Ng Sem Guan was “stung by the numbers,” he wrote in a report today. “MAS was unable to cut capacity and fares fast and steep enough to arrest the plunge in demand,” he wrote while lowering his rating to “sell” from “take profit.”

Passenger traffic fell 12 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, even after cutting capacity by 11 per cent, MAS said on June 12. Operating revenue fell to RM2.70 billion, its lowest level since 2004, the company said. The airline also reported a loss on fuel-hedging contracts of RM640.2 million.

Oil prices have fallen from last year, hurting companies that had already locked in fuel prices on expectations they would rise. MAS said it has hedged 47 per cent of its fuel needs for this year at US$103 a barrel of crude oil. The carrier has hedged 60 per cent of its fuel for next year, and 40 per cent for 2011, both at about US$100 a barrel of crude.

Trading in the shares resumed today after a one-day suspension on June 12 for the earnings announcement.

Joshua Ng, an analyst at RHB Research Institute Sdn. today slashed his forecast for the airline’s 2009 earnings to a loss of RM805 million from an earlier profit estimate of 161.9 million ringgit and maintained an “underperform” rating.

For the whole of 2009, the airline’s forecast ranges between a loss of RM499 million and net income of RM50 million, according to yesterday’s statement.

Source : Business Times
[tags : ]

To travel or not to travel with a pandemic?

For most of us, this is our first experience with a pandemic. Hence, the many questions on holiday and travel plans. Should we risk travelling under such circumstances? Sunday Star seeks the advice of the experts to answer some of these queries.

IT seems like such a wonderful opportunity – cheap airline tickets to distant destinations and lower fuel surcharge!

Despite this, family and friends are advising against holidays and unnecessary travel because the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the influenza A (H1N1) a pandemic.

While the more cautious ones have delayed their holiday plans and are even willing to lose their deposits with the travel agents, many are keeping to their travel plans made months ago. And there are some who are gleefully taking advantage of the low fares and hope the situation remains that way for a few more months.

“I can’t believe that I can get a ticket from London to KL at such a low price. If such prices keep up, I will definitely be travelling between these two cities a couple of times this year instead of just making an annual trip,” says a homemaker with two sons studying in England.

Although WHO has not advised against travelling, even to the 193 infected countries, the Health Ministry recommends that all non-essential travel to those countries be deferred.

However, with the summer breaks in the United States and Europe, many are also expecting friends and relatives over for a holiday in Malaysia.

Thousands of Malaysian students and graduates overseas are also expected to return home with the end of their academic year.

As the world gets into gear to prepare for the worst, Sunday Star has been flooded with queries on the pandemic and its implications on travel.

At hand to answer public concerns are Universiti Malaya senior research fellow and virologist Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit and Health Ministry Disease Control Division director Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman.

> My son who is studying in Melbourne is due back at the end of the month. Should I ask him to stay back in Australia? Serena Chong, Kuala Lumpur

Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman: There is no restriction to travel back to Malaysia; he is welcome to return. But if he has symptoms of influenza, he should delay his travel until he is fully recovered.

Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit: This is where the exit screen is important. Don’t get on board a plane if you have any flu-like symptoms. Practise social responsibility and don’t spread the germs. Wear a mask at all times. Don’t offer to shake hands. If there is no travel advisory, then there is no reason not to travel if you are healthy.

However, if you have any symptoms like fever, you run the risk of being put in quarantine, flu or no flu, especially if you are flying in from an endemic country. Why take the risk? Just postpone the trip till you have fully recovered.

> My sister is pregnant and works at an office where someone who just returned from an overseas trip is undergoing tests for H1N1 flu. What are the risks of swine flu for people who are pregnant? Ana Aziz, Alor Star

Dr Hasan: The risk of infection is the same if your sister is in close contact to the person (close contact refers to within one metre of the person having illness). The severity of infection may be higher in pregnant woman, especially if the pregnancy is complicated with other illnesses such as asthma, hypertension or diabetes.

Prof Lam: ‘Don’t get on board a plane if you have any flu-like symptoms’

Prof Lam: The risk of severity is higher in those who are pregnant. If there are cases of flu-like illness in the office, then she will have to take extra precautions. Wear a mask at all times while in office, wash or sanitise hands, avoid transferring the virus to your nose, eyes or any parts of your face (easier said than done, I am afraid).

> If you had another illness such as the common cold or another type of influenza at the time of contracting H1N1 flu, are you likely to become significantly more ill with the virus? Ahmad Idris, Kuala Lumpur

Dr Hasan: Usually, yes. Illness with multiple infections will be more severe than illness caused by a single infection. That is why you shouldn’t travel if you have any flu symptoms.

Prof Lam: Dual infections by similar or related viruses can happen but we are not sure that this will result in a worse clinical outcome. If a person is infected with two influenza A strains, for example, H1N1 and H3N2, then the most worrisome situation is genetic mixing, resulting in a totally new strain of flu A virus that possesses genetic traits of both. This can happen in animals (pigs, poultry) or man. Hopefully, it will not be a cross with the more pathogenic H5N1 bird flu strain. Then we really have grounds for concern.

> I suffer from asthma. Am I more at risk and what precautions should I take when I travel? Amril, Ipoh

Dr Hasan: Asthma is one of the risk factors. You should avoid close contact with any person with influenza-like illness.

Prof Lam: People with chronic chest problems can ill afford to get the flu. If you have made holiday plans, postpone the trip unless it is absolutely necessary. Wear a mask throughout the trip and take other precautions as listed above.

> I have a nine-month-old and a four-year-old. We have made holiday plans to visit my sister in Australia. How does the virus affect children of this age? P. Larita, Kuala Lumpur

Dr Hasan: All age groups are susceptible to the infection. The mode of the infection is still the same, which is droplet to the upper respiratory tract. That is why personal hygiene is very important.

Prof Lam: Children have a lower resistance to flu, hence the severity and deaths associated with this age group. Remember that anatomically, the respiratory system (as well as the immune system) is still under-developed and the virus can therefore spread lower down faster.

It is difficult for parents to know whether the child has merely a cold or flu, so parents must really educate themselves to recognise what to look out for. If you are ever in doubt, consult a doctor. If the elder child goes to a playschool or kindergarten, that can be a source for spreading of germs and bringing it back to infect the younger child, and even parents.

> I recently returned from a business trip in New York and I have been exhibiting signs of flu after I returned. However, now my symptoms appear to be decreasing and I feel a lot better. Should I bother to see a doctor at this point? JJ, Penang

Dr Hasan: All persons with symptoms of influenza should seek treatment as soon as possible. By doing so, he will help to control the spread of disease and at the same time get appropriate treatment for the illness.

Prof Lam: Definitely yes. The symptoms are very typical of flu and the authorities must know about it so that they can check out those whom you have been in contact with and give them advice and treatment if necessary. It is a social responsibility you must bear. Remember that you may still be infectious even though your symptoms are subsiding. Keep indoors and avoid infecting others.

Dr Hasan: ‘All age groups are susceptible to the infection’

> We are due to travel to Hong Kong in July to holiday there for two weeks. Is it wise to cancel our holiday or are we just being overcautious? Wong, Klang

Dr Hasan: Currently, Hong Kong does not impose any restrictions on tourists. If you have symptoms of influenza-like illness, however, it is advisable to delay the visit as Hong Kong may place you under quarantine if they find that you have symptoms of influenza on arrival.

Prof Lam: There is no advisory not to travel to Hong Kong, Australia or anywhere else although this can happen overnight if the situation warrants it. Australia, for example, is going into the peak months of flu with the arrival of winter, so the risk of a bigger outbreak of H1N1 or seasonal flu is there. It is also quite obvious with the increasing number of reported cases daily. You travel at your own risk. You are the best judge, to go or not to go, but make sure you know the risks involved.

> I am expecting relatives from the UK for a holiday. Do I ask them to cancel their trip or put them up in a hotel when they are here so that they don’t contaminate my house? Leong, Shah Alam

Dr Hasan: If they are free of influenza-like illness symptoms, they are welcome to come to Malaysia. If any one of them demonstrates any of the symptoms, they should wait until they are fully recovered and cleared of A(H1N1) suspicion before making the trip to Malaysia.

Prof Lam: As mentioned earlier, travelling should be on a need basis to avoid getting infected. Going on holidays means moving in crowded places, making many new friends, many more handshakes, etc. Will you have peace of mind under the circumstances? At Level Six, we should really review our activities.

> I’m going on my honeymoon to Europe in six weeks’ time. Should we get Tamiflu to take with us as a precaution? If yes, where can we get it? Susan, Kuala Lumpur

Dr Hasan: Tamiflu is only for people with symptoms. The best practice is good personal hygiene, including washing your hands after sneezing or coughing. Avoid crowded places, or if unavoidable, wear face masks.

Prof Lam: Tamilfu is not recommended as a prophylaxis if you are just a routine traveller. It is only prescribed to those who have been in close contact with a patient suspected to have H1N1. Do not abuse the use of Tamiflu or we run the risk of virus developing resistance rapidly. Then we will have nothing to use when it is really needed. Remember, Tamiflu is not a flu vaccine!

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Boost for medical tourism

Things will look up for health tourism in the historical city soon with the opening of the refurbished Malacca International Airport in Batu Berendam.
Mahkota Medical Centre's chief executive officer Francis Lim commended the state government for turning the new airport into a hub for medical tourists, the first of its kind in the region.

"At the moment, many medical tourists come to the state via the Low Cost Carrier (LCCT) terminal or the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang. The usual complaint we receive from them is on the two-hour trip from the airport to Malacca. The long journey is a major deterrent to health tourists, especially to those who are ill.
This is why the new Malacca airport will play a pivotal role in promoting the state as a major hub for medical tourism," he told the New Sunday Times.

Of the 70,000 medical tourists who visit Malacca for healthcare, Mahkota Medical Centre or MMC receives about 50,000 while the remaining patients are treated by the two other private hospitals in the state. "MMC has 235 beds at the hospital and if the need arises we could increase the number to 356."

MMC, a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary tertiary care facility, was recently awarded the Asean Healthcare Excellence Award (Health Tourism) 2008 and the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) accreditation.

Lim said that to attract more medical tourists from Indonesia, routes from Jambi, Palembang, Padang, Batam and Medan should be considered. He said that the Indonesian medical tourists who come to the state always have accompanying family members and this creates an economic spin-off in terms of hotel accommodation and shopping.

As for the Singapore market, Lim said the availability of flights from the republic cuts down the current travelling time. "This would attract patients from Singapore who are unable to travel by car due to health reasons."

Lim urged the state government to provide better facilities at the airport to cater to the sick such as ambulances and also wheelchairs to move them from the aircraft to the terminal building.

"The airport management and the state government should look into the needs of patients who are not mobile. The state government could help make it comfortable for tourists by planting more trees to provide shade along the roads, introducing a metered taxi service to prevent tourists from being short-changed by unscrupulous taxi drivers. The number of public toilets needs to be increased and measures should be taken to ensure that the public toilets are clean at all times."

Lim also commented on the route from the Simpang Ampat interchange to Malacca town which has about 20 traffic lights. "It takes about 45 minutes to reach town from Simpang Ampat which is the same time needed to travel from the LCCT or KLIA to Malacca. Maybe the traffic lights could be reduced by building flyovers and creating U-turns along the route."

Source : NST
[tags : ]

Not the time for higher rates, Ng tells hoteliers

This is not the right time to raise the rates for services in the hotel and tourism industry.

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said yesterday all parties in the industry must cooperate with the government in maintaining prices, especially in the present economic downturn.

She said she was told by a major Singapore tour agency during her trip to the republic recently that Malaysian tour guides had asked for an increase in rates and this has made them worried.

"With the number of visitors dropping, even hotel rates have gone down. I certainly don't agree with the tour guides' request for a raise as it will become an additional challenge to us. We have discussed this with all tourism players."
"They must cooperate with us during this difficult period. Raising prices during this time is not right," she said after giving away prizes to the winners of the state-level Homestay operators at Kampung Seterpa here yesterday.

On the homestay programme, Dr Ng said the government had decided to put a stop to the opening of new ones in the country as the present occupancy rate was low.

"We now have 4,000 homestays in the country but the occupancy rate is only about 10 per cent or 30 days a year. We want to raise it to 50 per cent," she said.

Dr Ng said the focus this year was to upgrade the homestays to the international level and the government would give them support and assistance wherever possible.

"The homestays must identify their niche and we will help them in their promotions. It will first be promoted in Singapore as it is our nearest neighbour," she said.

In the competition, Homestay Batu Papan from Gua Musang emerged champion, Kampung Seterpa runner-up and Kampung Renok Baru, Tanah Merah, third.

Source : NST
[tags : ]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Jetstar to Singapore and fly, ride, stay and shop for free!

If you love Singapore and a good deal, then there is no better time to book Jetstar to one of South-East Asia’s most exciting destinations.

Jetstar, in collaboration with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board, is offering passengers the ultimate experience: fly on Jetstar, stay in great accommodation, take a ride on the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel, and shop at the airport — all for free!

Passengers who book a Jetstar flight to Singapore between June 8 and June 16, 2009 for travel between July 1 and Oct 31, 2009, will receive a free return flight (excluding airport taxes).

For every one-night stay at participating Accor properties — IBIS Singapore on Bencoolen, the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel or the Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay — Jetstar passengers will get the second night’s stay for free during this promotional period.

By presenting the Jetstar boarding pass, passengers will be able to take a free ride on the iconic Singapore Flyer and enjoy a S$5 (RM12) voucher to shop at Singapore Changi Airport.

If you need ideas on what to do in Singapore, here are some exciting events coming up:

o Great Singapore Sale (now on till July 26)

o Ballet Under the Stars (July 17)

o Singapore Food Festival (July 17-July 26)

o Jazz by the Beach (July 4 )

o Nine Inch Nails Live in Singapore (Aug 10)

o Singapore Sun Festival (Oct 3-Oct 12)

o ARTSingapore (Oct 9-Oct 12)

Book on or call 1800 81 3090. Terms and conditions apply. Visit

About the promotion

The promotion applies to travel from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Manila, Taipei, Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya. Flights are subject to availability. Complimentary rides on the Singapore Flyer must be redeemed within three days of arrival. The shopping voucher of RM12 is only available for collection upon departure from Singapore.

Accommodation can be booked by calling the Accor reservation centre in the relevant country. Callers must specify the Jetstar promotion and provide the booking reference at the time of making the hotel reservation.

[tags : ]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thistle Johor Bahru Opening 1 July 2009

Thistle Johor Bahru Opening 1 July 2009

After all the work we've put in, we just can't wait to welcome you to brand new standard in hospitality.

Its been serious hard work but we're really excited about how our all new Thistle Johor Bahru is taking shape. When we open our doors to welcome you in just a few weeks time, you'll be equally thrilled at the refreshing new level of luxury and comfort that you will be able to enjoy in the heart of Johor Bahru.

It will be high above all else, we assure you. So do excuse us as we've still a lot to do to ensure we keep our promise.

Thistle Johor Bahru

Jalan Sungai Chat

80100 Johor Bahru

T: 607 222 9234

F: 607 223 2718

Ritz prepares new look; Traditional vibe gone in lobby, public areas.; Hotel wants to attract younger clients but hold on to loyal customers.

The lobby features Chippendale sideboards hand painted in gilded platinum, colorful contemporary art hanging over a museum-like white sofa and deep espresso walls that seem black to the casual eye.

This is not your grandfather's Ritz-Carlton.

In a move to better capture the next generation of affluent travelers, the Ritz-Carlton, one of the nation's toniest and most traditional hotel chains, has ditched the venerable country club look in the lobby and public areas of its downtown location for a more sleek contemporary appearance.

Gone are the overstuffed chairs, caramel-colored anigre wood paneling and hunter greens. They've been replaced by deep blue upholstered settees, pillows with splotches of red and black and lighting built into seating.

It's a gutsy move, say industry observers. Like most hotel chains, the Ritz-Carlton, once headquartered in Atlanta, is trying to keep pace with the public's ever changing tastes without alienating longtime customers.

"Any major shift from the core of what people think you are is a risk," said Paul Breslin, managing partner at Panther Hospitality and former hotel general manager. "Their clients are changing and they recognize it. It's more transitional."

Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Sandra Ryder said the $20 million changes are threefold: invest in the evolution of the Ritz-Carlton, attract a newer demographic while retaining current customers and increase bar business.

The bar, which has been christened Lumen, opens June 16, but Ryder said, "We have already experienced a 30 percent increase in business over the past 60 days while the space was in various stages of redesign."

The hotel is moving with caution, however. While the lobby and public areas, including the meeting rooms, have been changed, the remainder of the building has remained true to its heritage, Ryder said. And there are no current plans to make changes at the chain's Buckhead location.

"The new design is a modern interpretation of elegance and appeals to people with a sense of style," Ryder said. "So we believe we will continue to appeal to our loyal customers, and attract a younger, trend-conscious guest."

Tim Mescon, president of Columbus State University, applauded the tweaks. Even those with strong brand identity need to make sure they don't get left in a time capsule.

"They may be exposing themselves to a greater risk by sticking with the status quo," he said.

Source : HotelsMag
[tags : ]

WHO declares influenza A (H1N1) a pandemic, raising the alert level to the highest at Phase Six

The World Health Organization declared an influenza pandemic on Thursday and advised governments to prepare for a long-term battle against an unstoppable new flu virus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters seen in Geneva in this April 27, 2009 file photo. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

The United Nations agency raised its pandemic flu alert to phase 6 on a six-point scale, indicating the first influenza pandemic since 1968 is under way.

"With today's announcement, WHO moves from an emergency to a longer-term response. Based on past experience, this pandemic will be with us for some months, if not years, to come," WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in a letter to staff, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

People aged 30-50, pregnant women or people suffering from chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or obesity are at highest risk, Chan told a news conference.

Countries from Australia to Chile and the United States are reporting the new swine flu virus is "crowding out" seasonal flu, becoming the predominant influenza strain, she said.

For now the virus was "pretty stable," but Chan warned that it could still change into a more deadly form, perhaps mixing with the H5N1 bird flu virus circulating widely in poultry.

"So it is incumbent on WHO and all members to stay vigilant and alert for the next year or two or even beyond," she said.

There is also a risk the swine flu could mix with its seasonal H1N1 cousin, which has developed resistance to the main antiviral flu drug Tamiflu, made by Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a separate briefing.

The United States has been operating on pandemic status for weeks, with hundreds of thousands of cases and at least 1,000 hospitalizations, Schuchat said.


The virus disproportionately makes younger people sick. Some 57 percent of U.S. cases were among people aged 5 to 24, and 41 percent of those hospitalized were in this younger age group.

H1N1 is active in all 50 states and there are so many cases now that in some areas, patients with specific flu-like symptoms -- a fever above 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), cough or other respiratory symptoms -- are presumed to have the new virus.

WHO reiterated its advice to its 193 member countries not to close borders or impose travel restrictions to halt the movement of people, goods and services, a call echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"We must guard against rash and discriminatory actions such as travel bans or trade restrictions," Ban told a news conference at U.N. headquarters.

The move to phase 6 reflects the fact that the disease, widely known as swine flu, is spreading geographically, but does not indicate how virulent it is.

Widespread transmission of the virus in Australia, signaling that it is entrenched in another region besides North America, was one of the key triggers for moving to phase 6.

"We are satisfied that this virus is spreading to a number of countries and it is not stoppable," Chan said.

"Moving to pandemic phase 6 level does not imply we will see an increase in the number of deaths or very severe cases. Quite on the contrary. Many people are having mild disease, they recover without medicines in some cases and it is good news," she said.

"Although the pandemic appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems," she added.

Canadian health officials said they were concerned about reports of more severe symptoms in some aboriginal communities, but said it was too soon to say for sure.

"To make conclusions based on a couple of communities that this is somehow a disease that is worse in a particular ethnic group. It's much too early to make any of those kinds of conclusions or presumptions," said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer.


Chan said WHO would start distributing a further donation of 5.65 million courses of Tamiflu from Roche.

WHO recommended drugmakers stay on track to complete production of seasonal influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere's next winter in the next two weeks. Each year, normal flu kills up to 500,000 people and infects millions.

Work on developing an H1N1 vaccine is already under way at leading companies, whose factories will be ready to switch to making a pandemic shot in around two weeks' time, when normal season flu vaccine production is complete.

Seasonal flu affects mainly the elderly and causes severe illness in millions, so a premature switch in vaccine production to cope with the new strain could put many people at risk.

"So our recommendation is they need to finish the seasonal vaccine and then move over," Chan said.

Chan said the Geneva-based agency would work with regulatory authorities to help fast-track approval of new pandemic vaccines that are safe and effective so that they can be made available as soon as possible. In any case, the first doses would only be available in September, she added.

A pandemic could cause enormous disruption to business as workers stay home because they are sick or to look after family members and authorities restrict gatherings of large numbers of people or movement of people or goods.

World markets shrugged off the pandemic, as investors focused on possible global economic recovery.

The strain, which emerged in April in Mexico and the United States, has spread widely. There have been 28,774 infections confirmed in 74 countries to date, including 144 deaths, according to WHO's latest tally of laboratory-confirmed cases.

Stricter H1N1 measures as WHO declares pandemic

The World Health Organisation has declared the influenza A (H1N1) a pandemic, raising the alert level to the highest at Phase Six. This means that the flu has spread from human to human in more than one region in the world.

More drastic measures including greater screening at entry points into the country will kick in with the declaration of a pandemic for influenza A(H1N1), said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

Other measures included taking passengers’ temperatures before disembarkation and controlling human traffic from an affected township or village, he said.

He said the ministry would be drawing up a plan to prepare Malaysia for a possible Level Six scenario.

He said ministry officials would also be visiting hospitals and clinics to inform healthcare workers and general practitioners to be prepared and to be on high alert. “The people have to be on high alert. be cautious and follow the ministry’s instructions,” he said.

However, Liow said there was no need to postpone or cancel travel plans as the World Health Organisation (WHO) had not given instructions for border closures.

He said the next step following the declaration of the pandemic was to initiate the National Inter-Ministerial Influenza Pandemic Committee, which will meet next week. Joint regional measures would also be undertaken, he said.

Under the WHO definition, the pandemic – the first since the Mexico Flu in 1968 – meant that the A(H1N1) was spreading from human to human in more than one region.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the country would have to look at more stringent measures to contain the outbreak.

“At Level Six, we cannot be doing the same as before,” he said, adding that he would be calling for a press conference today on the matter.

Level Six is WHO’s alert level for a pandemic and is the highest alert level it can issue.

Liow also announced that two more cases of influenza A (H1N1) had been confirmed in Malaysia, bringing the total to 11.

The 10th patient is a 17-year-old girl who returned from a holiday in Melbourne on June 9.

She arrived at KL International Airport on Malaysia Airlines MH148 (seat 14A) at 7.30pm and was immediately referred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital after she was found to have a fever of 38.5°C, cough and sore throat. Test results returned positive the following day. The girl is receiving anti-viral treatment and is in stable condition.

The 11th patient is a 41-year-old woman who returned from Manila via Singapore Airlines SQ192 on June 6. Her flight made a transit stop in Singapore before landing in Penang.

She started showing flu symptoms on June 9 and was warded at the Penang General Hospital the following day. At 9am yesterday, her test results returned positive.

Liow said 178 people were still under home quarantine after being in contact with some of the patients. None of them have shown flu symptoms.

Source : STAR STAR2
[tags : ]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The St. Regis Monarch Beach schedule for a Foreclosure Auction!

Want to buy a five-star, down-on-its-luck resort?

The St. Regis Monarch Beach, infamous as the hotel where American International Group sponsored a luxury retreat just days after accepting a federal bailout, has been scheduled for a foreclosure auction.

The companies that own the resort are in default on a $70-million loan from Citigroup Global Markets Realty Group, people knowledgeable about the debt said Tuesday.

Negotiations continue in an effort to avoid an auction, according to those sources. But unless something is worked out, the St. Regis will go on the block July 7, to be sold to the highest bidder, according to a "terms of public sale" document obtained by The Times.

The resort's troubles come as the recession and credit crunch have hammered the hotel industry, depressing room rates and occupancy levels and making loans all but impossible for hotel owners to get.

Resorts like the St. Regis, which cater to wealthy travelers and the high-end corporate retreat business, have seen some of the steepest declines in revenue.

Business is so bad -- and funding so expensive -- that hardly any hotels are being sold these days, and most are now worth 50% to 80% less than at the peak, said hotel broker Alan X. Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group in Costa Mesa.

Just this week, Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc. said it would turn the trendy W Hotel in downtown San Diego over to its lenders, part of a growing trend that Reay said was a "bloodbath."

The St. Regis -- which has several restaurants, a golf course and a private beach club -- has been hit by a steep drop in bookings, according to the people with knowledge of the situation.

Built by the Makarechian development family of Newport Beach, the property is current, for now, on two other mortgages totaling $230 million on the 400-room hotel and golf course, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

When the Makarechians and their partners, including San Francisco's Farralon Capital hedge fund, refinanced the property and incurred $300 million in debt in 2007, credit markets had not yet seized up and the hotel's revenues were high enough to support the payments.

But that's no longer the case, these people said. Neither Citigroup nor representatives of the St. Regis would comment on the record.

The St. Regis always aimed to satisfy the smallest whims of wealthy people and high-end corporate travelers.

Before the hotel opened in 2001, Paul Makarechian, the 27-year-old scion overseeing non-residential projects for the family, took The Times on a tour, pointing out sweeping tapestries, elaborately stitched duvet covers matching fabric-draped headboards -- even motion sensors so employees would know without knocking if guests were present.

"If you're going to build a five-star luxury resort hotel that will outdo every other deluxe hotel on the planet, you don't scrimp on sheets," he said. "You don't scrimp on anything."

But in these times, perhaps a bit more austerity is in order.

Although the St. Regis is not directly on the waterfront, the Pacific Ocean is visible from its six restaurants and it boasts a five-star Mobil Travel Guide rating, compared with four stars for the nearby Ritz-Carlton and Montage resorts.

Guests can take a shuttle across the golf course to a private ocean-front club at Monarch Beach, the northernmost stretch of Dana Point, where they can sip cocktails after taking surfing lessons.

The St. Regis became something of an emblem of corporate excess and greed last October, as the global financial system was threatening to melt down.

The taint arrived by association with AIG, the giant New York insurer that, because of massive wrong-way bets on the mortgage markets, became the largest recipient of bailout money from the federal government.

Just weeks after receiving its first $85 billion in federal funds, AIG shelled out more than $440,000 at the St. Regis for rooms, wining and dining, spa treatments and rounds of golf to reward 100 top salespeople.

The Presidential Suite, which normally goes for $3,200, was booked for five nights, The Times reported.

The event was widely vilified and lampooned, and bookings at the St. Regis dropped by 20% in the months following it, St. Regis marketing director Michael Mustafa told Hotels Magazine.

By Mustafa's estimate, about a third of the drop-off was attributable to what the magazine termed the "AIG curse."

"My phone started ringing off the hook," Mustafa recalled. "That was the worst week of my life."

At the St. Regis, managers couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. But it appeared the debt problem would not directly affect resort visitors. The Citigroup real estate arm is pursuing what is known as a non-judicial foreclosure, meaning no sheriff's deputies nailing notices to the hotel walls or sales on the courthouse steps.

Instead, the auction is to be held at First American Title Co. in Santa Ana.

Bidders would be vying for the hotel and golf course, but not the surrounding residential areas, including a yet-to-be-developed parcel on the hotel's south flank, which is owned separately by the Makarechian-Farralon partnership.

Citigroup itself is allowed to bid, according to the "terms of public sale" document. The Makarechians and partners also are likely to enter bids.

The package to be sold includes the obligation to pay the $230 million in senior mortgages on the property.

Source : HotelsMag
[tags : ]

Our aircraft are safe, assure MAS and AirAsia

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia have assured passengers that all their aircraft are safe as they are well-maintained.

The airlines were responding to the move by Air France to replace the airspeed sensors or pitot tubes on its Airbus A330 planes after one crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, killing all 228 passengers.

It was speculated that the sensors may have frozen during a storm at high altitude and recorded inaccurate airspeed data.

MAS engineering and maintenance senior general manager Mohd Roslan Ismail said the pitot probes in all its A330-200 planes had been replaced with the latest model as recommended by Airbus since September last year.

“We have upgraded the Thales -AA to the Thales -BA pitot probe as recommended by Airbus,” he said in a statement yesterday.

AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said its A330 planes met all the requirements of the various air safety authorities.

“The A330 is a very mature aircraft with hundreds flying daily throughout the world, providing a safe and efficient service,” he said.

Fernandes added that there have not been any concerns expressed by passengers or the crew about the safety of the aircraft.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Genting pays US$100m for 3.2% stake in MGM

Genting Bhd has paid US$100mil for a 3.2% stake in US casino operator MGM Mirage, an official from the US company said yesterday.

The stake was offered under a US$1bil equity placement by MGM Mirage last month.

“We take this as a sign of great confidence in our company,” Alan Feldman, senior vice-president of public affairs for MGM Mirage told Reuters.

Last month, Genting and its unit Resorts World Bhd had subscribed for a combined US$100mil worth of notes issued by MGM Mirage.

The notes were part of MGM’s US$1.5bil fund-raising exercise to help settle its outstanding debts and for general corporate purposes.

Malaysian analysts had said the investments could pave the way for Genting to acquire a stake in MGM or take over the US casino operator’s investment in MGM Grand Macau.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

World edges towards official swine flu pandemic

Health authorities edged towards global swine flu pandemic status Wednesday as the virus wreaked havoc with Australian sports scheduling and Colombia reported its first death.

While critics say the alert system is in need of repair, with the A(H1N1) virus proving milder than other flu strains, experts are watching developments in Australia, Britain, Chile and Japan especially carefully.

The World Health Organisation held talks Wednesday with those countries worst hit, seeking "undisputable" evidence of domestic human transmission, after a senior official said Tuesday its highest, level-six alert phase was "very, very close" to being called.

"I can confirm that the DG (director-general) is consulting with the ministries of health of seven or eight of the most affected countries to try to see if there is undisputable evidence of community spread," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told AFP.

Since the A(H1N1) virus was first discovered in the United States and Mexico April, some 74 countries have reported 27,737 cases including 141 deaths to the health agency.

According to the WHO's latest tally of flu cases published Wednesday, Chile reported 1,283 more infections, including one new death, bringing its total caseload to 1,694.

Britain added 109 new infections, bringing its total to 666, while Australia reached 1,224, including 173 new cases. Japan also reported 75 new infections, taking its total to 485.

The Palestinian territories confirmed their first case in a four-year-old boy who returned to the West Bank from the United States five days ago.

Fears are currently greatest in the southern hemisphere, with the onset of its winter season.

Frequent flyers and people in large crowds remain particularly at risk -- indeed Australian Rugby league players could be in and out of quarantine for months, authorities said.

Friday's National Rugby League game between the Brisbane Broncos and the Canterbury Bulldogs is under threat awaiting test results on Broncos fullback Karmichael Hunt.

Senior WHO official Ian Barr predicted all sport would eventually be hit.

"It won't just be the Broncos or rugby league clubs, it will be all sporting activities that will be compromised or their sporting schedule interrupted," Barr, deputy director of WHO's influenza centre, said on Wednesday.

"The players are all susceptible, especially if they are sitting next to somebody on a plane for a few hours."

Swimming Australia said Tuesday it was shelving this month's Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Around the world, a 24-year-old woman became the first person in Colombia to die of swine flu.

In China, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was released from quarantine in Shanghai, where he had been detained since Sunday after a fellow passenger on his flight fell ill with a suspected case of swine flu.

Nagin, known for being mayor of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, missed several meetings in the Chinese business hub due to the quarantine but will make it to two speaking engagements in Australia Thursday and Friday.

In a statement, Nagin thanked Shanghai medical and city officials and said he was leaving China "in the best of health and spirits."

China has submitted passengers to temperature checks and at times quarantine at its airports in a bid to stop the spread of swine flu.

Those placed under quarantine have usually been released after a seven-day observation period, but the country's strict control measures have faced foreign criticism.

Egypt, Romania, the Czech Republic and Vietnam national authorities all reported new infections Wednesday, while health chiefs in Hong Kong and Poland each signalled their first cases of human swine flu where those infected had caught the virus locally.

Source : AP
[tags : ]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RM3bil project in Mersing

Radian Starfish Sdn Bhd will develop Laguna Marina, a RM3bil integrated development on the seafront of Mersing.

The development, which has received the Department of Environment approval, involves land reclamation of 809.37ha scheduled to start this year.

“The project is expected to take 10 years to complete,’’ Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said.

He said this after the inaugural meeting of Johor’s Implementation and Coordination Committee (ICC) under the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) development master plan.

The Federal Government has allocated some RM215mil under the East Coast Economic Region mas terplan for three infrastructure projects in Mersing this year

Ghani is also chairman of the ICC, which oversees the implementation of projects in Mersing which is part of the ECER, which also covers Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

He said the waterfront development would consist of star-rated and boutique hotels, waterfront homes, a water theme park, convention centre, cultural centre, private medical centres as well as commercial and business areas.

He said Radian would build a jetty complex for a new ferry service that would operate 24 hours and able to handle large capacity vessels, as well as a fishing jetty.

Ghani declined to divulge any information about Radian, which he said was a local property developer.

“Soon-to-be-launched tourism-related projects as well as the planned infrastructure development will transform Mersing into an even more popular tourist destination,’’ he said.

Mersing is the gateway to islands such as Pulau Tengah, Pulau Sibu, Pulau Rawa and Pulau Tioman. It is also the main eco-tourism gateway for the Endau-Rompin National Park.

Ghani said the Federal Government had allocated some RM215mil under ECER for three infrastructure projects in Mersing this year.

These include RM200mil for the construction of a 68km coastal road linking Mersing to Kg Sedili, RM12mil for the upgrading of a 56km track between Kg Kahang and Endau-Rompin National Park, and conversion of the roundabout in Mersing town into a traffic light intersection.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

The 4 Hotels must comply with 18m height regulation for hotel projects in Penang World Heritage Site

The Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) has instructed the developers of the four controversial hotel projects in inner George Town to comply with the 18m height or five-storey ruling.

The MPPP acted on the instructions of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who has decided that commitment to George Town’s status as a World Heritage Site (WHS) should take priority over the hotel projects, following consultation with heritage experts from Unesco.

The hotels facing height restriction are the Eastern & Oriental Hotel extension project known as Annexe at Lebuh Farquahar; the Boustead Group’s RM130mil Royale Bintang Hotel; the Asian Global Business Group’s Rice Miller Hotel in Weld Quay; and the Low Yat Group’s proposed hotel project at Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.

“After meeting with Unesco’s heritage experts, we decided that commitment to George Town’s WHS status should be of overriding concern.

“If need to, we will look into the legal aspects to defend George Town’s WHS status,” Lim told reporters after water supply company PBA Holdings Bhd’s AGM.

Lim added that the developers of the three hotel projects had agreed to comply with the 18m-height ruling.

“One has yet to reply. But I believe that the developer believes in exercising corporate social responsibility and shares the state government’s vision to preserve George Town’s WHS status,” he said.

On the usage of water in the state, Lim said the state government was considering imposing penalties on households using excessive water next year.

“The water rates in Penang are the lowest, presently fixed at 31sen per litre, and the usage of water in the state is higher than in Singapore,” he said.

Source : STAR
[tags : ]

Big bucks in medical tourism

Malaysia was ranked one of the world's top five medical tourism destinations last year by online publication Nuwire Investors.
The Deloitte Medical Tour-ism report 2008 and Research and Consultancy Solution, a research institute in India, said Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were among the most preferred destinations in East Asia for medical treatment.

Cashing in on these findings, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai yesterday launched a logo featuring the brand name "Malaysia Healthcare" with the tagline "Quality care for peace of mind" to further boost the health tourism industry.

He said the website would serve as a gateway for potential foreign patients and visitors to explore what the Malaysian healthcare sector had to offer in terms of medical treatment options, health and medical facilities, and other information.

In 1998, 39,114 foreign patients sought treatment in Malaysia. Last year, the figure rose to 374,063. The revenue from foreign patients' hospital bills also grew from RM14.1 million in 1998 to RM299.1 million last year.
"These statistics illustrate that the industry has the potential to become a new source of income."

He said the Deloitte report revealed that 39 per cent of respondents surveyed would go abroad for an operation if it meant they could save half the cost and be assured that the quality and standard of service provided was comparable.

In 2007, 750,000 Americans travelled abroad to get treatment and the figure is estimated to reach six million by next year, with the amount spent estimated to be in the range of US$7.9 billion (RM27.9 billion) to US$10.1 billion.

Liow said the global health tourism market was experiencing a growth rate of 20 to 30 per cent per annum.

Liow will submit a proposal to the cabinet on the establishment of a Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council to oversee the industry and promote it overseas.

Thirty-five private hospitals received the Health Industry Recognition Award from the minister for their contributions to health tourism.

Source : NST
[tags : ]




Related Posts with Thumbnails