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Malaysia plans measures to attract more Indian tourists

New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) Concerned over Malaysia losing Indian tourists to other South-East Asian countries in recent years, the Malaysian government has come up with certain measures to check the fall in numbers and plans to make further investment to attract more tourists.

Malaysia's Tourism Minister Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, talking to IANS, said they were in the process of fixing the visa-related issues -- the top-most concern raised by some quarters.

"Othe countries, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, are making it easier for Indians to travel to their countries, thus taking away some of the tourists previously visiting Malaysia. So, now we have introduced visa-free entry facility for Indians, even for those living away from their home country," Nazri said.

Nazri said that after he found that extra visa fee was being charged from those Indians applying for multiple entry, he standardised the visa fee.

The minister said that his government was planning a tie-up with PayTM --a digital wallet widely used in India -- to facilitate smooth transaction for India tourists in his country.

Noting that Indians are frequent visitors to his country, Nazri said: "We have planned many incentives for Indians. For example, we have made easier for Indian travel agents to set up companies in Malaysia, investors can have 100 per cent ownership, such as in five-star hotels and resorts, without any involvement of local partners."

"We will also make it easy for the Indian movie-makers to shoot in Malaysia and provide some special incentives to Indian markets," he said and stressed the traditional social and cultural bonding between the two countries.

In 2015, over 722,000 tourists from India visited Malaysia, making the country one of the 10 largest source of tourists. However, the number declined to 620,000 in 2016, against the projected one million tourists for the year.

Nazri said that he did not know the exact tourist projection for this year "but the number will top 700,000".

"We are promoting eco-tourism in Borneo. Also, health tourism is big thing in Malaysia and we have many Indian tourists visiting Malaysia for treatment. Almost 25 per cent of our doctors are trained in India," he said.

Asked about the effect of the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in India, Nazri said: "It will be too early to say if it had any impact on the decline in number of Indian tourists to Malaysia."

"Even if it did affect, the impact will be minimal. The most important issue is visa, which we are already addressing," he said.

London's Thames Estuary earmarked as creative hub

London, Feb 14 (IANS) A bold vision to transform London's Thames Estuary into a hub for the creative and cultural industries was unveiled by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The mayor on Monday said the project would bring thousands of jobs and growth to benefit the capital and the wider south east corner of England, Xinhua news agency reported.

The proposal spans seven London boroughs as well as the counties of Essex and Kent, and is expected to generate $44 billion a year to London's economy.

Khan's plan would see the Thames Estuary transformed into a global centre of excellence for the creative industries, with several large-scale developments proposed.

He called on ministers to put the creative industries at the heart of their industrial strategy.

A spokesman for the mayor said: "The creative industries are Britain's biggest growth sector, with 1.3 million people working in the creative economy across London and South East."

Khan's plan outlines a future where the Thames Estuary becomes an internationally-renowned centre for major creative production facilities for building, innovating and testing new ideas -- supporting growth, championing a low carbon economy, providing job opportunities and investing in a skilled workforce.

The vision document, which has been submitted to the Lord Heseltine, head of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission, identifies the potential for several large-scale national hubs which add up to one of the largest investments in industrial infrastructure since Canary Wharf was built in the 1980s.

The proposals include London's largest film studio complex in Dagenham, a national theatre-making studios complex in Bexley, a state-of-the-art facility and foundry for manufacturing large-scale artworks and sculptures, including Britain's biggest 3D printing centre.

It will also see a new national centre for experiential arts in Woolwich and studios in Purfleet that will be Britain's leading independent media production facility.

Khan said: "London leads the way across the whole of the creative economy, from fashion to film, design to gaming, performing arts to the visual arts."

"It's only right that we build on this success and transform the Thames Estuary into a world-class centre for creative production, leading global innovation, developing the talent of the future and cultivating world-changing ideas," he said.

US visitors may have to hand over social media passwords

​New York, Feb 9 (IANS) If you are planning a visit to the US, you could be asked to hand over Facebook and other social media passwords as part of an enhanced security process, media reports said.

According to a report in NBC News on Wednesday that quoted Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, this step was one of several being considered to vet refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say? If they don't want to cooperate then don't come in," Kelly was quoted as saying. 

Kelly reportedly made these remarks on the same day when judges in US heard arguments over President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning the entry of refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Kelly believes that under the existing vetting process, "officials don't have a lot to work with, except relying on the applicant's documentation and asking them questions about their background".

"When someone says, 'I'm from this town and this was my occupation', (officials) essentially have to take the word of the individual. I frankly don't think that's enough, certainly President Trump doesn't think that's enough. So we've got to maybe add some additional layers," Kelly added.

Apart from social media passwords, Kelly said he was mulling obtaining people's financial records.

"We can follow the money, so to speak. How are you living, who's sending you money? It applies under certain circumstances, to individuals who may be involved in or on the payroll of terrorist organisations," he said.

Fingerprints to be collected upon entry to China

​Beijing, Feb 9 (IANS) Foreign nationals will have to submit to fingerprinting when they enter China, the Ministry of Public Security said on Thursday.

During this year, exit-entry departments across the country will begin to collect the fingerprints of foreign nationals aged between 14 and 70, Xinhua news agency reported. 

Those holding diplomatic passports or under reciprocal conditions will be exempted.

The new system will first be tested at Shenzhen Airport from Friday, said the ministry. 

Brazil's Carnival expected to bring in $1.8 bln

​Brasilia, Feb 7 (IANS) Tourism revenue during the Brazilian Carnival is expected to hit 5.8 billion reais ($1.8 billion), a government report said.

The report, issued on Monday by the National Commerce Confederation (CNC), showed that food and beverage services in bars and restaurants are projected to bring in around 57 per cent of the income, followed by hotels and transportation, Xinhua news agency reported.

However, the total volume of income expected from the Carnival in 2017, which will last from February 24 to March 1, is 5.7 per cent lower than last year and the worst prediction in the past three years.

Rio de Janeiro, host of the largest carnival, will receive the largest boost to its income, estimated at 2.4 billion reais ($770 million), followed by Sao Paulo, with 1.5 billion reais ($480 million), the report said.

The two states will claim 68 per cent of the tourism revenue during the Carnival celebrations, with large parades also staging in the southern state of Minas Gerais and the northeastern states of Bahia, Ceara and Pernambuco, it added.

Longest commercial flight lands in New Zealand

​Auckland, Feb 6 (IANS) A Qatar Airways commercial flight, deemed the world's longest, landed in New Zealand here on Monday after leaving Doha just over 16 hours ago, the media reported.

The flight eclipses what is now the longest duration flight, Emirates' Dubai to Auckland service, by up to an hour. The Doha-Auckland service is 342 km longer than that of its Gulf rival, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Flight QR 920 took off from Doha's Hamad Airport at 3.04 p.m., on Sunday, according to the airline. 

The plane crossed 10 time zones on its flight.

The airline is using a long-range Boeing 777 which has 217 economy and 42 business class seats.

Its flight track took it over Dubai, then over the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka to the south of Indonesia and then through Australia before heading to Auckland.

The return flight - which leaves Auckland Airport at 2.40 p.m., on Tuesday can take up to an hour longer due to prevailing headwinds.

The plane operating is eight years old and the round trip flight between Doha and Auckland will cover 29,066 km.

There are four pilots aboard and 15 cabin crew who will serve 1,100 cups of tea and coffee, 2,000 cold drinks and 1,036 meals.

Air India's Delhi-San Francisco flight is the world's longest by distance but, according to the "Great Circle" route, Doha and Auckland are further apart on the surface of the Earth. Tailwinds mean Air India's flight time is less than 17 hours.

Auckland Airport has estimated the daily Qatar services will pump close to $200 million into the economy, the New Zealand Herald said.

The airline's outspoken chief executive Akbar Al Baker will be in Auckland for the launch of the service and host a gala dinner for the travel industry on Tuesday night.

Spain sees record number of tourists in 2016

Madrid, Jan 31 (IANS) Spain welcomed a record number of 75.6 million foreign tourists in 2016, according to data released on Tuesday.

The number of tourists exceeded government estimations and represented a 10.3 per cent increase year on year, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said.

Visitors from the UK made up the largest tourist population, with 17.8 million Britons choosing to holiday in Spain -- a 12.4 per cent increase on the previous year, Efe news reported.

UK citizens were followed by the French (11.4 million visitors representing a 7.1 per cent increase) and the Germans (11.2 million, a 6.4 per cent increase).

The autonomous region of Catalonia received most tourists in 2016 (almost 18 million).

The Canary Islands were the second most popular destination (13.3 million) followed by the Balearic Islands (13 million).

Experts have suggested the tourism boom experienced by Spain has been influenced by the security situation of its main competitors such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey.

Tourism is one of the main sources of income for the Spanish economy.

Human activities damaging over 100 World Heritage sites: Study

​Sydney, Jan 31 (IANS) Most of the over 100 natural World Heritage sites that are being severely damaged by expanding human infrastructure and land use are in Asia, a new study has warned.

India's Manas Wildlife Sanctuary and Nepal's Chitwan National Park are among the most impacted Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS), the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, identified.

"It is time for the global community to stand up and hold governments to account so that they take the conservation of natural World Heritage sites seriously," said lead author James Allan from University of Queensland in Australia.

"We urge the World Heritage Committee to immediately assess the highly threatened sites we have identified. Urgent intervention is clearly needed to save these places and their outstanding natural universal values," Allan added.

Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS), via the formal process run by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), are globally recognised as containing some of the Earth's most valuable natural assets.

The authors looked at human pressure over time using the updated global Human Footprint criteria, which includes roads, agriculture, urbanisation and industrial infrastructure, along with forest loss.

They found that the Human Footprint has increased in 63 per cent of Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS) across all continents except Europe over the past two decades. 

The most impacted NWHS were found in Asia. Even celebrated places like Yellowstone National Park in the US were impacted, losing some six per cent of its forests. 

Meanwhile, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park that crosses the Canadian and USA border lost almost one quarter of its forested area (23 per cent or 540 km2).

"Any place that is listed as a World Heritage site is a globally important asset to all of humanity," said senior author James Watson of the University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The world would never accept the Acropolis being knocked down, or a couple of pyramids being flattened for housing estates or roads, yet right now, across our planet, we are simply letting many of our natural World Heritage sites be severely altered," Watson noted

UAE to grant Russian travelers visas on arrival

​Dubai, Jan 30 (IANS) Russian travelers will get visas on arrival in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under a cabinet decree approved on Sunday, media reports said.

Under the decree approved by Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Russian citizens are granted an entry visa for 30 days for the first time, renewable one time only for another 30 days, Xinhua news agency reported.

The decree will "enhance strategic cooperation and the common ambitions" of the two countries, said the report.

The UAE is considered the 10th largest foreign investor in Russia, with projects valued at 66 billion dirham ($17.98 billion) up to 2014.

In 2015, non-oil trade between the two countries reached 9 billion dirham.

The UAE has also received more than 600,000 Russian tourists in the past two years.

Beijing parks receive 180,000 tourists on Spring Festival

​Beijing, Jan 29 (IANS) Beijing's 11 parks and the Museum of Chinese Garden and Landscape Architecture received a total of 180,000 tourists on the first day of the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, the media reported on Sunday.

During the Spring Festival public holiday, a string of events and activities, such as winter sports and flower exhibitions, are being held across the parks, Xinhua news agency reported. 

Many have said that visiting parks is on their holiday "must do" list.

Taoranting Park reported 40,000 visitors on Saturday, while the Temple of Heaven Park and the Summer Palace saw 30,000 tourists each, according to the Beijing parks office.