Monday, July 31, 2006

MAS' domestic fares to increase 15-25pc

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) would raise its domestic fares by 15 per cent for its economy class and 25 per cent for its business class effective Aug 15.

Its international fares remain unchanged.

Despite the fare increase, its Managing Director Idris Jala said the national carrier's rates would "still be among the lowest in the world."

He said MAS would also increase the domestic fuel surcharge to RM20 from RM15 within Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak effective today (Tuesday).

Between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, the fuel surcharge would be raised to RM51 from RM36, he told a press conference here Monday.

He also said an administration fee of RM14 would be imposed as practised by budget carrier AirAsia.

Saying the airlines' domestic fares were "still among the lowest in the world" even with the fare increase, he explained the cost of flying domestic with MAS was only 62 sen per mile, which is lower than the cost of flying in countries like Thailand, China, Philippines, France and Japan.

Stressing that the new fuel surcharge only covers half of the fuel cost, he said it was important for the national carriers to raise its fares now since the last domestic fare hike was done 14 years ago.

In addition, inflation and cost of living had gone up over the years.

MAS also aims to break even by the year-end following the implementation of its turnaround plan unveiled earlier this year, he said.

"Starting from tomorrow we will take full accountability over the profit and loss and as far as we are concerned, we should be in a position not to lose any money this year.

"We are planning to make sure that we are track to break even," he added.

For next year, Idris said MAS will make further improvements and "hopefully make some money but we really need to work hard on the way to reduce our costs and focus on customers and improve our offer."

Source: BERNAMA

Asean visa pact hailed as boon to tourism

Kuala Lumpur: A Southeast Asian pact to allow visa-free travel for citizens within the grouping has been hailed as a boon for the tourism industry as well as for dreams of regional unity.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministers took a respite from tense discussions on rogue member state Myanmar to sign the Asean Framework Agreement on Visa Exemption at their annual talks here last week.

Combined with growing affluence in many of the 10 member states, as well as an era of cheap air travel, the pact which will allow two-week visa-free entry for Asean nationals travelling within the bloc is expected to have a real impact.

"This move should result in greater ease of travel within the region and stimulate more social and commercial interaction within Asean," said Tiger Airways chief executive Tony Davis.

"Tiger Airways is well positioned to facilitate this increase in travel demand and is ready to expand its services to make air travel within the region easily available and affordable," said the boss of the Singapore-based carrier.

AirAsia, the Malaysia-based budget airline which pioneered the low-cost sector in the region and which flies to all Asean nations except Laos, was also encouraged by the decision.

"It is a step in the right direction. We are excited about it. For sure it will encourage intra-Asean travel," said chief executive Tony Fernandes.

"When travel is made easy and cheap, it will spur people to travel and AirAsia will benefit," he told AFP. "We are best placed to take advantage of it."

Fernandes said he hopes governments will now reduce airport taxes and other travel-related levies "to make Asean a common market for travel".

The agreement will take effect once it is ratified by all 10 member countries. Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Bilateral agreements between some Asean countries requiring their nationals to obtain visas currently limit intra-regional travel.

Myanmar, for example, requires a visa for all visitors into the military-ruled nation, including those from Asean countries.

Southeast Asian governments have long promoted closer integration of the region of 500 million people as a vital initiative to remain economically relevant as the long shadow of regional power China looms.

But while dry debate over tariff reductions and free-trade deals may pass people by, the visa pact has been seized on as a concrete example of how closer relations can provide real benefits to ordinary people.

Asean spokesman M.C. Abad said the agreement would help integrate the region - a motley collection of democracies and dictatorships, and economies both developed and dysfunctional.

"This agreement should contribute to promoting people-to-people contact in Southeast Asia. It could increase tourism in the Asean region," he said.

Asean countries recorded 51.39 million visitor arrivals in 2005, 45 percent of whom were from other nations within the bloc, Abad told AFP.

Former Asean secretary general Rodolfo Severino also hailed the multilateral pact.

"It's good because everybody is committed to it and it's harder to get out of the agreement," Severino said. "If it's on a bilateral basis, it's easier to get rid of it."

Severino also said that Myanmar's move to become part of the agreement indicated a change in policy in that country, which tightly controls the movements of its citizens as well as incoming foreigners.

"That's a political decision on their part. If indeed they are in the same status as the rest of Asean, then it is a policy change that they have undertaken." - AFP

Source: Daily Express

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bollywood debut for Sarawak

KUCHING: Sarawak will for the first time be featured in a Bollywood movie.

Locations for the adventure-packed Kabodiram include Sematan Beach near here and Lambir National Park in Miri.

According to the Sarawak Tourism Board, the movie, produced by Percept Picture Company (PPC) from Mumbai, India, is about 14 children stranded on a deserted beach while on holiday.

“The film is expected to be released in Britain, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India,” the board said in a statement.

“With PPC having produced several block buster movies, Kabodiram can be expected to be another box-office hit.”

It said the movie was another effort by the board to attract moviemakers to Sarawak.

Source: The Star

Friday, July 28, 2006

Damaged Sipadan reefs slowly but surely recovering

By TAN CHENG LI

PETALING JAYA: The Sipadan coral reefs which were damaged by a barge carrying construction material in mid-May are slowly but surely recovering.

Marine biologist Dr Nicolas Pilcher said the reefs, where only the coral tips had been scraped off by the vessel, have grown.

The director of Kota Kinabalu-based Marine Research Foundation, which was appointed by Sabah Parks to restore the reef, said the damage was minimal and nowhere near the extent reported in the press.

“There was no one complete destruction zone but several scattered small patches. This is good news for the reef. Chances of recovery are better as the adjacent healthy reef will help replenish the damaged areas,” he said.

Over the month of June, Dr Pilcher and his staff were at Sipadan assessing the reef regeneration and also removing coral and rock rubble that prevented young coral from getting a firm foothold on the substrate.

The next phase of restoration work will see the creation of artificial reefs.

Ceramic structures, made in the United States and designed to resemble the underwater landscape, will be placed in the worst-afflicted sites to promote coral regeneration.

“We envision that the structures will be completely covered with corals within six months to a year. This will help stabilise the reef in the larger damaged areas and fix the reef faster,” he said.

“The potential of recovery is good because Sipadan has one of the best and healthiest reefs in the country.”

Source: The Star

Sipadan Clubhouse project halted

By RUBEN SARIO

KOTA KINABALU: Work on the controversial RM4.5mil clubhouse project on Pulau Sipadan has stopped for now.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman told this to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi during a 20-minute meeting at Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur.

“The Prime Minister was happy and had accepted my explanation,” Musa said in a statement read out by the chief minister’s department press secretary Afeiza Khan, here yesterday

In the six-paragraph statement, Musa said he explained the whole situation at Sipadan to Abdullah and also showed him a comprehensive report on the status of development on the island.

“I told him since my directive on May 24 to suspend the contract and stop mobilisation works, all physical works had stopped on Sipadan,” the statement said.

The chief minister’s meeting with the Prime Minister came after Abdullah, in his dinner speech at the Malaysian Professional Centre on Wednesday night, expressed his anger at Musa for proceeding with the Sipadan project despite objections.

Abdullah had said: “I was very angry with Musa. I told him not to build it. I said so many corals are dying and he promised that he would look into the project.”

He also said he was upset with the general quality of environment in the country, and that Malaysians should learn to appreciate the environment, as it was a gift from God.

Musa had initially ordered the clubhouse construction stopped after a barge laden with building materials scraped a coral patch on May 14, but later allowed the project to continue on condition environmentally friendly materials were used.

The barge had damaged 324.94 sq m of coral reefs at the landing point north of Sipadan, and a clean-up order was issued.

But subsequent photos showed steel bars and other construction materials on the seabed.

Musa said that a joint committee on the management and monitoring of Sipadan, chaired by Tan Sri Samsuddin Osman, had met in June this year.

He said all development plans for Sipadan must be approved by the state Cabinet prior to implementation and must conform to the recommendations of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The state cabinet last month also ordered a stop to the rest-house and restaurant project located about 3,000m above sea level at Sayat Sayat along the summit trail on Mount Kinabalu, which is Malaysia’s first World Heritage site.

Work on the project stopped after it had been abandoned for several months. Environmental groups had voiced their anger over blasting on the mountain for constructing the building’s foundation.

Two weeks ago, environmentalists were upset over the Sabah government’s decision to proceed with logging at the 236,825ha Ulu Segama and Malua forest reserves, which would be bequeathed as Malaysia’s biodiversity gift to the world by the end of next year.

Source: The Star

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Groups want Sipadan project to be scrapped

KOTA KINABALU: Environmental groups are all for scrapping the RM4.5mil clubhouse project on Pulau Sipadan.

Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa) and the Consumers Association of Sabah (CASH) said the state government should accept Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s criticisms of the project.

“We are thankful for the Prime Minister’s attention on Sipadan. It shows his concern about the environment in the country,” Sepa chairperson Datuk Sue Jayasuriya said.

CASH president Datuk Patrick Sindu said there was no need for additional tourist facilities on Sipadan as there were already adequate dive resorts at nearby islands such as Mabul.

“I cannot understand the rationale in getting the dive resort operators out from the island and then making an about-turn and building more tourist facilities there,” he said.

Former state Tourism, Culture and Environment permanent secretary Datuk Wilfred Lingham said he was glad over Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman’s assurance that construction work at Sipadan had not resumed since a May 24 stop-work directive.

“I think the next logical step is to scrap the project,” he said.

Source: The Star

AirAsia and MAS domestic air routes issue settled

PUTRAJAYA: The issue of AirAsia’s unhappiness over the removal of the floor price for Malaysia Airlines domestic routes has been settled.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy said all interested parties had accepted the Government’s decision as final.

“The issue has been settled. They are not unhappy now. We will continue to support MAS and AirAsia because both companies are important to Malaysia,” he told reporters after presenting the air operator certificate to Fly Asian Express (FAX) to take over MAS’ domestic flight operations within Sabah and Sarawak from Aug 1.

Chan also expressed his hope that FAX would be able to maintain good services for rural folk who had no alternative mode of transportation to their interior villages.

“We will monitor the fares so they are at reasonable rates because this is a necessary service,” he added.

FAX chief executive officer Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali said the airline would make sure that the operations on all 26 routes would go on smoothly.

“From Day 1 we will have 343 flights a week,” he added.

“After the three months, we will refine the network and how we can improve, and possibily expand into the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines-East Asean Growth Area).”

On the fares, Raja Mohd Azmi said they would be similar to AsiaAsia's offerings.

“People will still get low prices and there will be promotional prices as well,” he added.

FAX has seven Fokker 50 aircraft and five Twin Otters to serve the interior routes.

Source: The Star

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lay off Sipadan

DAMAGED CORAL: A photo taken on May 14
showing the damaged area caused by a barge
bringing construction materials to Pulau Sipadan.
Copyright © 2006 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd


By ELIZABETH LOOI

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi lashed out at Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman for going ahead with the RM4.5mil clubhouse project at Pulau Sipadan despite his objection.

“I was very angry with Musa. I told him not to build it. I said so many corals are dying and he promised that he would look into the project,” said Abdullah, who openly expressed his disappointment and frustration with Musa.

He said the corals would attract tourists and divers from around the world but they would not visit the country if the corals were destroyed.

Abdullah was referring to the construction of a clubhouse, toilets and sewage facilities that started on the island two months ago. It caused serious concern among divers when there was gradual destruction of the coral reefs.

On May 14, a barge from the construction fell onto the seabed and flattened 372.94 sq m of coral reef at the island’s drop-off point in the north.

Musa ordered construction of the project stopped but later allowed it to continue, provided environment-friendly building materials were used.

Abdullah said he was upset with the general quality of environment in the country, and that Malaysians should learn to appreciate the environment as it was a gift from God.

“God gave us such a beautiful gift. Why are we destroying it?” Abdullah said in his speech when attending the Malaysian Professional Centre annual dinner here last night.

He said more tourists would visit Malaysia if the environment was kept clean.

“Tourists want to enjoy places with beautiful beaches and clean water,” Abdullah said.

“But now they are all destroyed. We do not know how to value (the environment).

“Giant leatherback turtles used to lay eggs on the Terengganu shores but now they are not there any more.”

He said he was very upset that the majority of the country's rivers were polluted and waterfalls had dried up, such as the ones in Penang.

“Penang used to have a waterfall but now you cannot find it any more. It is a dirty place,” he said.

Citing the Gombak-Klang river as another example, Abdullah said Malaysia was fortunate to have a river that ran through the city as it was a beautiful sight.

He said, however, the river was now too polluted. “If you throw a crocodile into the river, the crocodile will die.”

Source: The Star

Sabah tour agents worry over interior air services

By Jaswinder Kaur

KOTA KINABALU: Tour operators here have a host of questions on Malaysia Airlines’ plans to stop flying to Lahad Datu and several towns in the interior from Tuesday.

They are worried about uncertainties of flight schedules, fares and transfer of baggage and passengers.

Borneo Nature Tours Sdn Bhd senior sales co-ordinator Ann Otigil said many were unaware of the fares and flight schedules of Fly Asia Xpress (FAX), which was taking over the Lahad Datu route from MAS.

"The only way to go to Danum Valley is through Lahad Datu. We have had problems with bookings because fares and flight schedules keep changing.

"Another worry is that passengers won’t be able to check in direct to Lahad Datu from their point of departure," said Otigil, whose company flies tourists to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley.

She said tour operators were also in the dark about the time requirement for connecting flights.

"Passengers will disembark at Terminal One and they will have to travel to Terminal Two for their next flight. For other destinations, you still have MAS operating along with AirAsia, but not for Lahad Datu."

The company gets the bulk of its tourists from Britain and Europe, followed by Japan, Australia and the US.

Hotelier Suzaini Sabdin said tour agents in Europe had voiced their concerns during a roadshow three weeks ago.

"When they sell a destination, they market all products available, including places of interest in other parts of the State. The agents said they might drop us because they are unclear about the rationalisation exercise.

"If travellers stop coming here, it will have an impact on the hotel industry. While we understand why the Government has to conduct this exercise, there are still things that we are not sure about.

"It will take a lot of time for us to educate tour operators overseas. And this has come at a time when tourism is growing in Sabah," said Suzaini, who is Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort director of sales.

Otigil and Suzaini were among those who attended a briefing with MAS senior general manager for Transition Management, Dr Amin Khan, at the Le Meridien Hotel yesterday. The briefing was to explain the exercise and how it would have an impact on the tourism industry.

Amin said interlining, or direct check-in of baggage and passengers, could not be done as MAS and AirAsia had different business models.

He also said for the time being, MAS pilots would continue to fly the Fokker 50 and Twin Otter aircraft that FAX was taking over, and that the national carrier would also continue to provide engineering services.

Amin said MAS would continue to expand on international destinations that fly into Kota Kinabalu.

Under the rationalisation exercise, MAS will compete with AirAsia on 22 trunk routes, including the Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu and Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan links.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Sabah Tourism suggests underpass to connect KK airport to LCC terminal

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism Board (STB), an agency under the State Tourism, Culture and the Environment Ministry, has suggested an underpass to be constructed beneath the Kota Kinabalu International Airport runway to connect the main terminal and the low-cost carrier (LCC) terminal.

“We are raising the solution seriously to the authorities now,” STB chairman Datuk Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahmood said here yesterday.

“The main airport (expansion) is due to be ready in 2009 there is some time to look into it,” he said during a dialogue session after a briefing by Malaysia Airlines on the rationalisation exercise of its domestic trunk routes effective next month.

The briefing was delivered by the airline’s senior general manager of transition management, Dr Amin Khan.

Without the underpass, passengers would have to go all the way from the arrival hall in the main terminal, and travel by taxi for about two kilometres to the LCC terminal in Tg Aru because there was no transportation system within the airport connecting the two terminals currently, Tengku Zainal Adlin said.

It would also be inconvenient for the passengers, especially international travellers, because they have to carry their luggages and rush to catch their domestic connecting flights, he said.

One of the travel operators who attended the briefing raised the issue that no interlining between the two airlines after the rationalisation of the domestic routes would cause problems in ticket bookings.

Interlining means a passenger could book two connecting airlines in a single ticket and provided with a fuss-free check-in and baggage transfer, which was an issue that has not been ironed out during the negotiations between Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia to rationalise the domestic air routes, Amin said.

Interlining is one of the conditions put up by the government for Air Asia in the rationalisation process and as at two weeks ago the low budget carrier has yet to implement interlining between the two airlines companies, he said.

Therefore, he added, travel operators might have to retrain their staff to book flights with Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines instead of one airline due to the absence of an interlining system between the two airlines.

On the rationalisation exercise, Amin said he was optimistic that it would open more opportunities for the national carrier to promote its presence internationally and to increase international passenger flow into this country.

With the rationalisation, Malaysia Airlines will compete with Air Asia in the 22 domestic trunk routes, defined as having high numbers of business class travellers and interconnecting passengers, beginning August 1.

The rural airline service which is currently provided by Malaysia Airlines through its propeller and turbo-props airplanes in Sabah and Sarawak will cease operation on the same day and be taken over by Fly Asian Xpress (FAX).

“Despite the leaner network of 22 domestic routes, we will continue to expand out of Sabah to international destinations,” Amin said.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times

AirAsia's Fly Asian Express (FAX) set for Aug 1 take-off

KOTA KINABALU: Newly established airline Fly Asian Express (FAX) is set to take over Malaysia Airlines' domestic flight operations within Sabah and Sarawak from Aug 1.

FAX executive director Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Azali said the airline would operate from Terminal 2 of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

“FAX has seven Fokker 50 aircraft, each with a capacity of 50 seats and five Twin Otters that can seat 19 passengers,” he said here yesterday.

FAX will use the Fokker 50 for its services involving Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau and Lahad Datu in Sabah and Bintulu, Sibu and Mulu in Sarawak.

The Twin Otter aircraft will service 26 routes in the two states, including Kudat and Tomanggong in Sabah and Bario, Lawas, Ba' Kelalan, Mukah and Long Seridan in Sarawak.

The services are in line with the Government’s rationalisation of the domestic routes in Sabah and Sarawak.

Raja Mohd Azmi said the company aims to reduce government subsidies on such services.

“We are here to operate an airline that is cost effective. We have a dedicated team to efficiently manage all operations,” he added.

“Our ultimate aim is to turn it into a profitable airline. We believe that some of AirAsia’s successful operating practices will help reduce the cost structure of operating the aircraft, especially Twin Otters.”

He said although initial fares were similar to those of MAS, the company’s eventual savings would be passed on to customers.

“In time, fares will go as low as 99 sen. As our tagline ‘affordable accessibility’ suggests, it is all about making travelling possible for everyone; and we believe this can be achieved,” said Raja Mohd Azmi.

FAX has appointed AirAsia as its ground-handling agent to manage all ground operations including ticket reservations, check-in counters and in-flight services.

He said FAX was collaborating with the Galileo International distribution network to have its fares and inventory available on the Galileo GDS platform.

Galileo International, a subsidiary of Travelport Inc, is a leading global distribution system.

This provides Galileo-connected agents with access to FAX’s full range of fares. Currently, Galileo serves over 50,000 agents worldwide.

Seats are now available for purchase via the FAX website flyasianxpress.com and at all existing AirAsia airport and sales offices nationwide and from appointed travel agents.

Source: The Star

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kuching-Perth flights in the pipeline: AirAsia

KUCHING: Low-cost carrier AirAsia Bhd may fly to Perth via Kuching after its direct flights from here to other Asean destinations are successful, chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes said.

“Our priority now is the direct flights from Kuching, our second hub in Sabah and Sarawak, to Asean destinations such as Bangkok, Jakarta, the Philippines and Brunei,” he said after a CEO Luncheon Talk yesterday.

“We have other routes that we are going to (introduce) first. I think there are a lot of nearby businesses we want to get.

“We want to bring the Indonesians, Filipinos, Thais and Malaysians from the semenanjung here (Kuching) first. We will do that first before the Australians,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines has decided to cut all flights via secondary hubs - London-Langkawi-KL International Airport (KLIA), London-Penang-KLIA, Sydney-Kuching-KLIA, KLIA-Kuching-Perth and Frankfurt-KLIA-Kuching - under its Business Turnaround Plan.

The national carrier’s Kuching-Perth route, introduced three years ago, has been popular among the Australians.

Fernandes said the direct Kuching-Perth flights would happen. “Whatever we said, for sure we will do it but there is no real time frame. AirAsia will never rush to do things.”

On Fly Asian Express (FAX), a unit of Tune Air, the holding company of AirAsia, Fernandes said the airline was confident of getting the air-operating certificate before Aug 1, as it would begin flights to rural areas in Sarawak and Sabah.

“We have met with the Transport Ministry. It has been very supportive, so I don't see any problem. MAS has also given great support,” he said.

Source: BERNAMA

Asean visa-free travel

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Southeast Asian foreign ministers Tuesday signed an agreement allowing greater visa-free travel within the region in a move seen as a major boost to tourism in an era of cheap air travel.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministers took a respite from tension-filled discussions on rogue member state Myanmar to sign the Asean Framework Agreement on Visa Exemption.

The pact will allow two-week visa-free entry for Asean nationals travelling within the bloc. The agreement will take effect once it is ratified by all 10 member countries.

Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Bilateral agreements between some Asean countries requiring their nationals to obtain visas currently limit intra-regional travel.

Myanmar requires a visa for all visitors into the military-ruled nation, including those from Asean countries.

"It is a step in the right direction. We are excited about it. For sure it will encourage intra-Asean travel," said Tony Fernandes, chief executive of Malaysian budget airline AirAsia.

"When travel is made easy and cheap, it will spur people to travel and AirAsia will benefit," he told AFP. "We are best placed to take advantage of it."

Fernandes said he hopes goverments will subsequently reduce airport taxes and other travel-related levies "to make Asean a common market for travel".

AirAsia flies to all Asean nations except Laos.

Asean spokesman M.C. Abad said the agreement would help integrate the region.

"This agreement should contribute to promoting people-to-people contact in Southeast Asia. It could increase tourism in the Asean region," he said.

Asean countries recorded 51.39 million visitor arrivals in 2005, 45 percent of whom were from other nations within the bloc, Abad told AFP.

Former Asean secretary general Rodolfo Severino also hailed the multilateral pact. "It's good because everybody is committed to it and it's harder to get out of the agreement," Severino said. "If it's on a bilateral basis, it's easier to get rid of it."

Severino also said that Myanmar's move to become part of the agreement indicated a change in policy in that country. "That's a political decision on their part. If indeed they are in the same status as the rest of Asean, then it is a policy change that they have undertaken."

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Brunei for International Borneo Kite Fest in Bintulu

By Achong Tanjong

Six Bruneians will be among the 138 participants to take part in the second International Borneo Kite Festival 2006, organised by the Bintulu Development Authority (BDA) from August 21 to 27 at the old airport ground.

According to a news report, the Borneo Kite Festival has attracted foreign participants from Japan (six), New Zealand (two), Australia (two), China (two), Taiwan (two), Indonesia (eight), Singapore (four), Brunei Darussalam (six), Thailand (four), South Korea (two), Germany (one), England (two) and the USA (one) - all invited by the Bintulu Development Authority.

The rest are from Sarawak (six), Kelantan (12), Johor (12), Selangor (six), Perlis (six), Terengganu (12), Kedah (six), Pahang (six), Penang (six) Perak (six), Malacca (six) Kuala Lumpur (six) and Kelab MAS (six).

The organiser will also hold a trade exposition with support from the Resident's Office, Sarawak Economy Development Corporation (SEDC), Kite Association of Sarawak (PEWASA), Malaysian Kite Council (MPM), Malaysian Tourism Ministry, Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage Malaysia, and the Ministry of Town, Development and Tourism, Sarawak.

A total of 70 booths will be provided for local and international companies to take part in the expo.

They will display among other things food, agricultural products, herbs, manufactured goods, tourism products and services and banking and financial products.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Monday, July 24, 2006

AirAsia sets eye on cargo

BY K RUKA

AIR ASIA'S exclusive courier and express cargo marketer, ATR Express Sdn Bhd will expand its horizons regionally, aside from enhancing its services in Sabah and Sarawak.

Its managing director Tan Eng Chan said effective August, ATR has been appointed to service Indonesia Air Asia (IAA) and Air Asia's network in Philippines.

For Indonesia, it comprises Kuala Lumpur-Surabaya, Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta and Penang-Medan daily frequencies, to and fro while for Philippines, it would be from Kota Kinabalu to Clark base.

“This provides us more room for expansion, based on our high-quality service levels rendered,'' he said.

For a start, ATR would invest RM2mil to upgrade to bigger warehouse space and increase cargo handling equipment and facilities at eight stations in Sabah and Sarawak.

The eight are namely Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Sibu, Miri, Bintulu, Tawau and Sandakan.

“This is an opportunity for us to expand following the recent Malaysia Airlines rationalisation programme and the frequencies to be operated by Air Asia.

“With the rationalisation, we require bigger space. Although it would be done in stages, 154 flights per day would cover eight stations in Sabah and Sarawak by November,'' he said.

Presently handling courier and express cargo except for perishables and dangerous goods, ATR projects a growth of 30% for the company this year.

Tan said he was optimistic of the projected growth, adding that ATR's affiliation with Air Asia started close to five years ago.

Established as an airfreight company in 2000, ATR tendered for the job and started to effectively market and sell space for Air Asia in 2002.

A pioneer and as the budget carrier's cargo marketing representative, ATR will cover inter and intra Sabah-Sarawak region.

Presently, the company's main sector is ex Kuala Lumpur to major destinations in Sabah-Sarawak.

“We are focussed on customer satisfaction, we stress on the security and safety of the goods delivered.

“ATR believes that commitment, personal touch and strongly addressing customer needs are vital to survive in this demanding industry,'' he said, adding that these were mainly ATR's selling points.

Tan added that the company had also maintained compliance with Air Asia's turnaround time of 25 minutes, judging by the items transported.

Last year, the company achieved a 35% growth.

Source: The Star

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Motoring down to Mulu

One of the spectacular caves at Mulu National Park that draws visitors from all over the world. – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Twenty years ago, a trip to the fabulous Mulu caves entailed a nine-hour river journey on several, progressively smaller, boats. Today, anyone can fly in and luxuriate in a five-star resort but, for his second visit, PAUL SI just has to do it the hard way.

IT’S not the destination, it’s the journey.” That sounds like a nice philosophy if you’re into zen and all that mystical stuff. Personally, I think it’s a cop-out, a sorry excuse made up to console oneself when the destination turned out to be one huge, disappointing mistake.

Give me a good journey AND a good destination any time. Give me a trip to Mulu, and give it to me the old-fashioned way, of course.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, that’s the renowned Gunung Mulu National Park in the north-eastern corner of Sarawak, famed for its superlative caves – world’s largest cave chamber, South-East Asia’s longest cave passage, longest cave system, etc.

Twenty years on, memories of my first visit, and what felt like an epic journey then, are still vivid.

From the seaside town of Kuala Baram, about 25km from Miri, I had to take a pre-dawn express boat journey to the small riverside town Marudi, three hours away.

Change over to an open top longboat for another three-hour ride to an even smaller riverside town, Long Lama, where another transfer is required, to an even smaller longboat for the last stretch up the calm Melinau river.

Today, Mulu has become one of Sarawak’s most popular tourist destinations, thanks to regular flights that deliver visitors almost to the doorsteps of the first-class Royal Mulu Resort and another dozen or so lodgings clustered on the banks of the pristine Melinau river.

When the opportunity to revisit Mulu came up, it was the destination that got me excited first.

Then came the offer I couldn’t refuse – it was a Ford Lanun Darat expedition so the trip would not be made either in progressively diminishing boats or Twin Otter aircraft. Instead, we would drive there in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles.

For most of the journey, the Ford Ranger pick-ups and Everest SUVs would travel on a well-used trail from Miri to Long Bedian, a remote settlement of the Kayan tribe.

Just how remote is it? Well, it’s about 125km from Miri, and the natives have e-Bedian (check out www.unimas.my/ebedian) and lots of satellite dishes.

And, when the convoy of 25 or so vehicles finally rolled up at the longhouse after a long, hard and dusty journey, the native women whipped out their snazzy camera phones to snap pictures of the visitors from afar!

The drive to get there had been a gruelling ordeal of dust, bone-jarring bumps and monstrous hills with steep climbs and descents like roller coasters.

The dust was so thick in places that visibility was down to a couple of metres.

For city slickers, there was one thing worse than driving virtually blind – knowing that we were sharing the trails with monster 80-tonne logging trucks that dwarf most of the semi-trailers on peninsular highways.

The long drive to Long Bedian and our overnight rest stop at the nearby Tenyok Rimba community resort had taken the best part of an entire day, and sapped all of our energy.

The locals put on a warm welcome, complete with dancing girls and traditional music but most of us were simply too tired to party for long.

But, as I was to discover the next day, that was the easy part. Next stop, Mulu!

A quick look at the topographic map and a consultation with my trusty GPS (Global Positioning System) showed the objective was less than 50km away. But, that’s in a straight line, and nothing goes anywhere in a straight line in this part of the world.

It turned out to be four-and-a-bit hours of traversing some of the steepest slopes and, at one stretch of around seven kilometres, definitely the bumpiest bit of dirt and stone trail I’ve ever driven across.

There was the added pressure of a deadline. We absolutely had to reach that dot on the map by 1.30pm or else we wouldn’t have enough time to make the last stretch into the national park and still have enough time to return to our camp before nightfall.

Jury-rigged bridges made from a couple of logs, hastily cleared landslides, dizzying heights of hills and plunging depths of valleys were all par for the course, which ended abruptly at the river.

With barely minutes to spare, we had made the rendezvous. There, patiently waiting for us were the boatmen who would ferry us on the final leg of the journey into the national park.

Unfortunately, the tight schedule meant we could not explore the wonders of Mulu at a leisurely pace.

After a short boat ride through a sudden yet typical thunderstorm, we climbed 200 steps up to the gaping mouth of the magnificent Clearwater Cave, South-East Asia’s longest cave passage with over a hundred kilometres surveyed.

Descending deep into the chasm on wobbly legs, I realised that every step downward meant yet another upward step that must be taken on the return trip, and all these steps would lead to the 200 steps back down to the river. So much for “the journey, not the destination”.

Still, there was just enough time for a refreshing dip in the crystal clear lagoon fed by the underwater river flowing out of the cave before heading off for a quick lunch and then back to the vehicles for the long, bumpy drive back to Tenyok Rimba.

More bumps, more dust and mud, many more hours of arduous driving lay ahead before we returned to “civilisation” but when our tyres finally met bitumen, I felt I could say that Lanun Darat #28 had been a tough but enjoyable journey to and from a great destination.

# Owners of Ford 4X4s who are keen to take part in the next Lanun Darat can obtain more information from the Ford Business Centre’s toll-free line 1-800-88 3181.

Source: The Star

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Mysteries in the mists of Kinabalu

By Julia Chan

KOTA KINABALU: A man who claimed to be an expert mountain climber tried to climb Mount Kinabalu without a guide — and went missing.

Park rangers found his body three months later, crouched behind a stone off the trail.

In 2001, British teenager Ellie James, 17, got lost on the mountain. Her body was found by Sabah Parks rangers near St John’s peak, not far from where they had been looking for her for a week.

The day after Ellie’s frozen body was found, almost 2km from where she missed the turning, the clouds cleared and the sun lit up the sky.

These and other stories of people going missing on the mountain, and climbers hearing strange noises and seeing strange sights, have fuelled the belief that Southeast Asia’s highest peak is inhabited by spirits.

Local dusun believe the mountain, Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site, is the resting place of the dead, and their spirits reside in the mountain, to be revered and held sacred.

To appease the spirits and pay them respect, a sacrificial ritual called momolunggah is performed at least once a year at Panar Laban or Sayat-Sayat.

Seven white chickens, seven eggs, tobacco, betel nuts, shiri leaves, salt and rice are offered.

According to former park warden Eric Wong, the ritual dates as far back as 1850, and is performed by bobolian, or priestesses, to ask permission to climb the mountain and pray for a safe journey, or for the safety of a coming event.

The ritual used to be performed before every expedition, which before the late 1970s was not very often. Now an estimated 40,000 people a year make the 4,095.2m climb to Low’s Peak.

"These days, with more than 100 climbers going up every day, the ritual is performed once a year. It is also performed when there is a pressing need, such as during the search for Ellie, and if a big group requests for it," said Wong.

However, Wong, who has climbed the mountain countless times, believes that it was the weather and over confidence that led to most incidents.

"A lot of people look at the mountain and underestimate its difficulty and potential danger.

"Ellie was stronger and faster than the rest of her group, and also very confident. She and her brother went ahead of the guide and missed a crucial turning."

Locals believe that spirits used the mist to lure her away.

But there have been events that even a non-believer like Wong, with 28 years’ experience, can’t explain.

Like the young Sarawakian girl who took some pebbles home from the mountain despite being told not to.

"She fell ill for no good reason and was haunted by nightmares every night," said park ranger Duanis Bousuning, 53.

"Her family consulted a medium who told them to return the pebbles, and perform some rituals."

Bousuning, who comes from Kampung Bundu Tuhan, Kundasang, has been a Sabah Parks ranger since 1982. He said usually only those with weak spiritual faith are "disturbed" by spirits.

"But I’ve noticed over the years that if there is any ‘bad behaviour’, such as excessive shouting, throwing stones and fooling around, it is almost certain to rain."

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Friday, July 21, 2006

AirAsia eyes more international flights from Kuching

KUCHING - Low cost carrier, AirAsia hopes to introduce more direct international flights from Kuching following the opening here of the airline's second hub in East Malaysia.

Its Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Datuk Tony Fernandes said for a start the airline was looking at introducing direct flights from Kuching to Bangkok, Thailand and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Speaking to reporters after the launching of AirAsia's Kuching Hub here Thursday by State Urban Development and Tourism Minister Datuk Sri Wong Soon Koh, he said applications have already been made to fly to the two destinations from Kuching.

AirAsia's first hub in East Malaysia was opened in Kota Kinabalu earlier this month. "Most probably the flights will start beginning next year," he said, adding that the airline was looking to include Macau and Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei as potential destinations. As for its new hub in Kuching, Fernandes said AirAsia expected to fly a total of 2.6 million passengers by next year to Kuching International Airport and up to 3.5 million in 2010.

He was also confident that with assistance of the state goverment and tourism agency in Sarawak, the low cost airline would be able to tap the tourism market with attractive packages.

Source: BERNAMA

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Giving Sabah batik a leg up

KOTA KINABALU: She may be a new kid on the block among fashion designers in the country but Marjorie Vitales, 24, is recognised as a pioneer in promoting Sabah’s unique batik tinungkusan.

In Kadazandusun language, tinungkusan means heritage, and the theme used by Marjorie in her creations reflects the Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus ethnic groups.

Aptly, she uses the label Tinungkusan for her creations, which were modelled by the finalists of the recent Unduk Ngadau 2006 beauty pageant held in conjunction with this year’s Kaamatan harvest celebrations.

The Penampang-born designer admits that public response to her creations is still slow and attributes this to the limited market in Sabah because batik is still not widely used by locals.

She added that she also faced stiff competition from companies in peninsular Malaysia, especially those in the east coast states that had already made their mark of producing quality batik.

“I’m not at all deterred by this. We must continue with the effort to popularise the use of batik in Sabah and this is what I’m doing through Tinungkusan,” she said.

“The uniqueness of my batik creation lies in the fact that the theme is based on the culture and arts of Sabah’s ethnic people and, surely, I would like the people of this state to be proud of the Tinungkusan batik,” Marjorie added.

She started designing as a hobby but took it up seriously last year after completing her studies at the Sabah Institute.

The company that produces the Tinungkusan batik began operations in 2002 and now has about 100 creations.

While the designs are created in Sabah, a company in peninsular Malaysia does the batik printing.

Marjorie said she also features the flora and fauna of Sabah.

Among her collection are men’s shirts as well as women’s sarong and dresses.

Source: BERNAMA

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Memorandum on air travel submitted by Sarawak state government

KUCHING: The State Government has forwarded a memorandum to the Federal Government pertaining to possible problems and shortcomings in air travel effective Aug 1, when AirAsia takes over domestic route services from Malaysia Airlines.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud confirmed that the memorandum, drafted after protests from travel agents, tour operators and the general public, calls for a discussion between concerned parties to solve problems brought up by air travellers and tourism industry players.

"We have submitted a memorandum to the Federal Government to highlight possible problems concerning connectivity. We have brought it to the notice of the Government and I hope we will be able to find ways to overcome this.

"We have to discuss how to ensure connectivity ... if AirAsia can adjust its operational mode in Sarawak, and if it cannot adjust, I believe there will be other ways," Taib said after delivering a keynote address at the Sarawak Business Conference 2006 yesterday.

The trunk and non-trunk route rationalisation between MAS and AirAsia has caused a stir, particularly among the travel industry, as they fear foreign tourists could face delays and hassles due to the absence of interlining facilities once AirAsia takes over.

Earlier in his keynote address, Taib said the State and its people were focused in wanting to be on par with other States in realising Vision 2020.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sarawak: Malaysia's 1st dolphin-watching spot

KUCHING - Sarawak has emerged as the first destination in Malaysia that offers dolphin-watching tours, focusing on the Irrawaddy dolphins frequently sighted in the Santubong and Salak river estuaries near here.

According to the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) newsletter "Hornbill Trail", the state was one of the best places in Southeast Asia to watch these dolphins native to tropical and sub-tropical waters.

"During the dry season from March to October, Irrawaddy dolphins are frequently sighted in the Santubong and Salak river estuaries just 45 minutes from the state capital of Kuching," the newsletter said in its latest publication.

They usually swim in small groups of two to six but larger groups of up to 15 had been spotted at the Salak estuary.

Source: BERNAMA

Sabah's Biodiversity gift to the world may be plundered

Sabah's Malua and Ulu Segama forest reserves under threat of logging.


Exclusive by SYED AZHAR and RUBEN SARIO

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Sabah forest reserves, to be bequeathed as Malaysia’s biodiversity gift to the world by the end of 2007, are set to be logged in a month or two – endangering countless species of plants and wildlife.

A race against time is underway to log the Malua and Ulu Segama forest reserves, covering a total of 236,825ha, which is three times the size of Singapore, before the deadline.

The state-owned Yayasan Sabah holds logging rights in the forest reserves and recently appointed at least three companies to log in the area.

Environmentalists and state officials fear that logging operations – expected to begin in a month or two – will have an impact on the wildlife there, especially sun bears, gibbons, tambadau or wild buffalo, Borneo pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos and orang utans.

When Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman announced on March 15 that logging would cease in the forest reserves by the end of 2007, local and foreign non-governmental organisations hailed the move as the most important action ever taken to secure the future of Borneo’s endangered wildlife.

However, before that, the state government faced pressure to convert the two areas into oil palm plantations similar to what had been done for Benta Wawasan in neighbouring Kalabakan, another Yayasan Sabah concession.

Environmental groups are now aghast when they heard that Yayasan Sabah was proceeding with logging at Malua in Kinabatangan district and Ulu Segama in Lahad Datu district.

According to them, demarcation of the boundaries meant for the logging contractors had been concluded.

One official said: “There is no time for Yayasan Sabah to adopt the Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) methods in Malua and Ulu Segama.

“To carry out the RIL methods, a detailed inventory of the area and a forest management plan of both reserves, among others, must be carried out,” said the official, who felt that conventional logging methods were for logs to be extracted fast within the deadline.

Environmentalists noted that about half of Malua was logged as recently as four years ago.

The other half of the forest reserve had been left untouched for more than 10 years, resulting in a dense canopy of trees, with clear water in the rivers.

“Any logging activity is bound to impact the flora and fauna,” said another official.

It is uncertain if the Sabah Government would impose a condition requiring only trees with a diameter of 60cm and above to be extracted, to enable the forest to regenerate at a faster pace, he said.

The officials said one contractor was appointed to log in Ulu Segama and two others in Malua, although it was smaller in size, as the areas earmarked for logging at the latter area were dense.

The environmentalists felt that sun bears and gibbons would be the most threatened due to their restrictive diets and the destruction of their food source by logging.

Considered to be the more hardy creatures, the orang utans would have a better chance of survival in logged forests if the activity was not done too rapidly, they said.

A 2003 state government report stated that Malua and Ulu Segama with the forest reserves of Kuamut, Gunung Rara, Kalabakan and Danum Valley managed by Yayasan Sabah were the last strongholds for about 5,000 orang utans in Borneo.

Malua has the highest number of orang utans within the Yayasan Sabah forest concessions, having more than 800 primates while Ulu Segama is home to about 3,000 orang utans.

Both Malua and Ulu Segama reserves encircle the Danum Valley conservation area that together with Kinabalu Park and the Maliu Basin, will eventually become part of a one million hectare conservation zone in Sabah.

The zone was also seen by environmentalists as being in line with their efforts in setting up a 220,000sq km Heart of Borneo conservation area twice the size of Germany, involving Sabah, Sarawak, Kalimantan and Brunei.

Source: The Star

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Enjoy magical Mulu

Mulu beckons and it knows you’ll say ‘I do’, what with attractions such as fantastic room rates, over-the-edge Flying Fox rides and the wow-inducing ‘Wildman Burger’ on the menu.

MANY people know Mulu for its National Park with its caves and unique limestone formations. But Mulu can be so much more. That is why The Royal Mulu Resort launched its new “Do Mulu” campaign — do adventure, do culture, do cuisine, do relaxation, do sports, do activities, do it all or do nothing!

Mulu has it all lined up for you, no matter what it is you are looking for during your well-earned break or weekend away. You name it, they have it!

Why not do a jungle safari on one of their ATV quad-bikes? Or try your skills at archery? How about rafting on the Melinau river? Why not discover and do all the other exciting things on offer here at Mulu? This truly is a unique and magical place of heritage, nature, wonder and activities.

Check out their new website www.domulu.com for the latest news, events, special promotions and online bookings!

Just for the launch, The Royal Mulu Resort has a “Do Mulu Special Promotion” where everyone can stay from RM83 including three meals. It is really unbelievable value! Just contact them directly for any further information or bookings.

But that is not all! Word has just come in that Air Asia and its subsidiary “Fly Asian Xpress” (FAX) will take over all flight operations into Mulu starting Aug 1, 2006.

Flight schedules, fare information and ticket sales are available from the FAX website, www.flyasianxpress.com.

Visitors at Royal Mulu genuinely believe in the resort being an exciting destination of its own, so the management teams constantly strive to add new features and activities to their already large portfolio.

The next attraction they have lined up is a Flying Fox — a steel cable will be installed between two adjacent hills, spanning the entire length of the main resort area.

Visitors and wannabe daredevils will then be strapped securely into a specially designed harness, and, after being given a good push, they will be zooming at high speed over the Melinau River and the resort. A definite adrenaline rush!

Think of how you can boast about trying out the only Flying Fox in Sarawak! How exciting is that?! Do it once and you want to do it again (no pun intended).

On the culinary front, there is no way you can afford to miss out on our renowned chef’s newest creations, the WOW! deserts.

Come indulge yourself in a sensuous dream of lavish ice creams topped with fresh tropical fruits! Come challenge yourself with their awesome mouth-watering massive “Wildman Burger” which is over 30cm in diameter and 2.5 kg in weight!

Also indulge in their refreshing homemade mocktails and cocktails, including the “Bayi Mulu”, “Ulu Mulu” and the infamous “Mulu Slammer”. They will quench your thirst after an exciting day.

For further details and reservations, contact The Royal Mulu Resort directly at CDT62, Royal Mulu Resort, 98007 Miri, Sarawak (Tel: 6-085-790-100, Fax: 6-085-790-105). Its e-mail is sales@royalmuluresort.com and the website is www.royalmuluresort.com.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

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Sultanate readies for visit Brunei Year 2008

By Lyna Mohamad

The Tourism Development Section of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources is currently actively making various preparations for the Visit Brunei Year 2008.

This was stated by Deputy Minister of Industries and Primary Resources, Dato Paduka Hj Hamdilah Hj Wahab, when speaking to local and Vietnamese media at a press conference prior to RBA's inaugural Ho Chi Minh City banquet early last month.

Preparations for VBY 2008 - "Discover the Mystery of Brunei Darussalam", is being executed not only in the country but also abroad through various activities such as media briefings and press conferences with travel agents and the public as well as through the Internet.

Cooperation between media and travel agents is crucial in promoting and introducing Brunei Darussalam in particular the VBY 2008, said the deputy minister who is also Chairman of Brunei Tourism Board.

The most suitable time to visit Brunei Darussalam is in July and August as the country will be celebrating His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam's 60th birthday, as well as during the Hari Raya festive season, where a variety of activities will take place including the opportunity to personally greet and wish His Majesty and the royal family at the palace.

In line with VBY 2008, The Empire Hotel & Country Club and RBA are extending their cooperation with the ministry with media members and travel agents from Vietnam invited to visit the Sultanate during the 'Media Press Trip' to be held mid-July until late August.

With the establishment of the good and strong Brunei-Vietnam ties, the deputy minister believes there is a potential for tourism development between the two countries and the new thrice weekly services to Ho Chi Minh City proves so.

Also present during the press conference held at the New World Hotel, in Ho Chi Minh were RBA's Commercial Director, Hj Hanafiah Jikeria; Acting Head of Corporate Communications, Hj Rozman Hj Junaidi and several RBA senior officials.

Hj Hanafiah Jikeria meanwhile noted that the launching of RBA's scheduled services to Ho Chi Minh is a meaningful one as the national carrier extends its network to one more Asean destination.

This will boost tourism, trade, education, cultural ties and others between Brunei Darussalam and Vietnam, he said, adding that they were proud if they could chip in towards the positive development of any of the mentioned sectors and will be grateful for cooperation extended to them to promote this together.

"As one of the catalysts of economic developments, RBA is working hard to develop its network, share the benefits with other aviation related industries in both countries and improve itself as one of the leading airlines in the region," he concluded.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Oh! to be in Brunei, in July

Colourful arch in the heart of the capital
Shimmering lights along Jalan Tutong
Float procession in the heart of the capital. Photos: Mohd Syafiq
Fireworks to mark His Majesty's birthday
People are seen taking a snapshot of trees lit up in Taman Jubilee

Photos Copyright © 2006 Brunei Press Sdn Bhd. All right reserved.

By Mr Syaf

It is July and the people of Brunei Darussalam are in celebratory mood as it is time to celebrate His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan's birthday.

As you make your way into the heart of the capital, seated comfortably in your car with family or friends, you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a traffic jam.

You look in front and realise that there are hundreds of vehicles that are slowly inching their way into Bandar Seri Begawan.

However, something positive comes out of all of this: You get to take in the beauty of the capital, where decorative lightings can be seen hanging from lamppost to lamppost.

There are lights that change into dozens of colours as well as shapes, moving lights that fade and light up every few seconds, and crowds of people in their best clothing walking along the roadside in the capital.

Your car then slowly approaches a huge arch, erected high up across the road, glimmering with more colourful lights, and in the middle of all the vibrant colours - an image of the beloved monarch.

Besides the jazzy lights, hundreds of people from locals to foreigners can be seen crowding the annual stalls in the capital. A wide variety of goods are sold at these stalls, from clothes to household items to freshly barbequed food.

Families and friends can be seen walking around the stalls, having dinner at open-air restaurants while enjoying nightly performances.

Take a walk towards the Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien and you will again see families and friends relaxing on the green grass; some having picnics, while kids are laughing away as they run around carrying balloons or playing football.

There is also a grand view of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque standing brilliantly across the road.

You can also go on a joyride outside the capital to admire the colourful decorative lightings and arches.

Cruise along Jalan Tutong to experience a magnificent view of the royal palace, Istana Nurul Iman, glowing magically at night as you drive under the shimmering lights outside the gates of the palace.

His Majesty's birthday celebrations are truly celebrated grandiosely throughout the country.

These magical moments are experienced everywhere around the country. From Tutong to Belait to Temburong, colourful lights are lit everywhere to mark the beloved monarch's birthday.

There are also breathtaking fireworks that shower the night sky with colour, causing traffic congestions at times.

It is definitely entertaining for those who managed to park their vehicles at strategic areas. Viewing the gorgeous night sky can be especially romantic for couples.

Towards the end of the two-week celebration, a number of events are held from Tug-of-War matches to boat races in the Brunei River.

There is also a grand parade procession in the capital, where thousands of people gather to experience the once-a-year spectacular floats.

Cameras flash everywhere and shouts of people can be heard cheering the parading performers. This is the liveliest time of the year in Brunei.

To experience such wonders in this small country with its proud people is undoubtedly a moment for anyone to cherish in their heart.

One thing that does not change every July is that Brunei screams 'magic' whenever the country joyously celebrates His Majesty's birthday.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

Friday, July 14, 2006

BIMP-EAGA meeting seeks to promote tourism

Kota Kinabalu: Tourism industry players, airline operators, travel agents and tour operators from all across Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East Asean Growth Area (Bimp-Eaga) are set to converge in Koronadal City for a two-day high-level meeting that aims to promote greater tourism and cross-border traffic in the sub-region.

The Third Bimp-Eaga Joint Tourism Development Cluster meeting of the four-country grouping will open on July 17 and 18, with more than 50 key representatives from the Bimp-Eaga tourism sector set to rally behind a common objective of pushing for joint tourism marketing and promotions as well as improvement of air services.

One of the four development clusters created under the Bimp-Eaga structure, the joint tourism development cluster is taking the lead in pursuing strategic tourism industry directions for the sub-region.

Headed by Malaysia, the cluster comprised key government and private sector tourism stakeholders within the sub-region as it facilitates and co-ordinates the implementation of flagship tourism programmes and projects identified in the Bimp-Eaga Development Roadmap.

On top of the meeting's agenda is the discussion and presentation on the status of the initiatives to promote Bimp-Eaga as the "Dream DestinASIAN" as well as to improve air connectivity within the growth area.

The meeting will also highlight discussions on other programmes and projects such as the development of tour packages anchored on the culture, adventure and nature tourism destinations in Bimp-Eaga, promotion of Eaga signature events, establishment of port-to-port air linkages, and provision of incentives for airline and shipping operators in Bimp-Eaga.

Meanwhile, a Bimp-Eaga Workshop among airline and tour operators and travel agents will also be held simultaneously on July 17 to come up with specific tour packages for viable air routes in the sub-region and other tourism marketing strategies for Bimp-Eaga.

Sohura Dimaampao, regional director of the Department of Tourism XII and Mindanao co-ordinator for Bimp-Eaga joint tourism, said that the meeting is both timely and significant for south-central Mindanao as it provides the opportunity for the region to showcase its business and tourism potentials to the Bimp-Eaga counterparts.

Strengthening tourism and air linkages has been strongly being pushed by the Philippine administration in line with the effort to revitalise Bimp-Eaga as a key strategy to develop Mindanao and Palawan.

Bimp-Eaga is an economic co-operation created in March 1994 to spur socio-economic growth of participating countries.

The sub-regional growth puts emphasis on the individual strengths of member nations in prioritising much-needed interventions.

The region has an estimated population of more than 50 million spread out across 1.5 million square kilometres of land area with strong potential for tourism, natural resources, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), transportation, infrastructure and information and communications technology (ICT) development.

Source: BERNAMA

AirAsia campaign to push up Sarawak passenger load

By EDDIE CHUA

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia aims to boost its passenger load to Sarawak by 10% in the next five months.

To achieve this, the airline launched a joint promotion - Go Kuching Challenge - with Sarawak Economic Development Corp (SEDC) yesterday to promote the state as a tourism destination among locals.

AirAsia Bhd director Aziz Bakar said the carrier flew about 700,000 people to Sarawak last year.

“On average, 75% of our seats are taken up on each flight there,” he said.

“With the promotion, we hope to increase the average passenger load by 10% per flight. I think we can achieve this, as Sarawak has a lot to offer.”

AirAsia has 16 flights to Sarawak daily.

Go Kuching Challenge is a promotion that encourages visitors to travel with AirAsia and stay in SEDC hotels or resorts. Through such promotion, participants can take part in a series of fun and challenges at the hotel or nearby.

The promotion, which started yesterday, will end Dec 31.

Source: The Star

World music at your feet in Sarawak

By SHARON LING

ANOTHER year, another successful staging of the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF).

Once more, large crowds of revellers gathered at the foothills of Mount Santubong in Sarawak Cultural Village for an extravaganza of music from around the world.

Sarawak Urban Development and Tourism Minister Datuk Wong Soon Koh described music as a common language that could bring the world together when he launched the ninth RWMF on July 6, and this was amply demonstrated throughout the next three days of the festival.

Not only did it feature musicians and artistes from across the globe, it also drew a multicultural, international audience clearly intent on enjoying themselves to the full.

Nor were they disappointed: the festival line-up was its usual eclectic mix of performers from the spiritual music of Tengir Too from Kyrgyzstan and the hauntingly beautiful throat-singing of Mongolian group Egschiglen to lively folk songs from Canadian trio Genticorum and wild gypsy music from French band Les Yeux Noirs.

There were also memorable performances from Mali diva Nahawa Doumbia, ably accompanied by her band on traditional African instruments, the Austrian quartet hotel Palindrone who played all manner of European folk music and the Peatbog Faeries from Scotland with their fusion of Celtic and modern music.

Music from another rainforest was performed by Madagascan singer and multi-instrumentalist Kilema while groovy Latin American and Caribbean tunes were provided by Calle Sur.

Traditional Asian music was represented by the energetic Chungmyung Art Troupe from Korea, who played four different kinds of percussion instruments in an ancient art form known as “samul nori”, as well as local groups from Sarawak and the peninsula.

The latter included “sape” musicians, a Bidayuh bamboo band, the Kuching Oriental Traditional Orchestra, the Malaysian Dhol Federation and Istana Budaya’s Istamuzika.

Many had also learnt to say “Terima kasih”, which brought even more applause from the enthusiastic crowd.

As next year will be the festival’s 10th anniversary, fans can expect a bigger and better show come July 13-15, 2007.

Source: The Star

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Temburong, Brunei set to host Borneo Ethnic Cultural Festival 2006

A banner of Borneo Ethnic Cultural Festival 2006
put up in front of Temburong jetty in the capital

By Achong Tanjong

Temburong District is all set to host the spectacular Borneo Ethnic Cultural Festival 2006 from August 25 to 27 in conjunction with His Majesty's 60th birthday celebrations in the district.

The three-day showcase of Borneo tribal and cultural performances is also aimed at promoting Temburong District as a unique tourist destination.

A huge banner of the event has been put up in front of Temburong jetty in the capital to inform members of the public especially tourists on the upcoming festival.

Apart from cultural performances, visitors to Temburong will also have the opportunity to witness interesting activities such as an expo and a bazaar sale to promote ethnic products and handicrafts, and a traditional food fair.

All these festivities will be held at the Field Complex of the District Community Hall near Bangar Town.

The festival is sponsored by the Tourism Development Department at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and organised by the Temburong Cultural and Tourism Committee in collaboration with the Temburong District Office.

The previous event had received positive response from participants from Sabah, Kalimantan and Sarawak.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

New MAS pricing is for the people

PUTRAJAYA: The Cabinet decided to lift the floor price for Malaysia Airlines in the interest of the public and for the development of the country’s aviation industry.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy said the decision made two weeks ago had created fair competition between MAS and low-cost carrier AirAsia, which did not have a floor price.

He added that the Cabinet also decided that the national carrier would fly three more domestic routes – Johor Baru-Kuching, Kuala Lumpur-Tawau and Kuala Lumpur-Sandakan as – part of its new aviation policy.

Chan said AirAsia should not have anything to complain about as the Government was being fair and transparent.

He said AirAsia could, nevertheless, bring its grouses to the ministry.

“I do not want to have an open debate with any party, but this (decision) is for the people.

“Although the Cabinet decision is final at this point of time, we are ready to meet and listen to AirAsia’s grouses,” he told reporters after a post-Cabinet meeting.

The Government reversed an earlier decision to impose a minimum floor price on MAS for its 22 domestic routes from Aug 1 as part of the rationalisation of the domestic routes to allow AirAsia to take over the bulk of the local flights.

Previously, under the Feb 27 agreement between the two airlines, MAS was not allowed to sell its tickets below certain prices.

AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes had said that the lifting of the floor price caused unfair competition, claiming that the rationalisation process was to keep two different markets.

Source: The Star

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Game hunting as next Sabah's tourist attraction

Kota Kinabalu: Organised game hunting may be the next big thing in Sabah, if the State Wildlife Department has its way.

It is planning to work with big-time private landowners such as Sabah Softwoods in the East Coast to provide for a lawful organised hunting ground to curb poaching in Sabah.

"We are now working on the concept which is getting popular in the United States, Europe and Africa. Besides controlling illegal hunting, this can also be part of the State's latest tourism products," said its Deputy Director, Laurentius N. Ambu, In the US, he said, members of organised hunters clubs are willing to pay up to US$20,000 for one big deer and so "it can actually make money."

"So we are currently thinking which area can be turned into a legal and organised hunting ground complete with lodging facility, a shooting range and animal farms to replenish game animals in this area.

"Visitors will have a choice, whether to hunt with a villager as their guide, or just hire the villagers to hunt for them in this specific area and they spend time at the shooting range," said Laurentius.

In fact, the Department has received several inquiries from the US and Europe whether there is such a hunting ground or hunting club in Sabah. "But this is just an idea³f we can make it, it will be the first in the country."

Such a hunting ground would require at least 5,000 acres, he said, but added the site is yet to be identified.

"Any hunting outside this hunting ground will be deemed illegal," he said.

"At the moment, we are thinking very hard how to control these poachers³t is very difficult," he said, adding most of those involved in poaching are those from the urban areas who go to areas where there are animals so that they can shoot around.

"They just want an area to shoot actually, and they don't care what they are shooting ?they just want to use their gun," he said.

Over the last five years, Laurentius said the Department had detected more than 250 cases of poaching throughout Sabah. There were also cases of people keeping protected species including the orang-utan and other primate species in Sabah.

"But our investigations found no evidence so far of any involvement of organised crime syndicates in hunting, exporting or smuggling of protected species from Sabah," he said.

Laurentius said the main problem relating to protected species in Sabah is the selling and smuggling of turtle eggs particularly in east coast districts.

"We continue to take action against those involved in selling turtle eggs, but the supply keeps coming from outside because in the neighbouring countries their wildlife laws are not stringent enough," he said.

Laurentius said the Wildlife and Customs departments have banned the entry of turtle eggs from outside the State but when those involved see the enforcement personnel approaching they would go into their speedboat and take off to the Philippines side of the border.

"Illegal trading of turtle eggs is giving us the biggest headache right now ?most of the eggs are from the neighbouring countries."

Laurentius, meanwhile, said the existing laws of the country and also elsewhere only allow hunting to be carried out during the night. "Because one of the principles of hunting is that we must give a 50-50 chance to the animal."

"In the US, if you see a duck on the water, a hunter will wait until it flies before he shoots it. This is an example of giving a game animal a 50-50 chance. This is a good hunting practice."

Source: Daily Express

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sibu Airport can now accommodate Airbus

SIBU - With the lengthening of its runway completed recently, the Sibu Airport can now accommodate bigger aircraft like the Airbus A320 series instead of just the Boeing 737.

The first airbus, an AirAsia flight AK 5260 from Kuala Lumpur with more than 100 passengers and piloted by Captain Fritzland and Captain Hashim, landed there at 9.05 am yesterday.

It returned to Kuala Lumpur with some 170 out of its maximun capacity for 180 passengers about half an hour later.

On hand to welcome the inaugural flight were AirAsia Sibu station manager S.Shanmugamnathan, Sibu Municipal Council deputy chairman Daniel Ngieng Kiong Ann and other invited guests.

Ngieng described the occasion as very historical and important as it ushered in a new era of the town becoming the air travel hub for more than 800,000 people in the state's central zone comprising the Sibu, Kapit, Sarikei and Mukah divisions.

Shanmugamnathan meanwhile told reporters that AirAsia had an overall plan to gradually phase out its Boeing 737 aircraft with the bigger and more economical Airbus.

Source: BERNAMA

Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival - A festival with a heart

By MUMTAJ BEGUM

FOR three exciting days last weekend, musicians from around the world found a common ground in these parts. Like the previous nine years, that platform was none other than the Rainforest World Music Festival, held at Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong. About the only thing that threatened to grab the highlight away from the musicians was the weather. The scorching heat that always hits Santubong around this time needed some getting use to, but it seemed even the heat could not stop the music lovers from coming in droves to attend the workshops in the afternoons and watch the bands perform at night.

After a while, the sweltering heat was not that big of a deal. The workshops not only allowed the musicians and the music to immediately become accessible to anyone who’s interested, it accentuated the performances later at night.

Organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board, the festival has been growing steadily in repute over the years. Starting only with a 300 turnout in the first edition, this year’s festival kept its crowd consistency with more than 15,000 through in attendance. A total of 12 international acts were tapped for the fest apart from the usual Sarawak-based groups to reflect home talent.

Each act brought along their unique culture, costume, language and musical instruments to the festival. Despite the differences, each group found a receptive audience – be it the lively gypsy music of Eastern Europe, deep throat-singing by the Mongolians, the foot-stomping Quebecois folk music, story-telling music pieces of Kyrgyzstan or the exhilarating music of Madagascar.

What is truly amazing is that the audience itself comprised varied nationalities, and once the music started the language barrier became a thing of the past.

Karen Stein, of the group Calle Sur (Latin America), who performed at the festival five years ago with another group admitted that the Rainforest Festival is her favourite simply because it included the more popular groups and, at the same time, the exclusive ones.

Stein said: “This festival is not afraid to let the audience sit quietly and listen to one group and have them be rambunctious and expressive with the next.”

Hence the Mongolian group Egschiglen found an audience who couldn’t get enough of their two-string guitars and their overtone singing (two different tones of voices emanating at the same time) and the European group Hotel Palindrone got the audience excited with their yodelling and out-of-this-world instruments.

The meeting of the groups also brought forth a new-formed partnership. John Morrissey from Hotel Palindrone revealed that his group and Egschiglen are looking at staging a performance together somewhere in Europe.

Peter Morrison of the Scottish band Peatbog Faeries reasoned these easy partnerships: “The tunes vary from country to country but we all share the same rhythm.”

This became apparent throughout the three days whereby members of other bands would do impromptu guest spots onstage with different bands and yet, everything blended perfectly. About the only glitch in this almost perfect festival were the technical problems that plagued the bands, especially on the first nightand during the workshops. However, there is no doubt that it was pure delight to watch bands perform their numbers with both passion, precision and energy each year.

And this year was no less special with its own attractions, stories and highlights. By the end of each night, it got harder and harder to decide which is one’s most favourite performance.

If the second night was a treat with Peatbog Faeries showcasing how to use traditional instruments like bagpipes and fiddle with a bit of modern approach, the final night saw how violin masters from France expertly manipulated the strings and bows, and even made the two violins converse to one another. And artistes like Kelima (of Madagascar), Nahawa Doumbia (of Mali) and Eric Slabiak (France) immediately emanated charisma onstage that it was hard to take your eyes away from them. The energy they gave the audience, was given back in equal amounts by the audience.

Both Calle Sur and Genticorum (of Canada) performed for all the three nights and they can attest that they received an amazing response from the audience every time. It’s a people’s festival and the warmth was undeniable.

For Kelima, coming to this festival has entailed something extra. He said: “I feel like we have come home.” Kelima spoke about how people from this part of the world travelled by boat to reach Madagascar a long time ago. “And in Kuching we found a bamboo instrument that is very much like our national instrument. So this has been an emotional trip for me.”

What each band brought to the festival in the end was a strong sense of their roots. And festivals like this allow both musicians and music lovers to understand the differences and the similarities.

Kelima said: “I was watching the Canadian band, as they moved their feet while playing their instruments, and the combination of the beat was familiar to me, only the accent was different.”

Edgar East of Calle Sur added: “We all love music and that is what binds all of us.”

Rainforest trees, a lake and Mount Santubong surrounded the festival grounds and this atmosphere added the element of music truly being universal. As the Rainforest Festival reaches its 10th year next year, the Sarawak’s Ministry of Urban Development and Tourism is considering extending the ground to accommodate a higher capacity or extending it by a day. At this moment, the maximum the Sarawak Cultural Village can take is 8,000 – the amount of people who turned up on the second day of the festival.

The ministry is also looking at the possibility of lengthening the hours of the performance as a way to add more bands to the line-up. The organisers are currently talking to previous bands that have performed at the festival to make a comeback to celebrate the decade-long anniversary next year. Next year the festival will be held from July 13 to 15.

Here’s a word of advice, book those tickets now because the Rainforest World Music Festival is definitely something you do not want to miss.

Source: The Star

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