Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Dr Mahathir proposes Langkawi for Malaysia Open

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the patron of this year's BMW Malaysia Open, met event partners at a luncheon hosted by tournament organiser, Carbon Worldwide, last week.

dr mahathir

Tun Dr Mahathir receives a token of appreciation from BMW Malaysia managing director Geoffrey Briscoe. Looking on are (front left) Carbon Worldwide Sdn Bhd executive chairman Keld Kristiansen and (front right) Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia president Tan Sri Razak Latiff.

BMW Malaysia managing director Geoffrey Briscoe, tournament director Keld Kristiansen and Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia president Tan Sri Abdul Razak Latiff, were among the guests. Dr Mahathir also presented signed framed certificates of appreciation to sponsors. At the function, Dr Mahathir mooted the idea to move next year's edition to Langkawi.

"The tennis event will, in a way, further promote Langkawi as one of the nation's premium tourist destinations," said Dr. Mahathir. "Organising the event on the island will definitely draw a lot of attention together with the Tour De Langkawi."

Asked on whether he played the game, Mahathir jokingly said he hadn't touched a tennis racquet for almost 70 years. "I will do whatever I can as patron of the tournament," he added. Briscoe said: "We are delighted to have Dr. Mahathir on board as patron and his support will augur well for the success of the tournament."

The Malaysia Open, a US$220,000 (RM 677,270) event, will be held at the Bukit Kiara Equestrian and Country Resort on Feb 27-March 4. Among the confirmed names in the 32-player singles draw are former World No 1 Venus Williams, Australia's defending champion Jelena Dokic, France's World No 9 Marion Bartoli, China's Peng Shuai and India's Sania Mirza.

-NST Online.


Pasir Gudang gets ready to host 17th World Kite Festival

The six-day event will see 542 local and 194 foreign kite enthusiasts taking part

kite festival

Some of the entries at the kite festival from previous years. Pics by Roslan Khamis

More than 700 participants, including 194 foreigners are expected at the 17th Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival,  themed "1Sky, 1Culture". It is organised by the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council and will be held from Feb 14 to 19.

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar is expected to launch the festival  on Feb 18 at the Pasir Gudang Municipal Stadium. The six-day event at Taman Bandar, near Bukit Layang Layang in Pasir Gudang will see 542 local kite enthusiasts joining their international counterparts from 30 countries.

Among the countries  sending participants include  Indonesia, China, Thailand, Japan and Austria. The festival coincides with the 10th anniversary of Muzium Layang Layang (kite museum) which has since become a proud landmark for Pasir Gudang folk. Council president, On Jabbar  said many local residents and tourists look forward to the annual festival, as it is a colourful event that appeals to people of all ages.

"Though we have   recorded 194 confirmed participants from overseas, we expect more last-minute entries as the festival draws closer. "We hope this year's unique theme would hopefully encourage participants and visitors to share in this culture. "This is because kite-flying is something that is played by people the  world over," said On. To coincide with the festival, the council is holding a kite workshop, cultural performances by local and foreign participants, drawing competition and   a health campaign.

On said the festival was first started by Johor Corporation since 1995 with the assistance of the state government, state Tourism, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Committee and Johor Tourism Department. For further information about the  festival, log on to www.kitefestpasirgudang.com  or email  ismail@kitefestpasirgudang.com  or anuar@kitefestpasirgudang.com. Alternatively, call 07-251 3720/21/22 or 07-254 7777.

-NST Online.

Yee Sang dispute a form of promotion - Yen Yen

KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 31, 2012): The dispute over where yee sang - a Chinese New Year dish - originated will merely increase its popularity, said Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen.

Regardless of the debates, she said, history shows that yee sang has been a popular dish eaten in Malaysia for many years and has been part of the Chinese culture here. "To me, the more the debates, the more people will know about yee sang and that will help it to be popular. "I hope tourists will now begin to seek this dish," Ng said in a press conference after hosting her ministry's Chinese New Year open house today.

She was commenting on new reports that an academician from Singapore wants to claim yee sang as an intangible cultural heritage of Singapore. The academician stated in his Facebook page that he wanted to see Singapore's ownership of yee sang on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

When asked if the ministry will now actively promote the dish, Ng said it promotes all Malaysian food and not one particular dish. She added that it is not easy to get a particular item into the Unesco's list as it requires a lot of research. "For me, what is important is to see that yee sang continues to progress and develop and is preserved in the Chinese culture," she said.

Earlier, Ng said the ministry has identified two iconic sites to host large scale business events, namely the Thean Hou Temple and the Central Market, both in Kuala Lumpur. It is part of the ministry's effort to establish Malaysia as one of the top five business event destinations in the Asia Pacific.

"We do not have enough iconic venues for business events, so we want to promote more MICE (meetings, incentive, conventions and exhibitions) related events in our country. "We are also looking into making the old Istana Negara as one of the sites for this but nothing has been confirmed," she said, adding that this year, the ministry targets to achieve 1.28 million tourists for MICE related events.

She said the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) established under the ministry will provide the support, technical assistance as well as help promote the events to international markets.

In another related matter, Ng said the ministry will start rating spas by their ambience, products and facilities as a way to promote Malaysia as a luxurious destination. "We are also looking into increasing and promoting more luxurious shopping space and helicopter tourism for this," she said. Ng said the ministry targets to achieve RM3 billion tourist spending weekly in the country by 2020.


Sentora to invest RM48mil to develop safari park

KUALA LUMPUR: Sentoria Group Bhd, en route for listing on Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd in the first quarter of this year, plans to invest RM48 million from internally-generated funds to develop a safari park.

Joint managing director, Datuk Gan Kim Leong, said the 35.28-hectare Bukit Gambang Safari Park in Bukit Gambang Resort City (BGRC) would commence operations by year-end. "We are optimistic the safari park will follow the success of our first theme park," he said at the launch of the group's initial public offering (IPO) prospectus here today.

Gan said the company's first park, Bukit Gambang Water Park, has received over a million visitors since BGRC's opening in July 2009. "The addition of the second theme park would stake our place as an up-and-coming leisure and hospitality destination for visitors in Malaysia and the region," he said. Sentoria is the developer and operator of BGRC in Kuantan, Pahang one of the largest integrated resort cities in Malaysia with 218.8ha.

The group has also carved out a niche in developing affordable housing primarily in Kuantan, Pahang. Among its ongoing projects are Arabian Bay Resort, safari park and Taman Indera Sempurna 2. Gan said the IPO would raise RM51.6 million in proceeds, of which RM27.7 million would be used for working capital.

He said RM11.2 million would be used to repay bank borrowings, RM9 million for purchase of property, plant and equipment and RM3.7 million to defray listing expenses. The IPO entails a public issue of 60 million new ordinary shares and an offer for sale of 40 million promoters' shares at 87 sen apiece.



AirAsia X to double flights to Tokyo

PETALING JAYA: AirAsia X will double its frequency on the Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo (Haneda) route to meet demand in the Asia-Pacific region. The airline will increase its flights from three to six times weekly from March 23.

It said this was to service its core markets in Australasia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea after demand for the route rebounded with healthy two-way traffic. AirAsia X
chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani said the airline had seen a steady increase in passenger traffic and yield from the Haneda route since its launch on Dec 9, 2010. “With our wide network and strong brand affinity in Japan, we are geared up to capitalise on the continuous increase in demand for air travel to and from Japan.

“We will also leverage on our affiliate airline,
AirAsia, to provide a feeder network for intra-Asean travel as the world shifts its focus towards Asia and the emerging markets across Asean,” he said in a statement yesterday. AirAsia X claims it has to date flown over 100,000 passengers to Tokyo with an average passenger load factor of 75%. The airline, however, suffered a drop in passenger traffic from March to June last year due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan on March 9.

AirAsia X is offering promotional fares from as low as RM199 and Premium seats from RM999 one way to Haneda in conjunction with the increased frequency. The promotional fares are only for the added flights and up for grabs from Jan 27 to Feb 13 for travel between March 23 to Oct 27 this year. For more information, visit
-thestar online.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Fidani opens at Johor Premium Outlets

FIDANI has been creating one of the finest handcrafted chocolates since 1999 and now, its first factory outlet is open to the public here.


Fidani group marketing manager Aisyah Shereen Lau (left) and executive management Norshila Mohd Nordin with Fidani products.

The home-grown name that made it big overseas for its much-sought after, delicious chocolates, is now offering its sweet drops from heaven  in  Johor Premium Outlets (JPO). The chocolates are made using the finest Belgian chocolates and 100 per cent cocoa butter. There are over  70 flavours and more than 200 types of fillings to choose from. Fidani chocolates are also unique in its designs.

Fidani is also the only brand of local-made chocolates that is featured in  Malaysia Airlines' in-flight shopping magazine, Temptations. It is also served on-board MAS international flights to its first- and business-class passengers. Fidani chocolates are also available at MAS Golden and Platinum Lounge.

Fidani also makes chocolate designs for weddings, corporate events and just about any function or occasion. Fidani Chocolatier Sdn Bhd executive management Norshila Mohd Nordin said Fidani is  the name of  a young and beautiful girl in a legend who had a penchant for the finest things in life.

Fidani chocolates make great gifts and are considered premium gifts. Its Chocolate in a Gift Box  is perfect for corporate customers. The box sets  come in  classic and elegant packaging. The boxes come  beautifully tied  with ribbons and a gift card in a carry bag.

Its Parline and Gianduja chocolate box gift sets are a fine selection of creamy blend of finely grounded roasted almonds and hazelnuts. A set of eight pieces of these chocolates, which weigh about 110g, is priced at RM34 and is worth every sen. There are several gift box sets which contain truffles, crunches, fruits fondue and even sugar-free chocolates that are priced between RM34 and RM39. Customers can have a mix of  their favourite flavours if they choose the Affection or Assortment box sets.

 Fidani also caters for  weddings, company banquets, Secretaries Day, bachelor parties, hens' nights and marketing promotions, among others. The chocolates are packed in  custom-made boxes. One can opt for the four-piece, nine-piece or even the 16-piece box sets that are priced from RM19 onwards.

At JPO, one can also find Fidani's  award-winning chocolate brands such as Danson, Farell's, and Millton. The premium chocolates  are  halal. Durian-filled chocolates are also available. Fidani's Chocolate Factory outlet is at suite 206,  Johor Premium Outlets, Jalan Premium Outlets, Indahpura  Kulaijaya, Johor Baru.

-NST Online.


Visit Sarawak 2013 maybe

KUCHING: To the state Tourism Ministry, “Visit Sarawak 2013” is a possibility, but the minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg says it depends on the private sector.

“Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Sarawak and Sabah joining Malaya to form Malaysia. It will be a big and significant year for us, and one that will benefit the tourism industry,” Johari told reporters after the conclusion of the My City Regatta 2012, which was organised by Kuching City North Commission yesterday. “We have a lot of events in the pipeline. We might even declare it ‘Visit Sarawak 2013’. At the ministry level, we are thinking about it.

Getting the feel: Johari trying a police patrol bike after the closing of the regatta at the Kuching Waterfront yesterday. — ANDRE OLIVEIRO / The Star

“We’ll make a decision by the end of February. The thing is, we want the private sector to be very pro active. We need them to be well prepared and there’s less than a year to go.” Johari, however, declined to be specific on the Government’s plans.

In the past, he said that there were plans to organise an ambitious South-East Asian film festival as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. He has also said that tourism events would be held in collaboration with Sabah government. These could include a yacht race from Sarawak to Sabah. At the same time, both governments are lobbying for more airlines to fly more regional destinations from the two states.

On a related matter, Johari said the authorities were focussing on improving crime prevention measures in the city. “We now have a lot of policemen on bicycles going up and down places like Kuching Waterfront. There will be more improvements. Leaving tourists with a good perception is important.”

Johari said plans to extend the waterfront was progressing well. “Eventually, Kuching Waterfront will link up with Sungai Bintangor (which cuts through several traditional villages) via Brooke Dockyard. “We want to start physical works this year, for the extension to be ready by 2013’s Malaysia Day,” he said.

-thestar online.

AirAsia X to operate Sydney services

AIRASIA X will introduce direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport starting April 1, 2012.


The Kuala Lumpur-Sydney route will be operated daily, using an Airbus A330-300 aircraft with 12 premium flatbed and 365 economy seats. “Australia is a key market for AirAsia X and the Sydney route has long been a priority due to strong demand from travellers across the globe especially Asia,” said AirAsia X CEO, Azran Osman-Rani.


Sydney, AirAsia X’s fourth destination in Australia after the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Perth, will also be available for fly-thru bookings from Indonesia (Bali, Medan, Surabaya, Jakarta), Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket), Singapore and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), allowing passengers to seamlessly purchase two flight sectors and connect via Kuala Lumpur.


Destination NSW CEO, Sandra Chipchase said: “Destination NSW in conjunction with Sydney Airport, Tourism Australia and AirAsia X will be investing in a two-year marketing and promotion plan for the new AirAsia X Kuala Lumpur to Sydney route.”

-TTG Asia.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

LEAGUE CUP: Eyeing Liverpool's scalp

Chan dares to dream of a Cardiff triumph

Cardiff City

Cardiff City owners Tan Sri Vincent Tan (left) and Datuk Chan Tien Ghee celebrate after their team won their League Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace on Tuesday. AFP pic

Twice in the last four years Cardiff City went to Wembley and had their hearts broken but now that they are back at the home of English football, they carry the dreams of not just the Welsh city but Malaysia as well.  

Cardiff will be hoping to be third-time lucky after setting up a Feb 26 Wembley date with English giants Liverpool when they reached the League Cup final following a penalty shoot-out win over fellow Championship side Crystal Palace on Tuesday and nobody is more ecstatic than chairman Datuk Chan Tien Ghee.

Chan even admitted to having heart palpitations during the semi-final second leg as the Bluebirds erased a 1-0 first-leg deficit to stretch the tie to extra-time and eventually penalties. "During the penalties, I nearly had a heart-attack. It was that nerve-wrecking. But I am ecstatic for the players and fans. That performance showed what the club represents, we fought all through the game to the very end," said Chan in a telephone interview with Timesport from Cardiff.

Cardiff's third trip to Wembley since 2008 follows a 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth in the FA Cup final that year and another disappointment in 2010 when they lost 3-2 to Blackpool in the promotion playoff final. Liverpool may have more history and success than Portsmouth and Blackpool, and appear intimidating enough, but the romantics will be hoping for a Welsh win, not that Chan was getting ahead of himself.

  "It's a final, and in football anything can happen. We're at the door, the door is open and we have to do our best. "We'll savour the run to the final for a moment. We take each match as it comes and we will go to Wembley humbly and fight to the final whistle. "Who knows, we might just surprise Kenny Dalglish," said Chan, who along with Tan Sri Vincent Tan, took over Cardiff in May 2010.

Cardiff, as Chan hopes, will receive the support of most Malaysian fans, with the possible exception of those following the Reds, as they seek their first major title since winning the FA Cup in 1927. Yet, it is hard not to follow the fortunes of a club who proudly emblazon "Malaysia" on the front of their jerseys, unlike Tan Sri Tony Fernandes' Queens Park Rangers, who have airlines Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia decorating their shirts. "We put up our own money to have Malaysia on the front of the jersey, its not an airline on the front. Millions of people are going to see that and we hope Malaysians will be behind us during the final. "I know for a fact there were a lot of Malaysians jumping for joy when we made the final," added Chan.

  While Cardiff dream of Cup glory, they are also not forgetting their main task of winning promotion to the Premier League. Malky Mackay has guided Cardiff to third place, just one point behind Southampton, who they face on Tuesday at the start of a run of crucial league games which also see them face Blackpool, Leicester City, Peterborough and Ipswich Town before their Wembley trip. "We missed out last season (Cardiff were defeated in the playoff semi-finals) and we want to get into the Premier League. It's a long-road ahead and we'll take it step by step.

"Malky is a great manager and we have a 12th man in the form of the Cardiff fans. I leave it to my manager to chart the way forward and it's been known that we are on the look out for players. "Perhaps over the next few days we could get a few players in but there's still the loan window for us to do something," said Chan.

-NST Online.

Sasar 80,000 pelancong Medan kunjungi Melaka

JASIN 28 Jan. - Kerajaan negeri menerusi Bahagian Promosi Pelancongan (BPP) akan melaksanakan pelbagai program dalam usaha menggalakkan kira-kira 14 juta penduduk dari Medan, Indonesia berkunjung ke negeri ini.

Ketua Menteri, Datuk Seri Mohd. Ali Rustam berkata, lawatan BBP ke Medan selama tiga hari mulai 20 hingga 24 Januari lalu adalah langkah strategik mempromosikan Melaka di kalangan penduduk di Sumatera Barat itu. Menurutnya, rombongan itu disertai kira-kira 200 peserta daripada pelbagai agensi pelancongan dan perhotelan akan mengadakan promosi dan pameran besar-besaran di Hotel Ayuduta.

Beliau berkata, ia bertujuan meningkatkan kedatangan penduduk Medan ke negeri ini dalam sektor pelancongan kesihatan yang mencecah 80,000 orang tahun lalu. "Mudah-mudahan promosi kali ini akan membuka lembaran baru untuk menarik lebih ramai penduduk dari Medan dengan sasaran kedatangan pelancong lebih daripada 80,000 untuk tahun ini.

"Selain sektor pelancongan kesihatan, promosi turut ditumpukan kepada peluang-peluang melanjutkan pelajaran di beberapa institusi pengajian tinggi (IPT) yang terdapat di negeri ini.

"Jika sasaran ini dicapai secara tidak langsung penerbangan dari Melaka-Medan melalui Melaka Air akan ditambah setiap hari," katanya di sini baru-baru ini. Beliau meminta syarikat-syarikat pelancongan di negeri ini menyediakan pakej pelancongan yang menarik bagi menggalakkan pelancong dari Medan berkunjung ke negeri Melaka," katanya.

-Utusan Online.

Malaysia diiktiraf antara destinasi pelancongan termurah

RAUB 29 Jan. – Sektor pelancongan Malaysia terus mendapat pengiktirafan antarabangsa apabila tersenarai di antara lapan destinasi percutian paling murah di dunia selain Vietnam dan Thailand oleh portal pelancongan murah, STA Travel United Kingdom.

Menteri Pelancongan, Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen berkata, selain itu, berdasarkan laporan Organisasi Pelancongan Dunia Pertubuhan Bangsa-bangsa Bersatu (UNWTO) Malaysia menduduki tangga kesembilan dari segi ketibaan pelancong. Manakala portal informasi dan pelancongan Lonely Planet pula meletakkan negara ini antara 10 negara yang baik untuk dilawati, katanya.

"Industri pelancongan telah banyak mengharumkan nama negara di mata dunia, malah ia merupakan sektor kelima penyumbang terbesar kepada pendapatan negara,” katanya ketika berucap pada Majlis Riang Ria Tahun Baru Cina dekat sini, semalam. Majlis dirasmikan Tengku Mahkota Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah dan turut hadir Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob. 


Ng: Raub developing into tourism hub

RAUB: The hillside town of Raub is rapidly transforming from a humble commune into a bustling tourism hub in Pahang.

Such development, said Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, had been possible because of a responsible and progressive government. She said under the Barisan Nasional, the people's welfare was also well taken care of. Dr Ng, who is Raub MP, was speaking to reporters after handing out monthly welfare aid to 456 recipients here yesterday.

She said there were about 2,500 welfare aid recipients in Raub, on whom the government spends about RM6mil a year. “We are not like the opposition. We keep to our promises,” said Dr Ng, adding that there were many tourism plans for the town of 85,000 residents.

Citing Kampung Sungai Pasu and Kampung Gali Hilir, she said the two villages that offer “homestay” packages would be turned into “21st century villages” complete with wireless Internet (WiFi) service. “These homestay villages will also be given a garden theme and decorated with authentic Malaysian plants,” she said. She added that her ministry was hiring botanists to help with the village plans.

On the town's taxi drivers, she said 41 cabbies would be given simple courses to help them be tourism ambassadors to promote Raub and Malaysia. Dr Ng added that the Cabinet had approved the setting up of a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia campus in Raub, which would cost RM300mil and accomodate 3,000 students.

-thestar online.

Cool way to get around KLCC and Bukit Bintang in pedestrian walkway

KUALA LUMPUR: A fully air-conditioned RM100mil pedestrian walkway linking Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) and Bukit Bintang, two major retail and tourism spots here, is open now. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak signed a special plaque near a shopping mall in Bukit Bintang yesterday.

The walkway includes a 562m long and five-metre wide elevated walkway that traverses through the busy areas of Jalan Pinang, Jalan Perak and Jalan Raja Chulan with escalator and staircase entry and exit points at strategic and convenient locations. The project was financed by Petronas under its social contribution programme.

It links the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre to Impiana KLCC Hotel, and the hotel to the Pavilion bridge crossing at Bukit Bintang. The other portion is made up of a pedestrian tunnel from the concourse level of the convention centre which now links to the existing tunnel to the Suria KLCC shopping complex.

“With the linkages, the public can now travel on foot from Bukit Bintang and Raja Chulan monorail stations to the KLCC LRT Station via Suria KLCC in the cool comfort of the air-conditioned covered walkway and tunnels,” a statement said, as quoted by Bernama.

At another function in Serdang, Najib said the Government had raised the allowance for Rela (People's Volunteer Corp) members from RM4 to RM6 per hour. Rela officers would also enjoy the RM2 increase in their allowance to RM7.80 per hour, he said.

“This is an appreciation to members of the corps who have sacrificed their time in helping out the authorities.” He said Rela had requested for the raise and that “as a caring Government that always give priority to the people's welfare, the request can be approved immediately.”

-thestar online.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

'Promote Visit Kelantan Year'

KOTA BARU: Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said she had no confidence in the ability of the Kelantan government to make its Visit Kelantan Year a success.

 Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen (right) greeting guests at the ‘Riang Ria Tahun Baru Cina’ ceremony in Kota Baru, Kelantan, yesterday. Bernama pic

Dr Ng said there was a lack of preparation by the state government to promote the programme. She said the ministry had so far not seen any effort  by the state government to promote the programme, including drawing up a calendar of event  normally prepared by  other state governments ahead of a similar programme.

"Visit Kelantan Year is a good move to boost the tourism industry, but they should have a good strategy before organising the programme. "When we organise Visit Malaysia Year, we have to spend about two years to devise a proper strategy to ensure it runs smoothly. Otherwise, it will be a shame when visitors arrive only to see nothing is being promoted to attract the people," said Dr Ng  after launching the ministry's "Riang Ria Tahun Baru Cina" event near here yesterday.

Other than clear strategies, she said  the state government must also maintain cleanliness and highlight tourism products to be offered. "I hope the state government will give attention to  the tourism products like hotels and historical places.

"The ministry has previously received reports from tourists of poor service  by certain hotels here especially  their spa centres. "The Kelantan government should take the matter seriously before they decide to issue licences to spa operators so as not to  tarnish its image."

Dr Ng said the ministry inspected 12 spa centres in Kelantan last year and only one passed the standards as the others  lacked in  proper facilities. "So, Kelantan has only one spa centre among the 290 recognised by the ministry throughout the country. It  is important to have more such centres here as  spas have been identified as one of the major tourist attractions."

-NST Online.

Malaysia moves up 27 places to 25th spot in environmental index

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia made a big jump in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by moving up 27 places to the 25th position among 132 countries this year.

It is the only Asean country in the top 25 of the 2012 EPI, said Malaysian EPI head and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang. Among others in the top 25 are Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Iceland, Finland, Netherlands, Denmark, Japan and Belgium. He said in the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia was placed third behind New Zealand and Japan.

Malaysia's new EPI ranking was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. “This new ranking will help boost the country's image in attracting more tourists and foreign direct investments,” Dr Zaini told a press conference here. He said the EPI was important because other than looking at a country's political stability and security, tourists and investors were giving more priority to environmental issues before deciding to visit or invest.

Dr Zaini, who is also the Malaysian Environmental Quality Council chairman, said the EPI was jointly developed by Yale and Columbia universities in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. “Our (UTM) role is to tabulate environmental data and findings collected from several ministries and submit them to Yale and Columbia,” he added.

Dr Zaini said that despite much improvement in the country's environmental challenges, there was still room for improvement, especially in forest management and climate change. “Our target now is to move to the 15th place. Hopefully, we can reach it by the 2014 World Economic Forum,” he added.

-thestar online.

Eaglexpress strikes first deal worth RM35mil

KUALA LUMPUR: Newly-launched airline company Eaglexpress Air Charter Sdn Bhd has struck its first deal of RM35mil with a travel agent to roll out haj and umrah flights from March to September.

Eaglexpress will provide 31 flight services to travel agent Noz Usaha Sdn Bhd for its pilgrimage travel packages from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The airline will carry 15,000 passengers under the pilgrimage packages by Noz Usaha, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Muhammadiyah Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd.

At this point, the air charter airline has only one aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, with a seating capacity of 450 passengers. The company is looking to purchase two more aircraft by April in a vision to have 20 planes in the next three to five years. Eaglexpress executive chairman Tan Sri Aseh Che Mat said the agreement with Noz Usaha was unique in that the travel agent went straight for a contract signing after approaching them.

“What is special about this agreement is Noz Usaha did not even sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with us but went straight for an agreement. I was impressed with their number of haj and umrah customers from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand of more than 100,000,” he said. At the signing ceremony, he said that while Eaglexpress was not able to accommodate the customer base at the moment, he hoped that the partnership between Eaglexpress and Noz Usaha would last.

He added that there were interested parties from the Asean region to partner with the air charter but nothing was concrete yet. He revealed that there were several MoUs lined up to be converted into contracts.

As for Eaglexpress' total capacity, Aseh said it was premature to set any figure considering the company was still expanding. “There are plans to buy more Boeing 747 planes, perhaps four Boeing 737-400 aircraft and subsequently Boeing 747 freighters, all of this hopefully by year-end,” he said.

Eaglexpress, launched last Thursday, is jointly owned by South Korean chief operating officer and chief financial officer Captain Shin Man Soo,chief executive Captain Azlan Zainal Abidin, Aseh and executive vice-chairman Datuk Wan Ismail Abdul Rahman. Shin has a 40% stake in the airline while the other three have equal blocks of 20% each. The airline is currently funded by investors from South Korea, the Middle East and Malaysia and works on a business model that should see it breaking even in the second year, with a revenue of US$100mil in its first year of operations. It operates from KLIA and will offer hajj, umrah, holiday and humanitarian charter services.

-thestar online.

Over RM1bil to turn KL into top-notch city, says PM

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government will spend over RM1bil to make Kuala Lumpur more “competitive” globally, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He said projects under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP)would ensure that Kuala Lumpur be among the world's top 20 cities. The Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit and “river of life” project are some of the projects to transform the capital city, he said when launching Federal Territories Day celebrations at Dataran Merdeka here.

Najib listening to Mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail explain the pedestrian walkway from KLCC to Bukit Bintang

Najib also spoke about the Federal Territories being a reflection of Malaysia's future, and a showcase of a holistic and responsible development planning as well as the best practice in the implementation of development programmes. "Negative elements which are often associated with urbanisation process should be avoided. Creativity and innovation should be the hallmark in the development philosophy of these territories.

"Development should not be seen in a single-dimensional way but in an integrated manner taking into account humanity issues, the environment and aesthetic values," he said. He added that through the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), the government strived to transform Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley through the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley initiative, with the objective of placing the national capital among the world's 20 most livable cities by 2020.

"Several mega projects are ongoing under the Greater KL/Klang Valley initiative including the My Rapid Transit, River of Life, Iconic Places, Pedestrian Walkway, Greener KL as well as the sewerage and solid waste management projects," he said.

For Labuan, he said, the government had set its development target to be based on three key elements, namely as an oil and gas trading centre, an international business and financial centre, and as a premier tourism destination. Notwithstanding these sectors, he said, other aspects or existing industries on the island such as education, marine-based halal food production, and retail businesses would continue to be given attention.

-thestar online.