Updates

Mecca Train Ticket Prices & Services Announced for its First Hajj Season

It was announced yesterday that Muslims wishing to use Mecca's first metro when they converge on the holy city next month for their annual pilgrimage will have to pay SR250 for a ticket that will serve them for seven days.

Three different types of tickets will cover all holy sites in Mecca and will allow the pilgrims to take the train into the city to perform their rites before returning to their residence inside or outside the city, Ajel online newspaper said, quoting Habib Zain Alabidin, Undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Municipal affairs.

"The ticket's price is set at SR250 (US$ 67) that will cover a full trip into and out of Mecca for seven days…another ticket is priced at SR100 (US$ 27) for four days," he said.

Officials said last week the train has a capacity to transport 170,000 passengers in its first stage and two million when the third and final phase is completed.

Saudi Arabia has allocated nearly SR6.7 billion (US$ 1.8 billion) for the metro, which begins continuous service next month for the first time in Mecca's history. Officials expect the project to largely contribute to easing road congestions caused by the accumulation of thousands of cars near Makkah.

Habib Zain Alabidin says the railway would operate throughout the year.

The project is part of a costly programme by Saudi Arabia to tackle massive traffic congestions in and around the city and facilitate access to all sacred sites in Mecca.

The train project, initiated three years ago, followed a series of incidents that have killed thousands of pilgrims in stampedes, building collapses and other accidents during the few days of the Haj season.

More than two million Muslims from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Co-operation Council countries and other nations descend on Mecca every year to perform the pilgrimage.

China Railway Construction Corp, part of a Saudi-French-Chinese consortium which won the contract, is carrying out the project, involving nearly 5,000 workers. The train is the Gulf’s second metro system after the Dubai Metro.

Sources:

"Makkah metro ticket set at SR250" Emirates 24 October 31, 2010

"Madinah Makkah Hajj Train" Islam Newsroom October 18, 2010

Abu Dhabi prepares for Formula 1 finale

Abu Dhabi has been preparing a series of mouth-watering events ahead of the nail-biting Formula 1 season finale which takes place in the emirate on November 14th. A city-wide programme of events has been organised to ensure fans of all varieties are entertained before and during the season curtain-call.

“The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has instigated unprecedented co-operation between all of the emirate’s entertainment stakeholders,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, events manager at Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).

“While we are expecting interest to peak during race days, the extended catalogue of events and activities should ensure Abu Dhabi’s residents and visitors are spoilt for choice in the build-up to our second Formula 1 race.”

Formula 1

The United Arab Emirates capital’s stunning Yas Marina Circuit will be the fulcrum of Grand Prix-related activity during the event.

With most fans’ attention set on the main racing spectacle, those seeking adrenaline-filled pursuits away from the track can enjoy a horde of sideline activities dotted around the circuit and in the adjoining F1 Village.

“We have created a wide range of entertainment for visitors alongside the on-track action - the whole weekend will be one big family festival of motorsport,” said Richard Cregan, Yas Marina Circuit chief executive officer.

Live music from local and international artists – including energetic performances by industry-leading beatboxer Killa Kela and hip hop dancers Swat Crew - break-dance and skateboard workshops, bungee trampolines, BMX bike trick shows, and purpose-built climbing walls will all be on offer.

The all-new Yas Kart Track also opens its doors – for eight to 18-year-olds - for Grand Prix weekend, while the gravity-defying players of Acrodunk – a high-flying blend of basketball and trampolining – will be hitting hoops and sinking baskets in the sport’s Abu Dhabi debut.

Etihad Airways Celebrates Seventh Birthday

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, celebrates its seventh anniversary on November 5, 2010. In seven years of rapid growth, Etihad has flown over 26 million passengers on more than 180,000 flights to destinations across the Middle East, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, and Asia. Over the same period the airline’s fleet has grown to 57 aircraft in 2010.

Etihad provides unmatched experiences to the global travellers, including a vast network of destinations for its Pakistani customers. Emerging from the global recession, 2010 has seen the return of passenger travel. To date this year, Etihad has carried over 6 million passengers and is expected to carry more than 7.3 million passengers by the end of the 2010, compared to 6.3 million in 2009. The load factor has also increased significantly from 74 per cent in 2009, and is expected to average 77 per cent for 2010.

The Country Manager of Etihad Airways in Pakistan, Mr. Amer N. Khan said: “We have witnessed tremendous growth over the past seven years in our route network, aircraft fleet, passenger figures and number of employees. Industry and customer endorsement is evidence of Etihad’s significant achievements over this period and is testimony to the enormous commitment of our staff in delivering the very best travel experience in the aviation industry.”

Six new routes were added to the airline’s global network during 2010 - Colombo, Nagoya, Tokyo, Erbil, Baghdad and Seoul - while access to many key destinations on Etihad’s global network was improved following a 12 per cent increase in the number of weekly flights from 928 in 2009 to more than a thousand in 2010. To serve network growth, fleet expansion continued in 2010 with the addition of three new aircraft including one A330-300 aircraft and two A330-200F freighter aircraft. A further A330-300 aircraft will come into service by November 13, bringing the fleet complement, including six freighters, to 57 by year end.

Growth in the sky was matched by continued expansion on the ground, where staff numbers increased to more than 8000, including around 2800 cabin crew and over 900 pilots. Etihad currently has more than 60 ‘new-joiners’ each month, drawn from more than 120 different nationalities. Etihad Airways won a range awards to add to its growing trophy cabinet, including ‘World’s Best First Class Airline Seat’ and ‘World’s Best First Class Onboard Catering’ in the annual Skytrax survey, as judged by over 18 million air travellers worldwide. It was also recognised at the World Travel Awards Middle East with over six awards, including ‘World’s Leading Airline’.

Hyatt to build most expensive hotel ever in NYC

Hyatt is building what is believed to be the most expensive hotel ever built in New York.

The 201-room Park Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan will cost $375 million – that’s US$1.8 million per room.

The new hotel will become the US flagship of the Hyatt luxury brand.

The 90-story tower will also feature 135 residential units with views of Central park and the New York skyline.

The hotel is due to open in 2012, across from Carnegie Hall at 157 W. 57th Street.

Disney pulls off Shanghai surprise

Disney has signed a deal to build a theme park in Shanghai, one of China's wealthiest cities, bringing its long-held ambition to open a new Disneyland in mainland China closer to fruition.

Walt Disney Corporation said it was awaiting final approval from China's central government for its joint venture with Shanghai Shendi Group.

Disney already has a theme park in Hong Kong. It operates only two other parks outside the US, one in Japan and the other, Disneyland Paris.

Shanghai's Disneyland is expected to cover about four square kilometers and cost about $3.75 billion.

The most popular shopping spots in Singapore

Singapore is a shopper's paradise. With myriads of shopping malls and departmental stores there is no dearth of opportunities for shopaholics. Here's a list of the most popular Shopping Spots that are on an all time high with shoppers in Singapore:

1. Sim Lim Square - Electronics Mecca

If you have a craze for high-tech products plan a visit to the Sim Lim Square while you are at Singapore. The shops offer attractive deals and least selling prices for every kind of computer related as well as high- tech equipments. With 6 levels of shops selling technologically advanced products, all you need to possess is a natural flair for bargaining and a little knowledge of the technological gadgets on offer to strive the best deal.

2. Orchard Road-Marina Bay Shopping Belt

The Orchard Road-Marina Bay Shopping Belt is most popular destination for shoppers. It covers about 5km and is the hub for the latest designer labels. The place lights up during the Great Singapore Sale and Christmas. Far East Plaza is an amazing place in this belt that sells unpretentious goods like bohemian necklaces. It is also a great destination for those who share the desire for body tattoos.

3. Mustafa Centre

The Mustafa Centre is the perfect place for last minute shopping in Singapore. The store remains open 24 hours a day, 7 day a week and sells just anything and everything. From groceries to accessories, ewelries or electronic gadgets, you get it all here at the Mustafa Centre. Whenever you arrive at the store, be it at dawn or the wee hours of the night, heaps of piled up goods never fail to welcome you.

4. Ethnic Stuff at Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam

This is certainly the best place to collect souvenirs that may be taken back home or gifted to loved ones as a memento of the grand visit. However, they may not be long lasting always, hence you need to be on your guard and search for the good ones out of the wide array of souvenirs on display at various shops.

5. Sungei Road 'Thieves Market'

Once believed to be the market for stolen items, the Sungei Road 'Thieves Market' still continues to be an icon of Singapore. It is a fine place to stroll amidst the line of makeshift stalls crowded with stallholders and bargainers. From a distance the may appear to be selling very ordinary items, but once your broaden our view you might come across the most unique junk ever.

So, do not miss out on these amazing shopping sites while you visit Singapore.

Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok extends free meeting facilities until December 23, 2010

Through its "Grand Experiences" campaign the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok is inviting guests to explore its services and facilities that include unbeatable complimentary benefits like free meeting in the hotel’s dedicated event facilities till December 23, 2010. The package assures participants of better results, better productivity and better value.

The hotel has 3,330 square meters of event and meeting space with 14 versatile function rooms suitable for any kind of event. There is a professional team for the assistance of guests. The special offer launched by the hotel till December 23, 2010 entitles guests to avail a free meeting package including the following facilities on booking a minimum of ten paid rooms per night at the Best Available Rate that starts from Baht 6,600 per room for a stay in Grand Room with additional service charge and tax. Facilities include:

- Breakfast
- Full-day meeting package of one meeting room, one lunch and two coffee breaks
- Complimentary Internet access in guestrooms
- Audiovisual and meeting equipments like whiteboard, flipchart, podium with lighting, table microphone and stand microphone
- Complimentary use of one LCD projector per day
- Conference amenities like writing pads, mints, pencils and water
- The Gold Passport members are entitled to double bonus points towards Hyatt Gold Passport Planner Rewards

However the offer is valid against certain terms and conditions. Conditions that might apply include the following:

- The offer is valid for new group meetings with minimum stay duration of two consecutive nights and ten paid rooms per night from now till December 23, 2010
- It is not valid in conjunction with previously booked or held meetings or any other promotional offers
- The offer is subject to availability of guestrooms and function space at the time of booking
- Promotional blackout periods may be applicable

Speaking in general about the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, the hotel offers a residential-style event acility for delegates to enjoy meetings in an intimate ambience while making the event both successful and relaxing. With the passage of time various other facilities like The Campus were opened in keeping with the MICE facilities within a friendly and unique ambience of meeting. The hotel plans to welcome events planners, MICE organizers and corporate with its reopening in a revamped manner. The hotel also has restaurants, bars and a Residential Spa & Club. The Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok is conveniently connected to two SkyTrain stations via the Sky Bridge.

The top travel apps of 2010

If you’ve ever tried to find a parking spot in Manhattan, you know just how time-consuming it can be. Instead of rearranging your morning — or, if you’re visiting, your entire itinerary — around the search, you can now rely on Primo Spot, an app that provides you with a 3-D map of nearby parking spots and garages.

What started as an iPhone phenomenon — download an application to perform a special function — has turned into a digital revolution. Today, every traveler knows that carrying an app-loaded phone can transform everything from planning a trip to navigating a new city. In fact, many of us depend on apps so much that we can hardly choose a restaurant without one — near or far from home.

Now, with more than 200,000 titles, the iPhone leads the pack. But its competitors are quickly gaining ground: at press time, Google’s Android Market had about 60,000 programs. BlackBerry is close behind with more than 10,000 — and counting. And then there’s the iPad: not a smart phone but a versatile (and glamorous) e-reader poised to take apps even more mainstream.

Though the first travel-focused smart-phone programs were mainly gateways to existing websites or tand-alone guidebooks, today it’s all about location, location, location. Most new titles — from restaurant finders and shopping tools to turn-by-turn navigation programs — use the average smart phone’s built-in GPS to help find nearby points of interest.

One standout is Navigon ($25): it features text-to-speech directions, real-tie traffic updates, and interesting spots along your route. Another is Trapster (free), which helps you avoid traffic tickets; it’s not quite a radar detector, but the GPS-enabled system gives you warnings abut speed traps, cameras at intersections, and common police waiting areas — all laid out on a map. There’s also the unfortunately named Sit or Squat (free) for nearby restrooms.

There are also plenty of non-GPS-enabled apps that improve the travel experience — whether you’re just starting to plan your trip or are already on the road. The mobile version of the website TripIt (free), by far he most useful travel planning and management service online, accesses flight, hotel, restaurant, and any other information you’ve entered into the “My Trips” section of the site.

And of course Travel + Leisure is in the app game with the free Weekend Getaway app on the iPhone and the free Packing Checklist app for the BlackBerry (available in Verizon’s VCast store).

Whichever apps you choose to help you in your travels, one thing is clear: The world around you has never been more annotated — or accessible.

Egypt Responds To Increasing Tourist Numbers By Boosting Airport Capacity

The on-going Airports Development Project, which was set up to eliminate capacity problems at Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh airports is set to continue with the planned creation of a third terminal building at Cairo airport. The initiative, created in response to the growing popularity of Egypt holidays ensures that visitors to the country won’t face any unnecessary waiting before they start their holiday.

Luke Nathan of online travel consultants Travelsoon.com says: “The Airports Development Project has been in existence since 2003, when it was realised that both Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh airports were struggling with their capacity restraints, and were collectively handling 62% of all air transport traffic to Egypt. So the second terminal at Sharm el Sheikh was built and opened in July 2009, to cope with the increasing demand, which has now paved the way for Cairo to get a third terminal.”

The popularity of cheap holidays to Sharm El Sheikh has caused more visitors to visit Egypt in recent years, with officials at Sharm el Sheikh airport reporting an increase in traffic of 12% to 18% annually from 2002-2008. Sharm el Sheikh airport’s second terminal was officially opened in July 2009, and boasts a design capacity of 4.5 million passengers per year.

Nathan continues: “More holiday companies are offering holidays to Sharm el sheikh than ever before, opening up the area to many more potential holidaymakers over the last few years. As a result the area has had so many more tourists choosing to holiday there, including those who might not have been able to afford a holiday there, had it not been for the accessibility of cheap Sharm El Sheikh holidays.”

Haramain Railway Project on Right Track

The contract for implementing the final phase of the Haramain Railway project will be awarded by the end of this year, Transport Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry said Wednesday.“We’ll study the financial and technical offers made by companies vying to win the contract before the end of this year to announce the winner,” the minister told reporters.

The railway linking Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah would bring about a dramatic improvement in the transportation of pilgrims between the two holy cities. It will reduce travel time between Jeddah and Makkah to half an hour and two hours for those traveling between Jeddah and Madinah.

The committee supervising the project opened financial and technical offers on Tuesday in the presence of Al-Seraisry, Abdul Aziz Al-Hoqail, president of Saudi Railway Organization (SRO), and other senior officials.

“The implementation of this mega project is moving in the right direction,” Al-Seraisry said. “We have called for tenders for all projects related to this vital railway.”

The project’s second phase includes construction of railroads, setting up of signals, communication and electricity supply systems and the importing of trains and rail cars, Al-Hoqail said, adding that technical offers made by Al-Shola and Al-Rajhi have passed the review stage.

Financial offers for establishing five railway stations in Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Rabigh and Jeddah airport have already been opened, the SRO chief said. The winner of the contract will be announced later.

Al-Rajhi consortium won the first phase contract valued at SR6.79 billion. Another agreement worth SR1.8 billion was signed with Saudi Electricity Company to provide the electricity required for the high-speed trains.

The Council of Ministers has urged SRO to speed up the construction of the 450-km project. It also instructed the state-owned Public Investment Fund (PIF) to sign and finance service and business contracts for the project by providing interest-free loans.

Muhammad Al-Dahlawi, chairman of the ministry's compensation committee, said the appropriation of land for the project was going well, despite objections raised by some landowners.

Al-Dahlawi told Arab News land acquisition would be completed on time to implement the project.

He said the eight-member committee included officials from the Makkah governorate, the Finance Ministry and mayoralties in Makkah and Madinah.

The Haramain Railway will operate trains at a speed of over 300 km per hour. The project includes the construction of 450 km of high-speed electric railway lines between the three cities. It will be equipped with advanced signaling and telecommunications systems.

Highlighting the profitability of the project, a senior official said the Haramain Railway would make SR500 million in the first year. The project is part of a major railway expansion program that involves laying 950 km new tracks between Riyadh and Jeddah and a 115 km line linking Dammam and Jubail.