Monday, April 23, 2012

At a Crossroads of Continents, Ancient Turkish Port City is Modern Logistics Hub

The Aegean Free Zone, located at the port city of Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast, takes advantage of Izmir’s desirable maritime hub and a favorable business environment.  Known as ESBAS, the Turkish acronym for Ege Serbest Bölge, the Aegean Free Zone Corporation has been an engine for economic development.

An important Mediterranean port for centuries, Izmir is also a modern-day commercial center for Turkey and the region.“Turkey’s economy is a success story, especially in Izmir,” said Ertugrul Isiksoy, ESBAS director of marketing.  The free zone’s location is in the center of a vibrant market, he says.  “Within a three hour flight radius of Izmir, there are 1.5 billion people with $25K or more purchasing power.”

Officially known as the Aegean Free Zone Development and Operating Company, ESBAS is located near the port of Izmir, which along with several other nearby ports, are growing in containerized traffic, and is just five minutes from the international airport

There are 19 free zones in Turkey, which, like ESBAS, were established to create jobs.  ESBAS was the first free zone run privately, and had a mandate to bring in high-tech employers to take advantage of the well-educated and qualified work force in the Izmir area. “There is no difficulty finding skilled labor,” said Isiksoy.

With a total population of nearly four million people, Izmir is Turkey’s third largest city after Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara. The basic advantage is the human resources,” he says.  “We have eight universities nearby, and can offer high-quality workers at competitive prices compared with the rest of Europe.

“Hugo Boss is our largest company in terms of employment, with 3,500 workers, and land, with 122,000 square meters,” Isiksoy says.  “Hugo Boss started their plant at ESBAS with 24 German engineers.  Now there’s just one.  The rest are from the domestic market.”

Murat Ozgurtas, marketing manager at ESBAS, said the free zone is near capacity.  “When the new investments start operating in the Aegean Free Zone, the employment will have reached over 21,000 people, and US$5,5billion in trade.”

To qualify as a free zone, the majority of goods processed or produced must be exported outside of Turkey.  For trading, companies can maintain commodities and large inventories here for unlimited time without paying either customs duties or levies.  Electronic companies can maintain stocks of components for just-in-time delivery to customers.

And the free zone offers two important tax breaks. Manufacturing companies get 100% exemption from corporate tax, and if a manufacturing company exports 85% or more of its production, the company’s employee are exempt from income tax.

The raw materials for food processing and packaging, as well as textiles, can easily be obtained locally, which buoys the region’s economy.  The ESBAS tenants have the opportunity to buy Turkish products at export prices without Value Added Tax (VAT).Almost all the lots on the 550-acre industrial park are built upon or reserved for construction.  19,500 people work there, with many plants operating in three shifts.

International tenants include Eldor Electronics from Italy, Stean AB from Sweden, German apparel maker Hugo Boss and Delphi Automotive from the U.S.   Some tenants are Turkish companies that locate within the free zone to import materials from outside the zone and then export finished products abroad, while enjoying the tax advantages.Manufacturing companies can obtain 45-year operating licenses, while trading companies are able to procure 15-year operating licenses.

ESBAS embraces the ‘build, operate and transfer’ business model.  In addition, there are many services for tenants.  ESBAS can provide security, water, power, stock management, processing services, trash, and an industrial kitchen that serves 18,000 (and delivers) meals a day.  There are five banks located within the zone.  There is a world-class child care facility, medical and dental clinics, a concert and sports hall, and a nursery to support the ornamental plants and trees for the well landscaped grounds.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

MakeMyTrip’s Tripalong App Seeks To Sync Travel Ecommerce With Social Networking

MakeMyTrip has launched Tripalong, a social application for travellers, which basically integrates with the user’s social networks and maps their travel itinerary so that they can connect with friends while travelling.

For using the app, users have to enter the travel details of their flights and if by chance their flight is ‘intersecting’ with that of the other members from their social networks (who are also Tripalong members, mind you), they are notified of the same. Users can also make new friends on Tripalong according to their profiles and interests.

Users can choose to create new accounts, sign-in with their existing MakeMyTrip accounts or login with their Facebook account (which makes sense since the app makes use of the social network anyways). Also, if you login through Facebook and allow Tripalong to post on your behalf, the app automatically posts a message on your wall mentioning the fact that you have joined Tripalong (pretty standard with such syncing).

After logging in, users can link their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts with Tripalong. They can also import information on flights booked through MakeMyTrip or individually add flight details. Once the flight details are added, users can view ‘Trip Pals’ on the same flight (if any) and they can also connect with other Trip Pals based on their profiles and interests.

Tripalong also updates users on friends who are in the same city as they are travelling to. The company claims that apart from the travel details, no other user-related data is exchanged with Tripalong members who are not authorized by the user.

The app has been conceptualized and developed in association with TenTenTen Digital Products Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based app development company.

Ramesh Srivats, MD & CEO of TenTenTen Digital Products said, “Social networks are more than just new ‘media’, they have changed the very way in which people interact with each other. Tripalong leverages the customer’s own networks to make his or her travel a lot more fun.”

What’s In It For MakeMyTrip?
With the app, the company will gain access to a large amount of travel data of both the app users and their friends (if they join Tripalong), and this data will include details of both users who have booked their flights using MMT, and also of flights booked elsewhere (who are potential future customers). Also, with the app, MMT can keep track of the flying pattern of frequent flyers who will most probably account for a large per cent of the people that will join Tripalong in the first place.

So the company has the user’s flight details (both MMT users and others), their flying pattern and their contact details (since they are signing up for the app). This basically means that the company will have the opportunity to attract new users who are booking their flights elsewhere and also get long term users in the form of frequent flyers (via in-direct advertising). A Win-Win, don’t you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tourism for Tomorrow winners unveiled

SINGAPORE, April 18 — The Norwegian town of Røros has been handed a prestigious sustainable tourism award by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The town, a former mining centre, was recognised April 17 by the WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, one of the most high-profile events in responsible travel.

The judges, an international team of travellers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists and academics, concluded that Røros’s tourism efforts have been monumental in reversing the area’s environmental degradation, awarding it the ‘Destination Stewardship’ gong.

The Conservation award, which requires winners to have made a direct contribution to the preservation of nature, wildlife and biodoversity, was given to Inkaterra in Peru, a biodiversity research company which doubles as a luxury travel experience.

Guests at Inkaterra’s five hotels are promised a carbon-neutral stay, along with the knowledge that their vacation is helping the group to work with local people on projects designed to underline the importance of the fragile habitats in the Andes and Amazon.

The Community Benefit award went to the Saunders Hotel Group, a chain in the US which supports local charity and non-profit groups with financial backing, volunteer time and other in-kind help.

The Global Tourism Business Award went to luxury chain Banyan Tree, which beat US-based adventure holiday specialist REI Adventures and South Africa-based conservation tourism firm Wilderness Group.

The hotel chain was praised for its sustainability monitoring across its businesses, as well as for being one of the first global hospitality companies in the world to ban the sale of shark’s fin in all of their hotels, an example only just beginning to be matched by competitors.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Travels into Greene-land

As a guide to far-flung places," the blurb on the book's front cover proclaims confidently, "Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed."

The travel writer's latest volume however goes on a journey into a little more outre territory - his very own 'Greeneland', a place where obsession with Graham Greene mixes with an examination of the uncanny, if sometimes affected, links between Iyer's life and that of the celebrated English author. Both Greene and Iyer went to strict Empire-building British boarding schools, both were afraid of dentists, both were overshadowed by their fathers, both saw their houses burn down. But Iyer's lifelong fascination with Greene, chronicled across this book's 238 pages, goes beyond matching up coincidental quirks.

"I never wanted to seek out Greene's manuscripts or letters in research libraries; I made no conscious effort to track down those people who'd known him," Iyer writes. "He lived vividly enough inside me already, in some more shadowy place."

The Man Within My Head is in parts a biography (of Greene, the author), a memoir and literary criticism (covering the span of Greene's work), all sewn together by Iyer's patented and always insightful travel writing. The travel portions - like Greene's characters, Iyer spends time in destinations as desolate as Bolivia and Bhutan - somehow manage to combine the book's disparate genres into an engaging package that's much harder to put a label on.

Never having met the man, Iyer decides to take Greene on as an adopted parent. He is constantly haunted by the presence of the Englishman, both in his 'head' and in his writing. Rather than delving into the political or religious themes of Greene's work, not to mention the rumours that he lived a double life as a spy, Iyer decides instead to look at something more fundamental: questions of morality and innocence.

Greene's most famous work, The Quiet American, is to Iyer an "anguished and unending" internal debate between youth and adulthood; his debut novel, The Man Within (which Iyer's own title pays tribute to), is the story of a boy who is violently torn between "the romantic in him and the would- be cynic".

Your conscience, in Greene's work, is the real source of grief, not your evil. "The world of Greene is a world of greys," Iyer writes. "It is not that good and bad do not exist, but that they are so improbably mixed, in constant shifting proportions, that we cannot begin to tell friend from foe or right from wrong."

What seems like a simple parsing of literary themes, however, quickly becomes a way to understand the man himself. Iyer tells us how Greene fought tenaciously to stop a journalist from publishing a presumptuous book titled (in French) My Friend, Graham Greene , but then inexplicably sent the man's son through an expensive private school and then paid his way through studies in Oxford.

After unhappy attempts to appreciate Greene through his discovered love letters or his travel writing, Iyer decides the man is only at home and honest in his fiction. "And the reason I love him and he moved me so much was that he had the gift of seeming at last to set aside his evasions and false selves as soon as he began writing in another voice," Iyer writes.

Taking moral cues from an adoptive parent, however, forces Iyer to examine the relationship with his own father - celebrated Gandhi scholar and theosophist Raghavan Iyer, who was always too bright, too real and occasionally too spiritual (Pico chafes at his palmistry). Greene, on the other hand, seems to offer something more subtle.

But while attempting to discover the world through Greene's morality, the two father figures start to get muddled up. Greene's private correspondence turns out to be disappointing, but one of Raghavan Iyer's old letters to a friend ends up revealing a side his son never got to see. A chance meeting with an old student of his father's reveals that the two of them also shared coincidental quirks - both introduced the same obscure book to their classes, both loved the same unsung Yeats poem - even if they never discussed it.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The shrinking holiday globe for tourists

Despite threatened strikes, fuel shortages, a lack of security staff and fewer pennies in our pockets, it seems escaping austerity Britain has never been more appealing. Some two million holidaymakers will be flocking to our ferry ports, train stations and airports this Easter for a foreign break. What has changed is not whether we go, but where, as socio-political issues, terrorism, natural disasters and monetary constraints have combined to tear up the holiday map as we once knew it.

The British travelling public has long been stoical in the face of adversity. After bomb attacks, disease outbreaks, earthquakes and floods, Britons were usually the last ones out and the first back in – particularly when there were bargains to be had. But no longer.

As social unrest swept the Arab world after President Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January last year, so tourism to North Africa went with it. Since the turn of the millennium, increasing numbers of Britons had grown tired of the Spanish costas’ traditional package fare and expensive euro, favouring instead Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt for good value and guaranteed sunshine. Britain’s operators adjusted their brochures accordingly. Then suddenly Tunisia was in revolt, President Mubarak was pushed from office in Egypt, Colonel Gaddafi was felled, Yemen’s president was forced to sign away his powers, Morocco and Bahrain were witnessing waves of protests, and Syria was ablaze.

A year later, Mounir Abdel Nour, Egypt’s minister of tourism, has announced that the number of tourist arrivals fell by a third last year, while many in the industry claim that the situation is far worse. As Nigel Richardson wrote in these pages following a visit to Egypt last month, some hotels are only 10 per cent occupied, and key historical sights are still only attracting a fraction of the normal tourist crowds.

Even the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh – 320 miles from the turmoil of Cairo’s Tahrir Square – is struggling. The regular stream of British and Russian tourists in search of sun, sea and scuba-diving, has fallen to a trickle. Everyone, from hoteliers and restaurateurs to market stallholders and belly-dancing troupes, is feeling the pinch; some are defaulting on rent, others are temporarily closing shop. Even with a promised £8 billion investment in tourism from the government over the next five years, Egypt will need a lengthy period of social and political stability if it is to win back the holidaymakers.

Tunisia has suffered just as keenly from tourist apathy, but here it is more an issue of perception than reality. The sensationalist television coverage of the short-lived Jasmine revolution seemed to exaggerate the severity of the uprisings, which took place far from tourist areas. The country remains as safe and peaceful as it ever has been; yet visitor numbers have fallen by half in the year after the revolution. The new regime needs to play the public relations game – and fast – which is not easy when 50 per cent of your foreign exchange has been wiped out by the tourist decline.

Morocco, too, has seen a marked fall in visitors, though protests there against King Mohammed VI were comparatively limited. Jordan and Lebanon are also suffering a downturn in tourism as the architectural treasures of Petra and Baalbek remain unseasonably quiet.

In Kenya, it is terrorism and kidnappings that are keeping Britons away. At least six people were killed in Nairobi in a series of explosions last month, but it is a spate of recent tourist kidnappings near the Somali border that have preyed on holidaymakers’ worst fears. The Foreign Office warning against travel in this area has put a large number of resorts, including those in the popular Lamu Archipelago, out of reach of ordinary travellers, but the impact is being felt farther afield. According to Niel Alobaidi, commercial director for Hayes & Jarvis, one of Britain’s leading long-haul tour operators, bookings to Kenya are down by almost 60 per cent on last year.

“What has surprised us is that South Africa and Tanzania have also seen much reduced booking levels,” he said. “Previously these destinations have performed strongly whenever Kenya has suffered, but the current issues appear to be affecting demand all across eastern and southern Africa.”

The big winner seems to be Spain, with visitors up by eight per cent since the Arab Spring began. Portugal, France and Italy have also experienced rises, while Florida and Dubai are enjoying extra bookings as alternatives to Egypt and Tunisia for early-season sun.

Greece, however, is bracing itself for another summer of discontent. The wave of violent protests in Athens and Thessaloniki against the government’s austerity measures is deterring some holidaymakers from visiting even far-flung Greek islands. That wasn’t helped by William Hague’s warning earlier this month that British holidaymakers should register with authorities in Greece and prepare to evacuate if the crisis escalated.

“To claim that Britons living in Greece or visiting on holiday are likely to need emergency evacuation is ridiculous,” said Derek Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators. “The riots in London, Manchester and Birmingham last summer were on a significantly bigger scale than anything in Greece – yet did the Home Secretary, Theresa May, advise people against visiting the Cotswolds or the Lake District?” The reality, however, is that bookings have slowed considerably – and the tourist board is desperately short of funding, just when promotion is vital to remind holidaymakers of Greece’s appeal.

It is not just the short-haul holiday map that is being redrawn. Japan continues to suffer from the fallout from the tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. Even hotels in Niseko, the leading ski resort in the far north of Hokkaido, have struggled to fill their rooms despite one of the greatest seasons for snow in living memory.

Turmoil has also reached the sandy shores of the Maldives, where the country’s first democratically elected leader was overthrown earlier this month. The Foreign Office has removed its warning against travel to the capital, Malé, although it says that further demonstrations are “likely”, and human-rights groups continue to urge holidaymakers to avoid any resorts linked to those involved in the coup.

Read more

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Goa tourism industry to offer cheaper off-season packages

Panaji: Planning a vacation in Goa during the monsoon season would be cheaper now, as the hotel industry is designing attractive packages following the concessions provided by the state government.The Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government has offered 50 per cent concession on the luxury tax to mid and upper segment hotels during the off season.

Reacting to the sops, the tourism and trade industry has said that the relaxation in the luxury tax will help them to mitigate the hike in the air fares which had made off season packages expensive.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is also the state Finance Minister, has proposed in the budget that all hotels are granted 50 per cent concession of tax payable during the off season commencing from May 01, 2012 to September 30, 2012, subject to prompt payment of tax and filing of returns in time.

Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), which has been lobbying for such concession, said the move will help in making monsoon package more attractive, as the skyrocketing air fares had forced the off-season packages to be expensive.

"The hoteliers will be able to pass the benefit of concession directly to the customers," TTAG spokesman Ralph D`Souza said.Unofficial estimates reveal that around 1,500 medium and big hotels will be benefited from the incentives, while smaller hotels are exempted from paying luxury tax.

Last year`s off-season was blessed with the long weekends, which saved the industry from facing losses, D`Souza said adding that the average occupancy was around 75 per cent during weekends and approximately 60 per cent during the week days.

Last year`s off-season was blessed with the long weekends, which saved the industry from facing losses, D`Souza said, adding that the average occupancy was around 75 per cent during weekends and approximately 60 per cent during the week days.

In its pre-budget memorandum submitted to Parrikar, the TTAG had urged for concessions to the industry.The Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has termed this reduction as a "smart move", which will keep economy vibrant even during the off-season.