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Knowledge Update

China's tourism spending to hit over $865 mn

​Beijing, Jan 11 (IANS) China's tourist spending is expected to be more than six trillion yuan ($865 million) in 2017, Xinhua news agency said citing a report.

The number of domestic, inbound and outbound tourists might reach over five billion in 2017, with outbound tourism expected to grow as more Chinese people have time and money to travel abroad, according to a report released by the China Tourism Academy and online travel agency giant

Chinese tourists are called "walking wallets".

Around 4.7 billion domestic, inbound and outbound tourists spent 5.5 trillion yuan in 2016, the report claimed.

Chinese tourists no longer prefer group tours and many go to suburban and rural areas.

Cruises and island tours are gaining popularity, with cruises expected to have earned 1.8 billion yuan in 2016.

China plans to raise tourism revenue to 7 trillion yuan by 2020, according to the country's five-year tourism plan.

Foreign visitors to Japan hit record high

Tokyo, Jan 10 (IANS) The number of foreigners visiting Japan in 2016 reached a record high of 24.04 million, 22 per cent more than the previous year, the Tourism Ministry said on Tuesday.

The figure rose by 21.8 per cent, or over 4.3 million, from the previous high of 19.7 million in 2015, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Ministry officials attributed the jump to the increase in the number of flights and cruise ships from Asian countries, as well as easing of visa and tariff restrictions.

The government aims to increase the number of visitors to 40 million by 2020.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government regards tourism as the trump card for the country's growth strategy and regional revitalisation.

English road signs to debut in Japan

Tokyo, Jan 6 (IANS) English road signs are set to debut this year in Japan to make navigation easier for foreigners.

The National Police Agency said some of the new signs introduced from July 2017 will be written in both Japanese and English, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The stop sign will bear the word "STOP" and the slow-down sign will come with the word "SLOW".

The number of accidents involving foreign drivers with international licenses has risen in recent years.

Last year, the agency found that about 20 per cent of the foreign drivers it surveyed did not recognise the Japanese stop sign and nearly 30 per cent could not understand the slow-down sign.

There are 1.7 million stop signs and 1,000 slow-down signs across the country.

According to the agency, the move is also part of the preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Cambodia museum to exhibit the world's oldest zero

​Phnom Penh, Jan 2 (IANS) The National Museum of Cambodia in January will exhibit what is considered by some experts to be the world's oldest zero symbol, a dot in a set of script from the Khmer civilisation carved into a sandstone surface.

"The Chaka era has reached the year 605 on the fifth day of the waning moon," says the restored inscription discovered during the end of the 19th century at the Trapang Prei archaeological site in Kratie province, in northeastern Cambodia.

Archaeologists date this phrase to 687 AD, in pre-Angkor Cambodia, Efe news reported on Monday.

This Khmer inscription was discovered by French archaeologist Adhemard Leclere (1853-1917) in 1891, but his colleague and compatriot George Coedes (1886-1969) later classified it with the name K-127.

The same historian Coedes subsequently divulged the importance of the discovery in the article "About the Origin of Arabic Numbers", published in 1931.

Coedes and American mathematician Amir Aczel (1950-2015) defended the significance of K-127 as it strengthens the idea that the zero symbol's origin in the decimal number system comes from India or, in his word, other "Indianized" East Asian cultures.

The oldest zero that is known of and in the form of a circle, rather than a dot, comes from India and from the year 876 AD, almost two hundred years earlier than the one at the National Museum of Cambodia.

The Indian manuscript Bakhshali also contains zeros that could be prior to K-127, but the experts are unable to determine their antiquity with current technology due to the fragility of the object.

A civilization influenced by the Indian culture that existed in the south of the Indonesian island of Sumatra has also passed on another stone-carved dot equivalent to a zero to us, but it is from the year 688 AD, a few years before the aforementioned Khmer inscription.

The Maya and other pre-Columbian cultures knew this figure and used it in their hieroglyphs and calendars, but their numeral system did not survive the passage of time.

Cambodia has many inscriptions with the zero symbol, "but this one (K-127) is the oldest one," Chea Socheat, deputy director of the restoration department at the National Museum of Cambodia, told Efe news.

Representing the absolute lack of quantity or a null value and being of paramount importance in mathematics, this number entered Europe through the Arabs, who called it "sirf" (void).

The popularization of the Hindu-Arabic numerical system among the Europeans corresponds to the Italian mathematician Leonardo de Pisa (1170-1250), better known as Fibonacci.

"Zero is not just a concept of nothingness, which allows us to do arithmetic efficiently, but is also a place-holding device that enables our base-10 number system to work," Aczel said in his book "Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers."

According to anthropologist Miriam Stark from the University of Hawaii and an expert on Cambodia, the numeral system was fundamental for constructing temples during the Khmer empire or Angkor Empire (802-1431), such as the famous Unesco World Heritage site, Angkor Wat complex, in the city of Siem Reap.

The capital of this empire, Angkor, was the largest urban complex in the pre-industrial world, with a population of about 1 million people living in 1,000 of territory, according to Damian Evans, Christophe Pottier and other anthropologists.

Inscriptions like the K-127 help us learn about the past, according to Socheat, and the history of the numbers. 

UAE to host its first Honey Festival

Dubai, Dec 26 (IANS/WAM) The United Arab Emirates is set to hold its first Honey Festival in Hatta Heritage Village here December 29-31.

The first of its kind festival will be a platform that brings together people related to honey industries worldwide.

The festival aims to raise the level of Municipality services in Hatta area and the development of recreation and tourism facilities and sites, said Director-General of Dubai Municipality Hussain Nasser Lootah. 

"This area is given focus due to its historical and cultural importance, and to convert Hatta area into a first-class tourist destination for Emiratis and foreigners," he said.

Lootah said that this festival brings together the elite of beekeepers in the UAE, the Gulf, and the world. 

Over 25 honey exhibitors from inside and outside the country are participating in the event.

The festival will also have a number of other events like tent shopping, gallery for honey product families, lectures by specialised lecturers from the UAE and the Arabian Gulf, and scientific sessions in the field of beekeeping.

Dubai raises its bar for world class entertainment

Dubai, Dec 26 (IANS) Dubai's new 13.2 billion Parks and Resorts' has come up with 'Bollywood' and 'Hollywood'-themed parks that will bring world class entertainment to tourists and boost business in the Arabian desert.

Spread across 30.6 million square feet, the Motiongate-themed parks -- two of the three separate theme parks and a waterpark, including, Legoland and Riverland -- were formally opened on December 18.

The entire destination, connected by a one km river front with a host of dining and retail offerings at Riverland Dubai and 500-room Lapita Hotel, could turn out to be the breakout hit.

Following the first ever collaboration between Columbia Pictures, Dreamworks and Lionsgate at Motiongate park, the Dubai themed park now trails only the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida for the most themed parks in one resort.

It's tough to judge among other theme parks (those completed), but Bollywood and Motiongate parks offer refreshing alternatives of a unique theme of music, dance and other activities for tourists from India and abroad.

Krrish, a Bollywood science fiction franchise, will give you a 4D ride. While the Lagaan simulated roller coaster is a cricket-themed carnival ride. 

Sholay, a 3D interactive allows the hunt for Gabber Singh and offers the rare element of actually allowing you to shoot at people. These are just some of the excitement awaiting the tourists.

While Motiongate features 27 rides and attractions including five roller-coasters.

"Dubai Parks and Resorts aims to attract 1,000 UAE nationals, through its emiratisation programme and strategies, to work in the theme park industry. 

"At least 6.7 million ticketed visits are projected for 2017, the first full year of operation," CEO DXB Entertainments PJSC, the owner of Dubai Parks and Resorts, Raed Kajoor Al Nuaimi said at the event.

Nuaimi said that it was his honour to deliver the theme park to the people of Dubai, the UAE and the entire Middle East after three years.

"It is the first of its kind integrated entertainment destination in the region, as it consists of three different theme parks and one waterpark and intertainment zone all in the same location," Nuaimi said.

With slogan of 'Experience Amazing', the organisers claim that "Dubai has just become home to the largest theme park destination in the Middle East and region's largest integrated theme park destination".

Asked if the Bollywood-themed park is only for attracting Indian visitors, one of the organisers said: "Our aim is to attract all the visitor. 

"Bollywood is really themed specially for Indians as they know it very well but its not necessary that it is only for the Indian nationals."

General Manager of Bollywood parks, Thomas Jellum told IANS: "India is one of the key market for us. Tourism is actually increasing. Dubai Parks and Resorts aims to attract 20 million visitors."

Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum officially inaugurated Dubai Parks and Resorts site located on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai -- close to the Expo 2020 site -- in the presence of over 1,000 invited guests.

Accompanying Shaikh Mohammad were Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and other officials.

The event started with the theme song "All the Wonders of the Universe" written by Academy Award winning composer and Disney Legend Alan Menken, who performed it accompanied by his daughter Anna Menken, recording artist.

The event showcased its theme parks in a special show involving the dancers and actors from Dubai Parks and Resorts' live entertainment team, who perform in shows such as the Bollywood musical, Jaan-e-Jigar and Step Up All In, inspired by the Step Up film franchise.

Four-day Sikh festival opens in Singapore

Singapore, Dec 23 (IANS) A four-day festival to mark the 350th birthday of Guru Gobind Singh opened here on Friday.

Thousands of Sikhs from around the region were expected to attend the "Naam Ras Kirtan Darbar", a biennial event which started in 2002, said a report in the Strait Times on Friday. 

Guru Gobind Singh was the 10th Sikh guru and was known as a literary genius.

The free event will feature music performances and an exhibition on the history of Sikhism. It will also offer free vegetarian food made by volunteers at gurdwaras in Singapore.

The festival will also have on display a sacred relic - a 300-years-old pitcher used by Guru Gobind Singh. Another highlight is a miniature paper replica of the Golden Temple of Amritsar. 

More than 20,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which is one of largest Sikh gatherings outside South Asia. A live feed of the event will be streamed on Facebook.

For many Sikhs the event will be an opportunity to meet members of their community living in different countries.

"Singapore has always been our home base. It is a good chance to come back home, see each other and be part of the community again," said Shanghai-based Ashmit Singh who has come to attend the event.

Guramrit Singh, an IT designer, said that apart from learning more about the religion, he enjoys the sense of community that the festival provides.

US begins asking 'select' foreign travellers about social media

Washington, Dec 23 (IANS) The US government began asking select foreign visitors to provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats, a media report said.

Since Tuesday, foreign travellers arriving in the country on the visa waiver programme have been presented with an "optional" request to "enter information associated with your online presence", a government official confirmed on Thursday. 

The prompt includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as a space for users to input their account names on those sites, Politico reported.

According to the official, the new policy comes as Washington tries to improve its ability to spot and deny entry to individuals who have ties to terrorist groups like the Islamic State. 

But the government has faced a barrage of criticism since it first floated the idea last year.

The Internet Association, which represents companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter, argued that the draft policy threatened free expression and posed new privacy and security risks to foreigners.

A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, who said the government approved the change on December 19, told Politico on Thursday that the new policy is meant to "identify potential threats". 

Previously, the agency had said it would not prohibit entry to foreigners who did not provide their social media account information.

The question itself is included in what is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), a process that certain foreign travellers must complete to come to the US. 

ESTA and a related paper form specifically apply to those arriving here through the visa-waiver programme, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel and stay in the US for up to 90 days without a visa.

UAE signs open skies agreement with Sweden

Abu Dhabi, Dec 18 (IANS/WAM) The UAE has signed an open skies agreement with Sweden to boost investment and tourism in the country.

The agreement was signed by Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the General Civil Aviation Authority, and Jan Thesleff, Sweden Ambassador to the UAE, at a ceremony here.

"Conducting air transport agreements with other countries helps boost investment and tourism and strengthens business ties with countries across the globe," Al Suwaidi said.

The agreement enables both parties full flexibility on routes, capacity, frequency and types of aircraft.

Paris' first perfume museum opens

Paris, Dec 17 (IANS) The Grand Musee de Parfum, Paris' first perfume museum, opened its doors here, inviting visitors to discover perfume history through a quite innovative sensory and olfactory exhibition.

The Grand Musee du Parfum, which opened for public on Friday, is created after noting the absence of an emblematic place of French perfumery in Paris despite the sector's flourishing influence abroad, Xinhua news agency quoted Guillaume de Maussion, the museum president, as saying.

The museum gathered major players in French and international perfume industry, including the Federation of Beauty Enterprises, the French Syndicate of Perfumery and the International Flavours and Fragrances, de Maussion said.

The Grand Musee du Parfum intends to create three spaces with one area dedicated to the history of perfumes.

France has world's leading cosmetics-perfumes sector and its turnover totalled 25 billion euros ($26 billion) in 2014. (1 euro=$1.04)