Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tough battles expected at this year’s Sarawak Regatta

KUCHING: The Sarawak Regatta, which was first held in Sarawak River here in 1872, will see a tough battle among nearly 260 boats, beginning tomorrow.

Teams from Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Dubai will compete in the tourist category and alongside with the locals in the open category.

Besides the long boat races, there are power boat and kayak races in the three-day annual event, which is expected to attract thousands of city folks and tourists to the waterfront.

State Assistant Minister for Tourism Hamden Ahmad said four challenge trophies were up for grab in the event on theme “Game of Peace.”

These trophies are sponsored by the Sarawak Yang di-Pertua Negeri (for long boat - 30 paddlers), Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (VIP - 20 paddlers), Telekom Malaysia Bhd (long boat - 20 paddlers) and Tourism Malaysia (travel agents/hotels - 20 paddlers).

Prize money of over RM145,000 is awaiting the winners in the state’s richest and grandest annual water game.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who is here for the 49th Merdeka Day parade, is expected to launch this tourism calendar event.

The Sarawak Regetta was held to herald the new year during the Rajah Brooke era, and it has a distinct historical and cultural significance.

Source: The Star

Malaysia celebrates 49th Merdeka in grand style

By Sulok Tawie and Nancy Nais

KUCHING - Malaysia's 49th National Day was celebrated today, as in past years, by its multi-ethnic and religious citizens in a peaceful, joyous and stable atmosphere.

Down at the main venue at Padang Merdeka here, the National Day was celebrated with a mixture of a glittering parade and procession involving all strata of its multi-racial and multi-religious society.

The Yang di Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail, and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Fauziah Tengku Abdul Rashid, and the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, were joined by thousands of flag-waving Malaysians in watching the participants make a formation symbolising the framework for national development under the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the national mission in the parade.

Also present at the glittering event were Sarawak Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and federal and state Cabinet ministers.

Padang Merdeka in the town centre came alive with spirited declarations pledging loyalty to the nation, lively performances by people in colourful attire, uniformed bodies and bands as well as a parade and procession which ended with a cultural performance by members of the Integrated People's Component.

Adding to the excitement, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) helicopters made a fly-past carrying the Jalur Gemilang flag and released red, blue and yellow smoke.

Live choir performers, cultural dancers with their colourful attire, elegant bands from schools and uniform bodies, parade and procession gave such a lively atmosphere to the beautiful sunny morning.

While maintaining the theme, "KeranaMu Malaysia", which reflects the people's gratitude for the peace and rapid development that they enjoy, this year's celebration also carries a sub-theme, "Misi Nasional Penjana Wawasan" (National Mission Generates Vision), aimed at highlighting the five main thrusts of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP).

Seventeen decorated floats representing the government, education, defence and private sectors also took part in the procession with the Malaysian Defence Forces Canoeing Team which successfully crossed the South China Sea in 17 days bringing up the rear.

The fine weather added gaiety to the celebration which is being held here for the second time, the first being in 1993.

Thousands more Malaysians watched the event live on television.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Zamboanga-Sandakan-KK routes launching soon

KOTA KINABALU: Russian-Filipino owned Mosphil Aero Incorporated is set to launch its Zamboanga-Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu maiden flight in October this year.

The Department of Tourism regional director Recardo San Juan said Mosphil’s top officials had announced that they were on its final stages to help realize the much awaited international route.

Speaking to NST Business here yesterday, he said the regional airline would get the green light from the Air Transportation Office (ATO) and permit from the Civil Aviation Board (CAB) in the Philippines soon, to pave the way for the resumption of the Zamboanga-Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu route.

According to him, Mosphil maiden flight was initially set for today, a day before the opening of the 15th Mindanao Business Conference (Minbizcon) in Zamboanga City.

However, he said the flight was postponed to early October due to documentations requirements which need to be completed as required by the relevant government authorities.

“Mosphil officials are very keen to open the Zamboanga-Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu route again because of the high passenger traffic,” Ricardo said.

He said the resumption of the route would see Mosphil operating three direct flights weekly starting Oct 2.

He further disclosed that the air carrier would use its latest Russia-made Antonov 24, a medium- size aircraft which has a capacity of 48 passengers and can carry at least five tonnes of cargos.

As part of the technology transfer programme of the company, Ricardo said the Russian crew would initially man the aircraft while their Filipino counterparts were being trained at the Antonov training centre in Kiev, Unkraine.

He said the resumption of the route would boost the tourism sector in Zamboanga City.

Aside from Zamboanga City, NST Business was also informed that Mosphil Aero has also identified the province of Jolo, Tawi-Tawi and Davao City as key areas for its services in Mindanao.

It was also learned that Mosphil officials onboard the Antonov aircraft are scheduled to arrive at the Sandakan Airport today as part of its proving flight exercise.

Courtesy of New Sabah Times

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sipadan Island: Spot Light On A Paradise




The custodians have spoken
Protection is the Priority

By JASWINDER KAUR

It’s a 90-minute boat ride from Semporna, but the journey can stretch to about 120 minutes in choppy weather. Despite the longer heart-stopping boat ride, JASWINDER KAUR found a jewel of an island as it should be, almost.

JUST a tiny dot in the Celebes Sea off Borneo’s northeastern coast.

That was all Sipadan meant to the world less than two decades ago, until renowned ocean adventurer Jacques Cousteau reached its shores and proclaimed it "an untouched piece of art".

Despite the bumps and scrapes over the years, the custodians of Sipadan are working for it to be just that.

By the late 1980s, divers from as far as half-way across the world were taking red-eye flights and bumpy boat rides to the island to swim with fish the shades of colouring pencils.

The abduction of 21 people by bandits six years ago and a barge damaging corals in May have not kept divers away from Sipadan, which covers about 30 football fields.

Since the five resorts built on Sipadan were demolished last year, divers can only visit the island for the day.

Applications for permits to enter Sipadan today are three-fold from the 120 that Sabah Parks can issue daily.

Diving is revenue, but protection is the priority say the island’s custodians.

Sabah State Secretary Datuk K.Y. Mustafa said Sipadan would soon be gazetted as a marine park and visitor numbers will always be restricted.

"The pertinent point here is that Sipadan is home to marine life, and also birds," said Mustafa.

He co-chairs the Joint Committee on the Management and Supervision of Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Ligitan with the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Samsuddin Osman.

(The Federal Government is involved in managing Sipadan as it is gazetted as a protected area under the Protected Places and Protected Areas Act 1959 for security reasons.)

"After the resorts were demolished early last year, turtle landings have increased and this is a strong indication that we have done the right thing.

"Since guests no longer spend nights at the island, turtles are returning to their natural habitat."

An average of two turtles arrived at Sipadan every night this year.

By the end of the year, an amendment to the Parks Enactment 1984 will be tabled to gazette Sipadan as a marine park.

"We should be able to gazette it next year and this will provide better protection for Sipadan."

Mustafa acknowledged it was difficult to take action against those who damage the marine environment until such protection was in place.

The contractor who damaged reefs after off-loading construction material at Sipadan could, as a "goodwill" measure", clear the mess, said Mustafa. Failing which Sabah Parks would have to do it.

During a recent visit to Sipadan, the New Sunday Times saw rows of rusting metal rods beneath creeper plants, wood planks and cement that the contractor, building day facilities for the divers, had sent to the island.

Two rows of kongsi and an unfinished jetty are also part of the former Sipadan Dive Centre resort site.

A project to build a RM5 million clubhouse was called off after divers alerted the world that a barge had damaged corals. A termination letter was served on the contractor this month.

At the moment, divers take a breather on the beach and have their meals under the hot sun between dives. They are allowed to venture 50 metres into the island to use three toilets which are in poor condition.

A small area close to the jetty is scattered with dilapidated wooden buildings left behind by resort operators and now used by security forces and Sabah Parks officers.

The rest of the island is clear of structures and is clean.

Trees have started to grow at former resort sites.

Mustafa said the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sabah Parks, Institute for Environment and Development and the National Security Division are working on a reduced scope for rest facilities as directed by the Sabah Cabinet and the Joint Committee.

"When we build facilities, we have to look at sanitation. When the resorts were operating at Sipadan, everything was pumped into the island.

"One big worry in the last 10 years has been detergent. We can’t just let it seep into the ground.

"Facilities that involve mankind will have some impact on the natural environment. We need to minimise and mitigate this."

Mustafa said development would be confined to less than five per cent of the island and the rest would remain off limits to visitors.

The scaled down rest facilities will be built on 0.6ha. The island measures 13.5ha.

On littering, like mineral water bottles dumped behind a signboard that warns rubbish is not to be thrown there, Mustafa said Sabah Parks would continue to monitor the island and clean up.

Asked how Sipadan’s image as one of the top dive sites in the world could be restored following negative reports, Mustafa said:

"It is always easy to make judgements. People have to come and see for themselves. Only then would they be able to make a fair assessment and judgement."

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Sipadan Island - On the road to recovery, thank you

THE headlines were alarming.

"Sipadan reefs probably lost forever", "Sipadan reef scrapped clean", and "Massive steel barge crashes into Sipadan reef" they screamed.

These were the headlines in most dive blog and Internet sites three months after a barge knocked about 0.1 per cent of the 208ha total reef zone at Sipadan.

While the vessel damaged corals close to the famous "Drop-Off" point near the jetty, natural and human factors have left their own scars.

Scientist Dr Elizabeth Wood, who first visited Sipadan 29 years ago in the pre-diving era, said Storm Greg on Boxing Day a decade ago badly damaged some shallow water reefs while increase in water temperature has contributed to coral bleaching.

"Storms and bleaching have caused loss and death of corals, but there has been some recovery," she said.

"Divers and snorkellers have also caused some damage to corals, especially at the zone near the jetty.

"Damage from human factors is difficult to quantify but reefs close to the jetty have suffered from sheer numbers of people and boats."

Wood, who is a coral reef conservation officer with the British-based Marine Conservation Society, said it was also possible that water quality had gone down, no thanks to run-off from the mainland.

"For long-term conservation of reefs, dive operators could provide more briefings to tell divers that they should not touch and disturb marine life," she said in an e-mail reply.

"Most dive responsibly, but there are some who are less careful.

"Measures must also be put in place to control diver numbers at popular dive sites within Sipadan."

On the same note, Marine Research Foundation director Dr Nicolas Pilcher said reports on what had happened at Sipadan were "exaggerated".

"Schools of bumpheaded parrotfish that roam over reefs at regular intervals do similar amounts of damage and this is natural," Pilcher said in an e-mail reply.

"Some of these fish are known to crush several tonnes of coral each year into sand as they graze over the reef top.

"Turtles break off coral branches every day as they forage and find resting places. The damaged patches will be absorbed into the natural ecosystem process."

Sabah Parks had asked the Kota Kinabalu-based foundation to assist with investigations into the extent of damage at Sipadan and to help with restoration work.

Pilcher said "first aid" work started immediately after the vessel left the island.

With Sabah Parks officers, Pilcher investigated the damage and got down to work to rehabilitate corals at the time local and international media were reporting on the scope of damage and who was to blame.

Loose debris was removed, a process that took about a month, to allow for the recovery process.

"This first step was critical. Any rubble left will roll and move about with tides and waves, and never offer a suitable platform for new corals to settle and grow.

"After the clean-up, reefs have been improved. Coral skeletons which had lost the upper tips have started to re-grow and in the coming six months to a year, we project new coral colonies will settle in.

"Sipadan is well poised to allow this to happen because there are magnificent corals which surround the damaged patch."

Pilcher said restoration does not require much time, but monitoring its effectiveness does.

"It would be good to monitor the reefs in the next three to five years to make sure restoration reaches its intended conservation goal."

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Kuching All Set To Explode On Aug 31

KUCHING -- Come Aug 31, Kuching city will explode with pomp and grand funfairs to mark the nation's 49th birthday celebrations.

With the haze diminishing, the city is ready to produce one of the best Merdeka parades that will long be remembered by all Malaysians.

Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who is currently in Kuching to oversee the massive preparation for the event, is satisfied with the preparations for the celebration and the improving haze condition in the city.

Thick smog that shrouded the skies of Kuching had threatened to spoil the Merdeka party, which is hosted by the Sarawak government this year.

However, changes in wind direction and heavy rainfalls in the past few days in Kuching are clearing away the haze.

"The Merdeka celebration rehearsal today was fantastic...we only need to fine-tune a few minor things. All is set and we are ready to roll," said Rais, who is chairman of the celebration organising committee.

He added that the state government had given its "fullest cooperation" to ensure that the celebration would be a successful one.

Meanwhile, State Public Order and Traffic chief Supt Paul Kundang Atin said several routes in the city would be closed to traffic during the Merdeka party.

He advised the public to use alternative routes on Aug 30 and 31.

The roads to be closed on Aug 30 are Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, Jalan MacDougall, Jalan Wawasan, Jalan Lebuh Wayang, Jalan Gambir, Jalan Lebuh Power (taxi station) and Jalan Khoo Hung Yeang.

On Aug 31, Jalan Badruddin, Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, Jalan Sentral, Jalan Park Lane, Jalan Crookshank, Jalan Budaya, Jalan McDougall, Jalan Reservoir, Jalan Wawasan, Jalan Main Bazaar, Lebuh Wayang, Jalan Satok, Jalan Masjid, Jalan Datuk Ajibah Abol, Jalan Kulas and Jalan Haji Taha will be closed.

IN KOTA KINABALU, the Merdeka convoy comprising 99 superbikes and 49 4X4 vehicles left here at 8am today for Lawas en route to Miri and Kuching. The convoy will join the Merdeka splash in Kuching on Aug 31.

Source: BERNAMA

Monday, August 28, 2006

FAX responds to Bario woes Airline to send food supplies tomorrow

MIRI: Food supplies will be flown to people living in the remote Bario highlands in northern Sarawak from tomorrow.

The Transport Ministry, responding to the plight of these people, has granted permission to Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) to operate special cargo flights into interior destinations twice a week.

FAX chief executive officer Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali said the airline would start the cargo delivery services this week.

“FAX will offer the cargo delivery every Tuesday and Friday to supplement the existing daily passenger services.

“We heard about the plight of these rural people and we sought permission to operate both passenger and cargo delivery services from the Transport Ministry and the relevant federal authorities, and they have responded positively and swiftly,” he said.

Some 2,000 people and more than 600 students in various settlements in the Bario highlands, some 400km inland from here, had sent an SOS to the state government last week after their food, medicine and diesel supplies ran out.

MAS used to operate passenger and cargo flights before it handed over all the rural air routes to FAX on Aug 1.

FAX was initially authorised to ferry passengers who could take only 10kg of luggage on boardthe 19-seater Twin-Otter and 15kg on the 50-seater Fokker aircraft.

Now, FAX will be able to operate combi-flights to all its destinations, especially to remote settlements that are accessible only by air, said Raja Azmi.

While FAX will be able to fly in food, medical supplies and household necessities, diesel will still have to be ferried by land.

“We are unable to fly in diesel because it is highly flammable. The safety regulations imposed by the Department of Civil Aviation prevent such materials to be on board our aircraft,” Raja Azmi said.

Previously, MAS was also not allowed to carry fuel on board its flights and diesel was flown in by a specially chartered cargo skyvan belonging to aviation company Layang Layang. That service is no longer available.

Sending diesel to the remote areas is a major challenge for the Sarawak government because most of the highland settlements do not have road links.

Source: The Star

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

AirAsia introduces direct KL-Hanoi flights

By Azlan Othman

Air Asia lives up to its promise of strengthening flight connectivity within Asean by adding Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam under its staple of cities. And once again proving that it is a leading low-fare airline, AirAsia is making it affordable for everyone to fly to Hanoi.

Beginning October 4, 2006, Asia's largest low-fare airline will commence daily flights to the land where Asian charm meets old French heritage.

AirAsia's special promotional fare for this new service is RM49.99/US$15 one-way for flights between October 4, 2006 and March 24, 2007. The booking period to enjoy this special fare is open only for four precious days from Aug 27 to Aug 30, 2006. Members of the public are therefore encouraged to book early. All fares quoted exclude airport taxes, fuel surcharges and fees, and are applicable for one-way travel only.

"It has always been our vision to fly to Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, which is a quaint, romantic city with warm, friendly locals and delectable Vietnamese cuisine, " said Kathleen Tan, AirAsia's Executive Vice President - Commercial.

Thai AirAsia, AirAsia's sister company is currently serving Hanoi flights from Bangkok. And with AirAsia introducing direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, guests will enjoy a convenient alternative to fly to Hanoi. AirAsia will operate seven flights daily to Hanoi from October 4, 2006.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bollywood movie to give boost to Sarawak tourism industry

By George Francis

MIRI - Sarawak is expected to gain "royalty" in the form of foreign exchange as a new tourist destination for holiday makers from India after the release of a Bollywood movie to be filmed here and in Kuching in November.

Says the CEO of Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), Gracie Geikie, "It is a form of marketing of Sarawak tourism to India, which is a new market, focusing on the many holiday makers below 35 years, among technocrats, professionals and the affluent.

She said the new generation of Indians would love to come to enjoy nature, open space, recreations and Sarawak's cultural diversity.

Beside the shooting of Bollywood movie "Let's Rock" that featured Sarawak entirely for millions of Indian audiences and world over, she said, the reward is viable for tourism money by strengthening of market position among the Indian tour and travel agents as well as having a New Delhi-based marketing consultant for STB.

With shooting of the film in Sarawak that will see some 20 Bollywood actors and actresses, there is a prospect of 25 local extras to be recruited for the film.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Trans-Borneo highway may reach Kalimantan

By Rosli Zakaria and Sean Augustin

KEMAMAN: The Trans-Borneo highway linking Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah may be extended to the borders of Kalimantan.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the highway would foster closer relations between the people of Brunei and Malaysia.

"Extending the highway to Kalimantan will bring about more development in the hinterland." he said.

Plans for the project should be drawn up immediately, he added.

The Trans-Borneo highway was one of the topics discussed by Abdullah and Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah during an hour-long meeting.

The talks were the highlight of the two-day annual consultative meeting between Malaysia and Brunei.

The two leaders also discussed the feasibility of doing away with passport requirements for people of Sabah travelling to Brunei.

At present, this privilege is enjoyed only by the people of Sarawak.

On the outstanding dispute over an oil field off the coast of Sabah, Abdullah said the matter was under discussion.

Officials from both Governments have been instructed to work on a formula to settle the matter.

The dispute arose after Petronas discovered an oil field some 150km off the coast of Sabah in 2002, which has an estimated recoverable reserve of up to 700 million barrels.

Malaysia has long claimed the area as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while Brunei, in 2000, also claimed sovereignty over the blocks as part of its EEZ.

Abdullah also said Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah had agreed to an exchange programme allowing officers from Brunei to observe the implementation of projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sabah CM: Review flight cuts

By KAMARUDDIN LIUSIN & JENNE LAJIUN

KOTA KINABALU: The state government has called for a review of the reduction in number of flights from the state capital to Sandakan and Tawau.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman said the decrease in flights since August 1 has created problems as people intending to visit Sandakan and Tawau were finding it difficult to get seats.

“We hope the situation would be rectified as soon as possible,” he told reporters after chairing the State Cabinet meeting here yesterday.

Musa who is also Finance Minister said the State Cabinet has decided to write to the Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy and the management of Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia on the matter.

“We have directed the State Secretary (Datuk KY Mustafa) to write a letter to them,” he added.

He said the flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and to Tawau were reduced from seven to just three a day after MAS carried out its rationalisation programme on August 1.

These sectors are now operated by Fly Asian Express (FAX).

Musa also pointed out that the effects of the flight cuts were being felt by local and foreign travelers planning to visit Sandakan and Tawau from the state capital.

“How are we going to promote the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 when there is a reduction in the number of flights? It is affecting the visitors who want to go to Sandakan and Tawau,” he said.

The Chief Minister also believed that this had led to a drop in the number of tourists to the state, especially Sandakan and Tawau.

“Not only tourists face problem in getting seats…the local people also face the same problem,” he added.

Courtesy of New Sabah Times

Govt Tells MAS, AirAsia To Cut Flight Delays

PUTRAJAYA -- The government has ordered national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and budget airline AirAsia to take immediate measures to cut flight delays that had occurred frequently over the last three months.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy said the ministry would also monitor closely the two airlines in the next one or two months to ensure that there was improvement.

The ministry had received many complaints of flight delays from all over the country and the airlines had cited technical problems, the weather, air traffic control and passengers arriving late or not showing up as the reasons, he told reporters after chairing a post-Cabinet meeting at the ministry, here.

"Of course, there are many reasons but the ministry has informed MAS and AirAsia that they have to find ways and means to improve their performance. I want to see less delays all over the country. We are very unhappy with the two airlines," he said.

Chan said that going by the international standard, a delay occurred when a flight exceeded its schedule by 15 minutes, adding that MAS had registered 87 per cent "on time" flights, meaning that the airline had 13 per cent delays.

He said he was informed by AirAsia that its definition of a delay was exceeding the schedule by 30 minutes.

"I am asking now for 15 minutes because that is the international standard. If you go by 30 minutes, AirAsia has 88.03 per cent `on time' flights, meaning the airline has 11.93 per cent delays. But that is 30 minutes. I want 15 minutes. If it goes by 15 minutes, I think the figure would be higher on delays," he said.

Chan said reasons of weather and technical problems that posed a threat to safety were acceptable but matters within control such as air traffic control and passengers arriving late had to be overcome immediately.

"Of course, I have been told that going by the international standard, these figures are good but I am not happy anyway," he said, adding that 87 per cent "on time" flights for domestic and Southeast Asian operations was high and good performance.

"But to me and to the government, I think they can do better. So, we want them to do better. We will monitor them very closely in the next one or two months," he said.

Chan also said that after the rationalisation of the domestic routes on Aug 1, the ministry was monitoring closely all the complaints that have been submitted to it.

"We are monitoring very closely all the problems faced by the passengers, including the business community, and especially those from Sabah and Sarawak where there has been a reduction in flight frequencies on certain routes.

"We also got a lot of appeals from elected representatives from Sabah and Sarawak over the reduction in flight frequencies, which has caused a lot of inconvenience for people in several stations, particularly Labuan, Miri, Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Kota Kinabalu," he said.

Chan said the ministry would call a meeting in one or two days to look into all the information that it has gathered on the ground and the complaints that have been submitted to it to ensure improvement.

Source: BERNAMA

MAS fare system ‘timely, beneficial’

KOTA KINABALU: The recently implemented Malaysia Airlines (MAS) fare system won the praise of Malaysian Indian Youth Council (MICY) Sabah Chairman A. Nagaraju (pictured), who described the cheaper domestic air fares as timely and beneficial to all.

He said the new MAS fare system for the domestic sector, which was imposed Tuesday, allows passengers to fly one-way from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur for as low as RM199 (not inclusive of surcharges).

Speaking to NST Business here yesterday, he said the new ‘micro-segmentised’ fare system covering 23 domestic routes offers a choice of multi-tiered fares with discounts between 10 and 60 per cent, which would greatly ease the financial burden of travel.

Nagaraju said the measure is to the advantage of not only Malaysian travellers but also foreign visitors, especially during the Visit Malaysia 2007 promotional period.

“The discounted air fare currently being provided by both MAS and AirAsia will help further boost national integration among Malaysians,” he said.

The ‘micro-segmentised’ fare system will also see the introduction of two business class and five economy segments with one-way fares offered through MAS offices, travel agents, and online at www.malaysiaairlines.com.

Under the new system, the one-way multi-tiered fares for Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu route are: RM499 (Economy Class); RM399 (A-flex-saver); RM359 (B-flex-saver); RM299 (Saver); RM259 (A-web-saver); and RM199 (B-web-saver).

MAS Commercial Director Dato Rashid Khan recently said the prices were flexible and that each fare segment had its own set of rules and regulations for ticketing deadlines, refunds, cancellations, no-shows, advance purchase eligibilities and fare restrictions.

The airline is now targeting returns of at least eight per cent from its domestic operations by the end of 2007.

Domestic operations for the airline have for years incurred losses, a trend MAS hopes to reverse through the implementation of initiatives such as the micro-segmentised fare system under its business turnaround plan.

Courtesy of New Sabah Times

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

MAS cheer for online bookings

By M. KRISHNAMOORTHY

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines is offering discounts of up to 60% on online bookings for one million domestic tickets from next month until July 31 next year.

Its managing director Idris Jala said the new fare structure was on a one-way basis. Existing full fares have been increased by an average of 15% and 30% for economy and business classes, with multi-tiered fares offering discounts of 10% to 60%.

The nine different fares cater for the different market segments and are classified as business, business plus, economy, flex saver (higher fare), flex saver (lower fare), saver plus, websaver (a) and websaver (b). Under websaver (a), a ticket has to be purchased 10 days in advance, and under websaver (b) 14 days in advance.

MAS' revised one-way economy class online fares start from as low as RM59 for travel within Sabah and Sarawak, RM69 for travel within Peninsular Malaysia and RM99 for travel between the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.

MAS will waive the RM14 in administration fees per sector for online bookings.

Economy class one-way fares transacted through MAS' 24-hour Call Centre and traditional distribution channels start from RM79 for travel within Sabah and Sarawak, RM89 for travel within Peninsular Malaysia and RM149 for travel between the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.

The “micro-segmentised” fare system has been rationalised for the domestic network covering 23 routes.

“Although full fares for economy and business class have been raised to a weighted average of 15% and 30%, respectively, our customers will continue to enjoy one of the lowest domestic airfares in the world,” Idris stressed.

He said that from the airline's research, Malaysia was second to Thailand in terms of average domestic fares. It costs RM0.63 per mile in Thailand and RM0.71 in Malaysia while Japan is the highest at RM43.41 per mile.

“When we reviewed our domestic fares, we took into consideration that the travelling public wanted more affordable choices. We went through cost-cutting measures that positively affected both our Business Turnaround Plan and our fares,” he said.

In addition to the fares offered through traditional distribution channels, the airline has also introduced fares exclusive to its website www.malaysiaairlines.com.

In addition, the airline is continuing its existing discounts on normal economy class fares for senior citizens, MPs, the blind and disabled, students, the media, and the security forces, as well as for family travel.

Source: The Star

Monday, August 21, 2006

MAS fares to increase today

By WONG SAI WAN

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has increased its domestic fares from today, with the bulk of the rise being for the flights across the South China Sea as well as within Sabah and Sarawak.

Sources familiar with the new fares said the increase was more than the average of 15% for economy and 25% for business class that was announced by MAS managing director Idris Jala on July 31.

According to them, some of the increases were more than 30% for economy class.

“The majority of the routes within Sabah and Sarawak will see the highest increase as operational costs for these sectors are also the highest,” said one source.

MAS has always argued that despite the increases, its domestic fares were “still among the lowest in the world”. The cost of flying on MAS is only 62 sen per mile, which is lower than the cost of flying in countries like Thailand, China, the Philippines, France and Japan.

The national carrier is expected to announce the fare increase for their international routes in a few weeks’ time.

An industry player who had a peek at the new fare structure said a one-way economy fare, including taxes, between KLIA and Penang would now cost RM227 compared to RM184 previously. This is an increase of about 23%.

MAS officials, however, said the increase would only be reflected in normal fares as MAS was also going to follow the pricing technique used by its local rival AirAsia.

MAS domestic fares will be quoted in at least six baskets. The cheapest basket of prices will be for those who book and had their tickets issued early while the most expensive will be for last-minute buyers.

“MAS is likely to give discounts for those who make their travel plans early, especially those who make use of the Internet booking system.

“The experience MAS got from the MAS Mega Travel Fair showed that there were Malaysians who were willing to make early confirmed travel plans provided the discounts are good,” said a travel industry insider.

Source: The Star

400 coming for 7th Borneo Island International Big Bike Festival

Kota Kinabalu: More than 400 bikers will converge in Sabah for the 7th Borneo Island International Big Bike Festival on Sept 16-17 in conjunction with the National Day celebration.

Brunei is expected to send the largest contingent totalling 200 bikers while others are from peninsula, Sarawak, Indonesia, Singapore Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

Sabah Big Bikers Association President, Hamidah Yusof this is the first time that bikers from Jeddah are taking part in the annual event.

"The annual event has attracted big bikers enthusiasm from the oil country as logistically they are also very near to us.

"For the first time, we also received two to three bikers from Jeddah. All in all, we expect to have 350-400 participants excluding family members and pillion riders," she said.

She told this to reporters after paying a courtesy call on Tourism Malaysia (Sabah), Director Iskandar Mirza bin Mohd Yusof at the latter's office recently.

She said the event is providing an opportunity for them to promote the tourism industry in Malaysia and in particular, Sabah.

According to her, the programme would commence on Sept 16 starting with an exhibition of the riders' machines at Lintasan Desoaka.

This, Hamidah said would give the public an opportunity to have a closer look at the two-wheel vehicles.

Apart from that, she said there would be also performance to showcase the riders' skills.

At the same day, the riders would be accompanying the Yang di Pertuan Agong, Tunku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail to Likas for the launching and closing ceremony of the National Day celebration.

Then on Sept 17, Hamidah said the riders would be visiting Gaya Street Sunday Fair before proceeding to Masilau in Ranau.

"They will be making a stopover at Ranau town and they are expected to perform some charity activity," she said.

Meanwhile, Iskandar said Tourism Malaysia welcomed the programme especially since it would help promote Sabah.

"As we all know each of the participating countries has their own big motor clubs and this certainly augurs well for our tourism market because they are always on the move," he said.

The response from neighbouring countries also, he said has been overwhelming which could inevitably promote Visit Malaysia Year 2007 and at the same time help promote Sabah as a holiday destination.

Source: Daily Express

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fruit season is here again in Sabah

By Haji Mohd Zaide Haji Damit

September brings another fruit season in Brunei as well as in Lawas, Terusan, Sindumin and Papar in Sabah.

Fruits such as durian, cempedak, banana, salak and rambutan are in abundance this time around.

Roadside stalls selling a variety of local fruits can be found along Lawas to Sipitang as well as at the markets and 'tamu'.

Rambutan is one of the common fruits in the Sultanate.

The hairy fruit grows on branches on woody stalks. It is usually greenish in colour, turning red or yellow once it matures.

Rambutan is usually eaten fresh and raw, by cutting open the skin to reveal the succulent, white flesh.

The king of all fruits is the durian.

The name durian is derived from the Malay word 'duri' which means thorns, so durian is literally known as the 'thorny fruit'.

A ripe durian produces a pungent smell.

Some people might find the smell offensive and thus the fruit is banned at hotels and airplanes.

The durian flesh is also produced into various food items such as cakes and ice-creams, and the fermented fruit, known as the 'tempoyak', is eaten with 'ulam' (traditional salad).

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Flight changes hurting Sarawak

KUCHING: Sarawak will take up with the Federal Government the problems faced by air travellers in the state following the recent domestic routes rationalisation exercise.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said the state would send a second memorandum to inform the federal authorities that Sarawak had been badly affected by the exercise that took effect more than two weeks ago.

“The main problem is insufficient air connectivity as the result of splitting the air routes,” he said at the annual dinner of the Sarawak chapter of the Malaysian Association of Travel and Tour Agents here on Wednesday night.

Under the exercise, budget air carrier AirAsia took over some of the domestic routes from Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia has engaged Fly Asian Xpress to operate all the rural air services in the northern region.

In the first memorandum sent to the Federal Government last month, Sarawak outlined the problems that might arise due to the air route revamp.

The state has appealed for the reinstatement of the Miri-Kota Kinabalu, Miri-Mulu, Kuching-Mulu, Kota Kinabalu-Mulu, Sibu-Kota Kinabalu and Kuching-Perth routes previously operated by MAS.

Air travellers and tourism players have complained of insufficient flights between towns – like Kuching-Bintulu, which MAS has stopped operating – and lack of international links that bring in tourists.

In Miri, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui said the oil and gas industry in northern Sarawak, which generates up to RM8bil in annual revenue, had become the latest sector to suffer from the termination of daily MAS flights along the Miri-KK-Miri sector.

Chin, who is Miri MP, said he had received feedback from the oil and gas sectors that the cancellation of the Miri-KK flights had resulted in a breakdown of connectivity for oil workers between Miri and overseas destinations via Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

“The Shell office in Miri serves as the main hub governing the oil giant’s operations in the entire Asian zone,” he said, adding that from Miri the Shell management team oversees the company’s operations in as far as China.

“Oil workers fly from Miri to Kota Kinabalu every day en route to overseas cities in China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore because Kota Kinabalu has direct flights to these overseas destinations,” he said.

Source: The Star

More bonus for Bruneians on MAS additional frequency flight

By P Marilyn

With the recent introduction of the Malaysian national carrier's 3rd additional frequency to Bandar Seri Begawan every Wednesday, customers of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flying to Kuala Lumpur on this new frequency will now enjoy additional perks given out by the airline, on top of the attractive return airfare of only B$118.

Effective immediately, a book of Eraman discount vouchers will be given out to all passengers travelling on Malaysia Airlines Wednesday flight to Kuala Lumpur.

This was disclosed by Yuzer Yusoff, Area Manager of Malaysia Airlines in Brunei, during a press conference yesterday at MAS office in the capital.

With the voucher, a discount of 20 per cent is made available to a selection of items at Eraman outlets at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The products on offer range from designer items such as Burberry, fragrances and cosmetics to chocolates, cigars and cigarettes.

This promotion is valid until March 31, 2007 or while stocks last.

In addition, passengers on the Wednesday flight will also be rewarded with Triple Enrich Miles.

A new sign-up with Malaysia Airlines enhanced Frequent Flier Programme (FFP), Enrich online, will earn 1,000 Enrich Miles immediately. Signing up for MAS Frequent Flier Programme will be free of charge.

"All these are timely as the national carrier is campaigning hand-in-hand with Tourism Malaysia for Visit Malaysia 2007," said Yuzer Yusoff.

"Rewarding our loyal customers is a good start," he added.

The Eraman discount vouchers will also be extended to the airlines' passengers travelling beyond Kuala Lumpur with departures from Brunei on either Monday, Wednesday or Friday flights.

Bookings can be done either through travel agents or at www.malaysiaairlines.com. For further details, Malaysia Airlines can be contacted at 2223074 or 2221246.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sarawak Intercultural Moon Cake fest is back again

KUCHING: In what can be seen as an effort to further forge the spirit of cultural integration in the state, the fifth series of Sarawak Intercultural Moon Cake Festival will be held for a week during the second week of Ramadan, end of next month.

Members of the public and visitors to the city will have the opportunity not only to taste a variety of foods from different cultural background including the popular Chi-nese delicacy, moon cake, but also enjoy the intercultural activities encouraging national unity and promoting tourism.

The festival will be held from Sept 30 to Oct 6 at around Carpenter Street, Wayang Street, Ewe Hai St-reet, Bishopgate Street and Sarawak Tourism Complex while the popular Ramadan Bazaar will be set up along Wayang Garden and Wayang Street.

Co-chairman of the festival, Dr Abdul Rahman Junaidi said this year, a total of 100 food stalls would be set up to serve traditional delicacies and delectable local food from the various ethnic groups in the state on the street.

To promote the state various ethnic group’s culture, 10 cultural booths will be set up to create intercultural activities encouraging national unity besides promoting tourism.

“The festival will include activities for all age groups to create social interaction and activities to create sight, sound, and taste along the corridor of the festival,” he said.

The cultural booths include the Tea Garden, Chinese Martial Arts performance, Chinese musical presentation, the traditional Mid-Autumn Quiz, lantern exhibition, Bergendang and Bermukun from the Malay community.

“Different races of dancers and musicians will perform on the street during the celebration,” Dr Abdul Rahman said.

The Moon Cake Festival or traditionally known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is one of the annual festivals celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar moon in the Chinese Calendar.

Many refer to it simply as the Fifteenth of the Eighth Moon.

This celebration is one of the traditions that had been handed down over generations for more than 1,300 years. It is one of the important festivals celebrated by the Chinese community.

Moon cakes are among various delicacies served by the Chinese community during the Mid-Au-tumn Festival.

The round shape of the cake represents the mood and symbolises reunion.

For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotusseed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry.

Sometimes a cooked salted egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of Moon Cake Festival.

By popular demand, halal moon cakes have also been sold in town.

Abdul Rahman, who is also the Pantai Damai Assemblyman and former Padungan state assemblyman, Lily Yong had inspired the organisation of the Sarawak Inter-Cultural Moon Cake Festival in 2002.

With the support of the Sarawak Tourism Ministry, the festival organised by the Chinese communities and Clan Associations at Car-penter Street with their Malay counterparts from across the river from Kampung Boyan and Gersik in Pantai Damai, has been listed in the state tourism calendar.

The main objective of the Inter-Cultural Moon Cake Festival is to revive and heighten the peaceful and harmonious coexistence en-joyed between the two communities and foster the prevailing spirit of tolerance especially among the younger generation.

Beside the local communities, visitors and foreigners would enjoy the unique way of sharing joy and celebrating cultural activities, Abdul Rahman added.

Source: BERNAMA

Kuching to take up with KL air travel problems

KUCHING: Sarawak will take up with the Federal Government the many teething problems faced by air travellers following the recent domestic routes rationalisation exercise.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said the state government would send a second memorandum to inform the federal authorities that Sarawak had been badly affected by the exercise which took effect more than two weeks ago.

The main problem is insufficient air connectivity as the result of splitting the air routes,” he said at the Malaysian Association of Travel and Tour Agents (Matta) Sarawak Chapter’s annual dinner at Crowne Plaza Riverside Hotel here on Wednesday night.

Under the exercise, budget air carrier AirAsia took over some of the domestic routes from Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia has engaged Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) to operate all the rural air services in the northern region.

In the first memorandum sent to the federal government last month, Sarawak outlned problems that might arise due to the air route revamp.

The state has appealed for the re-instatement of the MAS flight sectors, such as Miri-Kota Kinabalu, Miri-Mulu, Kuching- Mulu, Kota Kinabalu-Mulu, Sibu-Kota Kinabalu and Kuching-Perth.

Air travellers and tourism players have complained about insufficient flights between towns, like Kuching-Bintulu which MAS has stopped operating, and poor connectivity due to lack of international links to bring in the tourists.

On extra flights into Sarawak, he urged the airlines not to operate them at odd hours, like 3am.

He said the state had good tourism products, like the Mulu National Park – a world heritage site – to attract tourists.

Source: The Star

Haze worsens in Sarawak and Brunei

The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) in Brunei Darussalam yesterday dropped to 66 as of 5pm even as the air quality in towns in the neighbouring Malaysian state of Sarawak remained unhealthy.

Air quality and visibility worsened on Borneo as smoke continued to billow from Indonesia, officials said.

The Air Pollutant Index -- which deems levels of 101-200 to be unhealthy -- reached 120 in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, a Department of Environment official told AFP.

The index edged higher to 110 in oil-rich Bintulu and 148 and 114 in the towns of Smarahan and Sri Aman.

Visibility dropped to below 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) in Kuching, 2.5 kilometres in Sri Aman and 3.0 kilometres in Bintulu. Normal levels are more than 10 kilometres.

An official from the forecast unit of the Meteorological Department told AFP that farmers in neighbouring Indonesia preferred to burn forests and other land for planting crops at this season.

"This is the south-west monsoon season, it is always dry so they prefer to burn at this time rather than during the rainy season," he said.

"The situation in Malaysia hasn't been so bad this year because of the rain which causes the haze to subside a little," he said.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Borneo cultural festival in Temburong, Brunei

By Achong Tanjong

The cultural heritage of Borneo will be showcased at the Borneo Ethnic Cultural Festival 2006 from August 25 to 27 at the District Community Hall near Bangar town, Temburong.

The three-day festival, held in conjunction with His Majesty's 60th birthday celebration, is also part of efforts to attract visitors, and promote the district as a tourist destination.

Borneo tribal dance performances and traditional instruments and colourful attires and costumes will also be showcased.

Other activities lined-up for the show include an expo, bazaar sale of handicrafts products and a traditional food festival.

Participants come from Borneo-Sarawak, Sabah, Kalimantan and host Brunei.

The event is sponsored by the Tourism Development Department, and Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and organised by Temburong Cultural and Tourism Committee in collaboration with the Temburong district office.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

International base jumpers plan to conquer Gunung Mulu

KUCHING - International BASE (Building, Antennas, Spans, Earth) jumpers who descended the 86m-high Pelita Tower here yesterday, are eyeing a more challenging feat - Gunung Mulu.

Kuala Lumpur Tower chief executive officer Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad said their successful jump from the Pelita Tower gave them the confidence to try and conquer Gunung Mulu.

"They want to try it in Mulu and we will consider it next year," he told reporters.

Malaysia's Aziz Ahmad, who made his first jump from the Pelita Tower yesterday, said his colleagues wanted to try the extreme sport in Gunung Mulu as it was a world renowned tourist attraction.

Aziz, who has been involved in BASE jumping since 1999, said several matters had to be attended to particularly in terms of safety and logistics before the jumpers were brought to Gunung Mulu.

Kuala Lumpur Tower International Jump (KLTIJ) technical director Gary Cunningham, who is an Australian, also jumped from the Pelita Tower yesterday.

The experienced BASE jumper from Sydney has made 1,200 jumps in his 13-year involvement in the sport.

The KLTIJ sixth series began at the Tun Mustapha Tower in Kota Kinabalu last Saturday and followed by the Pelita Tower yesterday.

The jumpers will display their skills at the Alor Star Tower in Kedah on Aug 17 and 18, Komtar in Penang on Aug 20 and the Kuala Lumpur Tower on Aug 25 and 27.

Eighty jumpers including from the United States, Australia, Germany, India, Mexico, Italy, Finland, Russia, Norway and Malaysia are taking part in the KLTIJ.

Source: BERNAMA

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sabah tourism hardly hit by fewer MAS flights

By MUGUNTAN VANAR at the Sabah Legislative Assembly yesterday.

THE recent Malaysia Airlines rationalisation exercise which reduced MAS flights on international and domestic routes has had a minimum impact on Sabah’s tourism industry, said assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Karim Bujang.

He said that although MAS had stopped direct flights from Shanghai to Kota Kinabalu and reduced flights from Osaka and Tokyo, Sabah had 81 direct international flights to the state capital this year compared to only 70 last year.

The state tourism ministry encouraged internationalflights to the state and airlines such as Silk Air, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines had been flying to Sabah, while the state government had been promoting Sabah through Dragonair and Royal Brunei.

The House also passed the First Supplementary Supply (2006) Enactment seeking for additional RM94.6mil for development and administrative expenses.

Source: The Star

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sabah seeking solution to problems caused by fewer flights

By Jaswinder Kaur

KOTA KINABALU: SABAH will seek a solution to grouses voiced by assemblymen and the business community following the reduction in the number of MAS flights to Sandakan and Tawau from Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said he has instructed the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry to hold talks with the Federal Transport Ministry, MAS and AirAsia to solve the problem.

"We have received reports about the impact of the reduction in flights, especially to Sandakan and Tawau. It has to a certain extent affected tourism and business activities and we hope we can find a solution soon. In the meantime, we ask the public to be patient as we are sensitive about what is happening," Musa said.

He was speaking to reporters after the Sabah Legislative Assembly sitting.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

Security tightened at Brunei airport

By Huraizah Ahmad

Following the suspected al-Qaeda hatched plot to blow up planes bound for the US from the Heathrow Airport in London that was successfully foiled, airports around the world have stepped up security to thwart any untoward incidents.

Security measures have been tightened at the Brunei International Airport too.

The Department of Civil Aviation, Royal Brunei Police Force and Royal Brunei Airlines yesterday informed the public on the stepped up security at the airport.

Members of the public have been advised to give their full cooperation during the screening process at the airport and have been asked to check-in early in order to avoid any flight delays.

All passengers that will be transiting through other international airports including the United Kingdom have been advised not to bring any liquid matter in their hand carry in addition to all the restricted items that have already been enforced.

The press release informed passengers that there are a few international airports that do not allow the carrying of cabin baggage into the aircraft.

Passengers have also been advised to contact the respective airlines for further information and latest updates before taking their flights.

Royal Brunei Airlines passengers should contact the airlines at 2212222 or log on to the airlines website at www.bruneiair.com for more details.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Honeymoon in exotic Mulu

MIRI: Thirty foreign couples have a chance to get married at the Mulu World Heritage site famous for its caves.

Sarawak wants to capitalise on its multi-ethnic and multi-national hub by turning Miri and Mulu into an international wedding and honeymoon destination.

The Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) is organising the International Mass Wedding here in August next year, offering fully-sponsored wedding and tour packages to lovebirds from 30 different countries.

STB director for northern Sarawak Lee Kim Shin said there was still plenty of tourism potential in weddings and honeymoons, especially for foreigners who want to sample an exotic tropical wedding.

“We are offering couples a chance to experience marriage and honeymoon in true Sarawak-Borneo style,” he said.

“The STB, with help from the airlines, hotels and tour agencies, would be sponsoring the wedding package.

“They should be in the business and executive sectors and be between 35 and 45 years old.

“They must use their traditional wedding costumes and Sarawak's ethnic wedding gear.

“Each couple will also be given a chance to plant a tree which will have the couple’s name and country and wedding date inscribed on a plaque.”

The couples would also visit the national parks, longhouses and traditional villages.

To a question, Lee said interested couples must register their marriages in their respective countries.

The Sarawak part of their wedding is only for the purpose of ceremonial celebrations and honeymoon, he added.

The STB would set up a website soon to enable interested couples to apply.

Source: The Star

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bario, Sarawak - Welcoming eco-tourism

BY KIRSTEN CUNNINGHAM AND RHIANNON HOBBINS

With its cultural experience and natural beauty, Bario, Sarawak, is one of the most ideal places for an eco-tourist to explore.

ECO-tourism is the new black. Tourism with a conscience is the hottest thing since affordable space flights. Thousands of tourists are hitting the world’s ecological hotspots for a feel-good holiday.

And Malaysia is no exception.

Tourism is the world’s single largest industry and job creator, and eco-tourism is the fastest growing area of the tourism sector. Everybody seems to be jumping on the bandwagon and it’s not hard to see why.

Eco-tourism is all about low impact, environmentally and culturally aware travel. Operators go out of their way to ensure you have the best experience of what nature has to offer, unchanged and unaffected by your presence.

Bring on Bario. The idyllic hill station in Sarawak’s Kelabit Highlands is attracting eco-travellers interested in the unique cultural and natural diversity of the area.

With its cultural experience and natural beauty, Bario is one of the most ideal places for an eco-tourist to explore. Kelabit culture is rich despite modernisation, and the friendliness of a Kelabit longhouse people cannot be surpassed. Nor can the incredible array of flora and fauna in the area, some of the most spectacular in the world.

Sitting at 1,200m above sea level, Bario has a cool climate. However, it is not the chance to escape from the heat of the jungle that draws tourists here, but the Bario Loop, a five-day trek through some of Sarawak’s amazing virgin forests.

“The jungle is amazing, and the trees are so old! I never knew how good jungle food tasted!’’ says Kate Evans, a 22-year-old Australian photojournalist on eco-holiday.

The secret to the success of eco-tourism is sustainability, which is the development of tourism that meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.

Guides in Bario understand the importance of creating a future for their children, while at the same time, preserving their own heritage, and the forests that are their traditional livelihoods.

And it seems their efforts have paid off. Until now.

The Bario Loop has been operating for five years. However, recent logging in the area is threatening to damage the carefully constructed eco-tourism industry.

With virgin forest being replaced with logging camps, parts of the jungle are disappearing, rivers are slowly being polluted with muddy brown topsoil, and the Kelabit Highlanders are losing their livelihood in more ways than one.

The Loop has been getting more and more tourists but then the cancer comes. “Tourists come here for the beautiful forests and animals, but now Ramadu to Pa Berang is being logged, tourists don’t want to go there,’’ says Reddish Aran a local Kelabit guide.

The small amount of money that tourists bring to the longhouses is diminishing in proportion to the increase in logging in the area. Also devastating is the destruction of the surrounding forest that is making it harder for communities in the area to hunt, fish and gather plants. With less food and less money, many have been forced to leave their traditional lands and relocate to Miri or Kuching to find work and food.

Sinah Ngalawan Paran, 36, lives in a longhouse in Pa Mada, a village on the Bario Loop.

“We are quite dependent on tourism, and if the logging continues, tourists won’t come here anymore. If they do then they will feel they have been cheated and regret it,’’ she says.

While logging brings roads and employment, it cannot ensure the preservation of nature and culture in the Kelabit Highlands. This makes the further development of eco-tourism in Bario crucial for the people and the forest.

Apoi Ngimat, 37, is a local who hopes to establish his own eco-tourism business in Bario.

He believes that being critical about logging is not the answer, and that other ways must be found to replace the revenue that logging provides the Sarawak State Government.

“Logging does provide infrastructure and development, but there must be a balance. The people of Bario do want development. Like a road and more reliable electricity. But not at the cost of their forest and culture,’’ he says.

Gerawat Gala, the Kelabit Association president agrees.

“Our hearts tell us we want to keep the environment, but our minds tell us we must move forward. Tourism is an important economic activity, but we need to expand the scope,’’ he says.

The good news for eco-tourists is that locals are working hard towards this goal of creating a greater future for eco-tourism and preserving their forests. Bario is a diverse place full of natural and cultural wonders, and more than worth an ecological visit.

# Bario is accessible by the daily 19-seater Twin Otter plane service from Miri. The journey takes one hour. Check www.FlyAsianXpress.com.

Source: The Star

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Commuters express disappointment over rural air services offered by FAX

By George Francis

MIRI - Fly Asian Xpress (FAX), a new airline tasked to undertake the Rural Air Services in Sarawak, which is only 10 days in operation, has received a flood of criticisms and disappointment from rural commuters, civil servants and tourism industry players.

A dialogue between the airline headed by its general manager Mohd Shari Mohd Noor and three communal associations including Miri Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Sarawak Tourism Board, various tour operators, jointly chaired by Assistant Minister Lee Kim Shin and the Resident of Miri Division, Ose Murang, was a mite "rowdier" when everyone expressed opinions openly about shortcomings of FAX under the so-called Turbo Prop Services, the term substituted for renowned Rural Air Service (RAS).

Mohd Shari promised to rectify all issues and said FAX would stick to previously Malaysian Airline's operational services offered to domestic routes and its rural service in Sarawak.

Lee Kim Shin said the general impression of the people is that they expect similar services as offered before by MAS if not better, including the airfare which should not be higher than MAS, more efficient and cost effective as FAX is being subsidised by the government.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kuching City Day: Parading their cultural wealth

A troupe from SarakuP Indu Dayak Sarawak performing an Iban dance.

The Orang Ulu National Association's contingent showcasing
their beautiful costumes and graceful dance moves.



By SHARON LING Photos by RAPAEE KAWI

The annual Kuching City Day parade drew thousands of onlookers to the city streets last weekend.

Starting at Jubilee Ground near the Kuching South City Council’s headquarters, the parade made its way along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman through the city’s golden triangle into Jalan Temple, Main Bazaar along the Sarawak River and Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg to finish at Padang Merdeka.

Some 32 contingents comprising well over 1,000 participants took part in the parade, one of the highlights of the ongoing Kuching Festival.

The parade was led by the Victoria Arms Big Bikers zooming down the streets on their machines, followed by riders on motorcyles, Vespas and bicycles.

One of the more outlandish contingents was the combined Kuching South City Council and Kuching North City Hall group of 100 participants who wore costumes to promote environmen-tal awareness. Some wore capes made out of aluminium cans while others dressed up as dustbins with the slogan “Keep Kuching clean”.

There were other contingents in fancy costume as well as cultural troupes who showed off a whole range of ethnic costumes and dances found in Sarawak.

They included the Orang Ulu National Association, the Sarakup Indu Dayak Sarawak, Indian Association Kuching, Anak Borneo and Kumpulan Hadrah Nurul Asikin.

Adding a musical flavour to the parade were various brass bands from the two city councils, the Boys’ Brigade, SMK Green Road, Kuching Chung Hua Middle Schools and SMK Ku-ching High.

The parade was launched by State Housing Minister Datuk Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg.

Other activities lined up for the month-long festival, themed “Kuching: Vibrant and Cultural City,” include an open-air movie carnival, food fair, garden show, cultural performances and various competitions.

Source: The Star

Pulau Gaya for a holiday?

By Arman Gunsika

KOTA KINABALU - Putatan Member of Parliament Datuk Dr Marous Mojigoh said drug activities and other social problems in Pulau Gaya will be eliminated if the island is fully developed into a tourist attraction.

He said Pulau Gaya off Kota Kinabalu could become a revenue earner if the government considers developing the island as a tourist destination, like Pulau Langkawi in the peninsula, thus ridding it of illegal immigrants, who are now squatting along the island's shoreline.

"If it can be turned into a tourist destination by building hotels, chalets and entertainment parks, the squatter houses and other social problems will be cleared," he said.

In this respect, Dr Marous also hoped the local authority would be cooperative and not "make it difficult for interested investors to come in and develop the island".

He said there have been several interested investors who came to present their respective proposals and it is just a matter of approval from the Sabah government. A bridge connecting the island to the mainland should also be built to further enhance the distribution of infrastructure on Pulau Gaya.

The tourism in Sabah is a major economic contributor but the private sector must take the initiative and "not just depend on the government to do something".

Pulau Gaya, which is only a distance away from Kota Kinabalu city, can be reached within five minutes by boat. It is notorious as a drug den and haven for criminals who often "raid" the mainland towns and escape by boat onto the island.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

FAX and AirAsia to complement each other

By JENNE LAJIUN

LAHAD DATU: Fly Asian Xpress Sdn Bhd (FAX) and AirAsia Berhad will not be competing against each other for market share in East Malaysia, according to AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Datuk Tony Fernandez.

Speaking to reporters at the ‘FAX Welcome Flight from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu’ here yesterday, Fernandez said the two airlines would actually complement each other in terms of service.

FAX will be concentrating on destinations within the East Malaysian region comprising Sabah and Sarawak, while AirAsia will act as the connector between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, he said.

“But of course, there will be some routes where both of us would be operating together. Nevertheless, we would complement each other,” he said.

In his speech, Fernandez said the aim is to bring some 2.2 million people to and from Sabah next year.

Presently, FAX flies to 22 destinations within East Malaysia.

Meanwhile, FAX Chief Executive Officer Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali said that FAX is operating 343 weekly flights since taking over the domestic routes from Malaysia Airlines on August 1.

FAX is already experiencing 90 per cent load capacity and is keen on making travelling an experience which is possible for everyone as well as providing easy access to Sabah.

“We also practise the variable fare price which means the early birds get to experience cheaper fares than those who book later,” he said.

FAX is a subsidiary of Tune Air, the holding company of AirAsia. It uses AirAsia’s infrastructure including sales and booking staff and ground handling but its pilots are seconded from MAS.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times

Sabah Govt to meet MAB over congestion at Terminal Two Airport

By JENNE LAJIUN

LAHAD DATU: The State Government will be meeting with the management of Malaysia Airports Berhad (operator and manager of Malaysia’s airports) to address the severe congestion at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport’s Terminal Two building as soon as possible.

In giving the assurance, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, who is also Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, told reporters at a press conference at the ‘Fly Asian Express (FAX) Welcome Flight from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu’ yesterday that they would try to look at ways to expand the check-in and the waiting areas at the building.

“I will arrange for the meeting to be held immediately,” he said when asked how soon the meeting would take place.

He added that it was crucial to resolve the matter as soon as possible as the terminal lacks a comfortable waiting lounge.

“The terminal is congested. Today I had the chance to see how bad the situation is. There were hardly enough seats for everyone or areas where they could wait comfortably,” he said.

He also urged the public to be patient, saying the inconvenience was due to upgrading works to accommodate more than double its current capacity of 450 passengers per hour.

“The Federal Government has given an allocation of RM1.4 billion for the upgrading works…but we realise that all these (works) are also causing inconvenience so I urge the people, both locally and from abroad, to bear with us for a while,” he said, adding the building would probably be ready within a year from now.

In his speech earlier, Kah Kiat also said that the air link to Lahad Datu is important to the district as it is set to become the centre of the economic growth in the state within five years due to its strategic palm oil resources.

He also commended Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) for increasing the number of daily flights from the state capital to the district from four to five.

Kah Kiat urged the airline to consider starting flights from Lahad Datu to Tarakan due to the large number of Indonesian workers at Felda plantations in the district.

“You should look into the possibility as there are thousands of them,” he said.

Meanwhile, AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Tony Fernandez told reporters that the airline was interested in operating flights from the state capital, to several places in China, including Macao and Xiamen.

“We are confident that we would be bringing in more tourists to Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

However, he said, no additional flight to and from Kota Kinabalu is possible due to the congestion at the terminal.

“There is no space for the people at the terminal, the capacity is too small…we need more space,” he said.

He added that he was pleased to hear that Kah Kiat was going to look into resolving the matter.

Also present during the ceremony were Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali (FAX Sdn Bhd chief executive officer), Datuk Irene Charuruks (General Manager of Sabah Tourism Board), Iskandar Mirza (Tourism Malaysia Sabah director) and Amat Mohd Yusof (Lahad Datu district officer).

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mesmerising sight of orang utan

BY CLARA CHOOI

IT was barely dawn one morning when National Geographic photographer Mattias Klum awoke to the sound of rustling leaves.

From his vantage point on a tree canopy some 60m above ground, he quickly scoured the mist-bathed rainforest for the source of the sound.

“Then I saw her; so graceful, so beautiful,” he said.

It was a mother orang utan, clutching her baby tightly and gracefully springing up to the top of a tall tree.

“Her movements were so sinuous, so liquid and so quick but not once did she relax her grip on her young,” he said.

Once at the top, the mother sat with her back facing the man, gently cooing to the baby she cradled.

“At that point, the sunrise filte-red through the trees and bathed their silhouettes in a golden sheen.

“I was humbled by the experience,” said Mattias, recollecting the mid-90s incident in the Danum Valley.

The nature lover, who began his career in photography when he was 18, had spent a 14-month ex-pedition deep within the rainfo-rests of Sabah and Sarawak from 1995 to 1996.

Mattias described the orang utan incident as one of the most memorable during the expedition.

“The simple beauty of nature truly humbles a person. That’s why I do what I do. And that’s why I’m a true advocate of forest conservation,” he said.

The Swedish-born Mattias, now 38, has had his works appear in publications such as National Geographic, Wildlife Conservation, Audubon and Geo.

Together with his 38-year-old wife Monika Klum, a photographer and writer, the two produced ‘The Eye of the Forest – a film from the interior of Borneo’.

Mattias has also received a medal from the King of Sweden for his achievements in photography.

His expeditions have led him to Malaysia, Thailand, India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nigeria and many other places.

He was invited to relate his Bor-neo experience at the recent Tro-pical Rainforest Tourism Symposium 2006: The Royal Belum.

It was held from July 28 to July 30 at the Banding Island Resort, some 190km from Ipoh.

Upon visiting the Royal Belum State Park, Mattias urged the Perak Government to gazette both the Temenggor Forest Reserve and Royal Belum as a national park.

“It’s a God-given world out here. Don’t destroy it,” he said.

Source: The Star

Tourists continue to visit marine park on Pulau Gaya

By Jaswinder Kaur

KOTA KINABALU - IT’S business as usual at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park on Pulau Gaya despite last Friday's attack on three policemen on the island.

Holidaymakers are still heading for its sandy beaches, with the most popular being Malahom.

The park occupies a large part of the island and is under the purview of the Sabah Parks Department.

Park assistant manager Thomas Yussop, when contacted, said the incident had no impact on tourist arrivals.

"Visitors are still going to the base camp at Gaya and to Malahom beach. They also continue to visit four other islands nearby.

"We have also not received calls asking if it’s safe to visit Pulau Gaya and the other nearby islands," he said.

Courtesy of: New Straits Times

Monday, August 07, 2006

Where to eat in Sarawak

KUCHING: Here is some thought for food when you are visiting Sarawak.

Eat only at places graded ‘A’.

Stay away from a restaurant or eating spot that is graded ‘D’ as it has not likely met the stringent conditions for cleanliness and hygiene that the state government has stipulated.

“There have been a lot of complaints about the cleanliness of food outlets.

“Even in coffee shops where the eating area is clean, the toilets and kitchens may be dirty,” said state Environment and Public Health Minister Datuk Michael Manyin.

“As such, all local authorities in Sarawak have agreed to have a common grading system. This was introduced in March,” he told reporters after launching the India Street cleanliness and beautification campaign here on Monday.

Under the system, coffee shops, restaurants and other food outlets are graded from 'A' to 'D', to denote how clean they are.

The grades are given after taking into account points for cleanliness of toilets (30%), food preparation area (30%), eating area (20%), personal hygiene (10%) and miscellaneous requirements (10%).

An 'A' grade denotes excellent standards of cleanliness, 'B' (good), 'C' (fair) and 'D' (unsatisfactory).

“The grades will be prominently displayed in the food outlets and the local authorities will closely monitor those receiving 'B', 'C' and 'D' grades to make sure they improve.

“If those in grade 'D' have not improved satisfactorily by the time their licence expires, it will not be renewed,” said Manyin, adding that the system aimed to get everyone – from enforcement officers to shop owners and customes – to maintain cleanliness at the eating places.
“The customers will be the final judges of cleanliness. Don’t go to coffee shops that have a 'C' or 'D' grading; this will spur these eating places to improve.”

Kuching North City Hall director Onn Abdullah said the cleanliness and beautification campaign was also in preparations for the upcoming National Day celebration in the city.

He said City Hall would work with the business community in the area to clean and repaint buildings as well as put up new streetlights.

“We hope the city folks will cooperate with us and take the initiative to beautify their premises and not to throw litter about as this would give Kuching a bad image,” he added.

Source: The Star

ED NOTE: The cleanliness grade rating applies to all eateries in Sabah as well.

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AirAsia and MAS air route revamp going on smoothly

Kota Kinabalu: The recently implemented domestic rationalisation exercise involving Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia is going on smoothly, said Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Karim Bujang.

"So far so good, we have not received any complaints from tour agents and even tourists in Sabah," he said.

Karim advised those facing any problems to come forward and see officials at his Ministry within a week or two. "If they (tour agents or tourist) face any problems, we will try to assist," he said.

The exercise that was implemented on August 1 saw AirAsia through Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) taking over the domestic routes in Sabah, such as to Lahad Datu and to destinations in Sarawak.

FAX is operating via the Low Cost Carrier Terminal or Terminal Two at Tanjung Aru while Malaysia Airlines is at the main terminal in Kepayan.

Source: Daily Express