Friday, December 30, 2011

Red weevils pose serious threat to Egypt's palm trees

<p>Palm tree eating red weevil</p>

Red palm weevils, tiny insects that burrow into palm trunks and devour the trees from within, are becoming a nuisance to date palm farmers. Infestations can often go unnoticed until weevils have hollowed out the palm trunk, interfering with the flow of nutrients through the trunks and killing the tree.
"The big thing is that the insects are not seen and the infestation is not recognized, and then suddenly a tree collapses," says Mohamed Samir Abbas, a researcher at the Plant Protection Research Institute in Giza.
The blight, said to be native to Africa and India, first appeared in Ismailia in the early 1990s. Since then, infestations have spread throughout Egypt's agricultural regions.
Though no official statistics exist, experts estimate that up to 25 percent of Egypt's 12 million trees have been infested.
However, farming practices such as over-irrigation exacerbate the problem and make the palm trunks ideal homes for weevils.
Ridding a date grove of a sick or dead tree can prove tricky. If the tree is killed by an infestation, the entire palm should be torched, otherwise the tenacious weevils can infect nearby trees or farms.
Adult weevils can fly up to 900 meters at a time, and travel up to 7km in three to five days. They are difficult to kill with traditional pesticide sprays.
Pheromone traps have been somewhat successful. The traps are filled with a mixture of chemical scents and date oil and half buried in sand on the farms to lure pests away from the trees. When the insects land in the buckets they drown in water at the bottom.
Yet these traps, which need to be replaced monthly, are far more expensive and labor-intensive than other methods. Instead, many farmers rely on pesticides, which fail to penetrate the center of the tree where the insects live. Abbas advocates injecting palm trees with insecticides, particularly during the breeding season in April and May.
But even that has its drawbacks. Heavy use of pesticides erodes soil quality, and can contaminate fruits and vegetables. Pests eventually build up a resistance to the toxins, forcing farmers to rely on more chemicals.
Ahmed Zeitoun, an agricultural expert in Alexandria, says pesticides should be avoided for non-decorative trees. Zeitoun advocates the use of a green method developed by Dr. Nabawy Metwaly, in which a machine makes pressurized injections of bacteria and oil that travel through the trunk and kill the insect.
Existing methods have only had partial success in combating weevils, but new innovations may help track the spread of infestations. The Defense Ministry has developed a machine that scans the tree, searching for the insect's molecular DNA signature. Not only does the machine detect whether or not a tree has weevils, but also where the infestation is spreading within the tree.
Amin Amin, the engineer who developed the machine, won second prize in March in the best new technique section of the third annual Khalifa International Date Palm Awards in the United Arab Emirates.
The Agriculture Ministry has run campaigns to raise farmer awareness and quarantine infestations, according to Dr. Ahmed Anis Saeed, the head of the Plant Protection Research Institute.
“Recently in New Valley we were able to remove 280 unhealthy trees, out of the region's 1.3 million [healthy trees],” he adds.
Experts note that weevil infestations are a worldwide issue. Weevils have been found in over 50 countries, and are widely considered to be the most damaging pest for palms, according to the University of California-Riverside's Center for Invasive Species Research.
According to the center, international trade of live palms is most likely accountable for the spread of the blight. The pest ― moved as eggs, larvae or pupae ― establishes itself easily in new areas because it moves with its food source.
For Zeitoun, the solution lies in better cooperation between palm exporters on an international level.
“We need one program internationally to protect the fruits of date palms without chemicals,” he says. “It's the same whether shipping from city to city or exporting to other countries.”
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's 2001 figures, Egypt is one of the top five date-producing countries in the world, accounting for almost 21 percent of global production.  But experts say the impact of red palm weevils has yet to be felt heavily in the industry.
“Of course it affects the date industry in Egypt; but it's not dangerous yet, because it takes an infestation three or four generations before it hollows out a tree and it collapses. We need to treat it when the first generation appears,” Abbas says.

A new eco-village in Upper Egypt renews interest in sustainable tourism


For many years, Upper Egypt has not been on the radar in terms of concerted national development policies. But it is a region with much potential for developing a sustainable tourism sector that would benefit its population by creating job opportunities for the youth while helping the government formalize a sustainable tourism agenda.
Speaking to Egypt Independent, Laila Iskandar, a development expert, explains that “donor money has been directed to that region more than any other, but because of policy failures, all development indicators have remained the same.”
Consequently, young laborers from the region migrate to coastal zones, other tourist areas, the Gulf, or Libya in search of livelihood.
Recently, the government announced that the tourism sector has lost an estimated US$40 million per day since 25 January. While this news is troubling, it also raises questions about the context in which this loss took place.
Egypt’s tourism policy since the 1970s has been based entirely on mass-tourism. The majority of tourists coming find themselves following a tightly controlled tourist experience, which entails staying at huge concrete hotels or resorts and moving in mass to visit a carefully chosen set of archaeological sites.
Such a model is profitable only to a handful of businessmen and big investors, leaving almost no room for smaller investors and tourism workers to benefit from the profits.
Years of mass tourism has fueled environmental degradation and caused extensive damage to Egypt’s flora, fauna and historical sites due to the lack of regulation on the number of visitors.
In the words of Iskandar, to move forward “we need to re-visit the monopolistic capitalist policies implemented in recent decades, and the concessions provided to large corporate investors should now be allocated to small and medium-sized local projects.”
Local initiatives in support of sustainable tourism
According to Yahia Shawkat, an architect and heritage planner, Upper Egypt in recent decades has witnessed a deliberate stifling of the tourism sector, particularly between south of Beni Suef and north of Qena.  
Mubarak’s response to the rising presence of militant Islamist groups in the 1980s and 90s led to the closing of the area, as opposed to helping develop the region to address underlying frustrations which led to the groups’ formation.
As a result, the large number of tourists coming to Egypt has always been directed to certain locations while avoiding areas in Upper Egypt, despite its wealth of archaeological sites, flora and fauna.
But with time, local and community-driven initiatives have arisen when possible.
One of these is The New Hermopolis eco-village, created by Mervat Nasser, a physician from Minya who decided to undertake a sustainable project to benefit the community.
Located 340km south of Cairo and less than 3km from the antiquities of Tuna al-Gebel, The New Hermopolis is a limestone structure consisting of 16 rooms with a capacity to house 52 visitors. The whole building is run on ecological principles based on preserving water and energy. The building’s heat comes from solar energy.
According to Nasser, this project is meant to introduce the concept of responsible tourism to the region. The resort’s revenue will be used for development purposes to implement a sustainable community project to support the growth of civil society and empower local residents.
Its name reflects the founder’s aspiration to revive the area’s rich intellectual past. In the words of Nasser, “The nearby city of Hermopolis is considered the seat of creation in mythology. It used to be the capital city of the fifteenth Nome of Upper Egypt and stretches about 5km from Ashmonin (eastern Hermopolis) to Tuna al-Gebel (western Hermopolis).”
Hermopolis was named after ‘Hermes,’ the Greek equivalent of the Egyptian ‘Thoth,’” she explains, “the lord of time, the inventor of writing and the guardian of thought who revealed to the Egyptians all knowledge on astronomy, architecture, medicine and alchemy. Archaeologically, the city has a number of monuments and is currently on the list of Egyptian ancient sites, though hardly visited,” she adds.
With her project, Nasser hopes inspire the rediscovery of the intellectual innovation and cultural dialogue that once flourished in this area and to serve as a catalyst for the development of the region with a view towards long-term sustainable development.  
But to ensure success, Shawkat highlights the need for such initiatives to be supported by a set of policies and guidelines. “The local government has an important role to play,” explains Shawkat.
“First, they must put in place the necessary regulations serving as guidelines for those wanting to undertake such initiatives. Consequently, they are responsible for ensuring that the tourism industry, once introduced in the region, does not grow at the expense of local communities.”
He adds that “the only way to ensure their success is by creating a participatory framework whereby the community is an integral part of introducing sustainable tourism to the region. It is bound to fail if imposed from above as it will be associated with the harmful consequences of large-scale tourism projects.”
It is time for the government to give the region its due attention and support. And with the country at a crossroads, this is an ideal time to move forward while learning from the mistakes of Mubarak’s regime.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Accor Aims to Draw the Curtain on Unsustainable Hotels

Would you be upset if you walked into a hotel room to find that the curtains were drawn, the TV was silent, and the staff were keen not to wash your towels each day?
These are some of the questions hospitality giant Accor has been seeking to answer as it prepares a major new sustainability strategy designed to slash environmental impacts and curb energy use across its 42,000 properties.
"In hospitality, the standard practice is for the guest to enter the room with the curtains open and the TV on with a welcome screen, and to then have their towels changed every day," Sophie Flak, the company's executive vice president for sustainable development, told BusinessGreen.
"But the sustainable way is to have the curtains closed, the TV off and to not change the towels every day. We've been training people the old way and we need to move to the new way."
The company has undertaken a major survey of customers to assess their willingness to support more sustainable practices. The full results will be released next year, but Flak said that early indications are encouraging.
Some 67 percent of respondents said that a sustainable hotel is as comfortable as a conventional hotel, and 70 percent said that they prefer a hotel with sustainability credentials.
Accor is also engaged in a major training program for its 145,000 staff around the world designed to promote green best practices.
"When we clean in the traditional way it takes several dozen liters of water, on average around 25 liters of water per bathroom," explained Flak. "But after training we can get that down to two to three liters using new cleaning materials and techniques. We are doing a lot of R&D and testing different cleaning technologies."
The company is also testing a wide range of clean technologies to identity those that deliver the best environmental and financial returns, including anaerobic digestion systems, different solar technologies, geothermal power and combined heat and power networks.
The results will feed into a five-year sustainability plan due to be unveiled early next year.
Flak also revealed that hotel managers' bonuses could soon be partly dependent on their ability to meet environmental targets.
"Our managers' bonuses are already based on top and bottom line performance and then they have energy and water targets," she said. "But we are planning to integrate the environmental targets into the bonus schemes."

Bicycle Trailers on Loan at IKEA - Rent a Bike & Trailer Directly at the Store

Danish IKEA shoppers now have a new option for bringing their large, bulky purchases home: a pool of Velorbis bikes with trailers that are available for loan at virtually no charge.
IKEA of Denmark is now starting a new program at their Danish stores. They did a market research and found that about 20% of their customers rode their bikes to the stores - even though most of them are located outside the cities in large commercial centers - some call them Big Box Districts - which are located pretty far from the city center.
trailer & bike loan at IKEA - rent bike with trailer at the store
Freetrailer started as a service for Danes to loan car trailers for free but has now included bike trailers at one IKEA in the Copenhagen region, with plans for more. To borrow a bike and trailer bike users must make a deposit of about US $100 and then can choose to pay for a seven dollar insurance policy for each loan or be liable for the larger amount in costs if the bike is damaged or stolen. Bicycle and trailer may be kept overnight and returned the next day. A bike with trailer can be loaned for more than one day to give you time to return it. Although trailer might possibly be too small to move your new Ektorp sofa, but you could get quite a few flatpacks onto it.
With this simple move IKEA shows that they cares about their customers and also about the environment. Recognizing — and celebrating — the preferences of eco-minded consumers makes good sense for IKEA, which is bound to share in the eco-iconic glory.

UNWTO and the Tour Operators’ Initiative renew their commitment toward sustainable tourism

UNWTO and the Tour Operators’ Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development  (TOI) have renewed their commitment to work together in promoting sustainable tourism practices during the last meeting of TOI held in Madrid at the Headquarters of UNWTO, which hosts the TOI Secretariat (2 December 2011).
Founded in 2000, the TOI is a voluntary, non-profit organization for tour operators and travel companies from around the world, regardless of their size and geographical location, which together represent more than 50 million travellers.
With this Initiative, tour operators are moving towards sustainable tourism by committing themselves to the concepts of sustainable development as the core of their business activity and to working together through common activities to promote and disseminate methods and practices compatible with sustainable development.
On the occasion, TOI member companies elected a new Board of Directors chaired by Michel Lemay, Vice-President, Communications and Corporate Affairs and Chief Brand Officer of Transat A.T. Inc.. Other Board members include Vice-Chair Andreas Müseler (REWE Touristik), Matthias Leisinger (Kuoni), Antero Kaleva (Aurinkomatkat) and Othman Cherif Alami (Atlas Voyages).
 “The TOI provides a strong voice to travel companies that believe in the role of tourism as a driver of economic growth, poverty alleviation and environment and heritage protection,” said Mr. Lemay. “With the support of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), TOI member companies work together at promoting the best practices in sustainability and corporate responsibility.”
UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, reiterated the relevance of TOI in practically advancing key sustainable development objectives that UNWTO is promoting. “Tourism is a growing sector, despite the difficult international economic scenario, and this is the right time to promote and catalyze efforts to achieve sustainable tourism development across the different players of the industry while fully engaging the private sector in a mutually reinforcing relation to advance the international development agenda”, he said.
TOI has been successfully developing and implementing activities and projects with the key involvement of local stakeholders to help destinations remain tourism attractions and ensure that the socio-economic benefits generated by tourism are equally shared by host communities – for instance in Turkey, Mexico and Morocco.
The Initiative has also contributed to research on key issues ranging from integrating sustainability into the tour operators’ supply chain and the role of the tourism sector in a multi-cultural world, to the relation among tourism development, biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction strategies, and the integration of climate protection measures into corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Hospitality Industry Trends for 2012 | By Robert Rauch

The upcoming year is projected to be a better and brighter one for the hospitality industry, but what are the new factors driving the market in 2012? The landscape is evolving quickly as new technology demands that hotels become more social and engaging in their marketing efforts, travelers are looking for the best value propositions, and consumer demand is pushing for hotels to make concerted efforts on property upgrades and improvements.
To understand the market and to help hoteliers capitalize on what's to come, Robert Rauch, otherwise known as the Hotel Guru and president of R.A. Rauch & Associates, a San Diego-based hospitality management company, has compiled and released his list of Top 10 hospitality industry trends for 2012:
  1. Hoteliers will invest in reinvigorating properties to take advantage of the market.
    After years of delaying capital expenditures, hotel companies are betting that now is the best opportunity to renovate their properties. In 2012, we'll see even more hotels renovating lobbies, restaurants, bars and fitness centers, as well as replacing beds, TVs, and more. Hotel sales, an absolute outcome of an improved market, will spur even more renovations since sale contracts always contain a provision requiring the new owner to upgrade the property.
  2. There will be little to no new development dollars on the debt or equity Side.
    This is good news for most, but bad news for the developers who genuinely have enviable sites in great markets. Despite that, optimism reigns. A great deal can, and will, get done. We've seen it. In fact, we're working on one ourselves.
  3. Online booking will continue to (modestly) grow.
    The number of U.S. travelers booking and researching online is still growing. More than 114 million people will research travel online this year, while 94 million will actually book reservations. While more than 50 percent of travel bookings are made on the Internet, the online travel market has matured and I expect modest growth and stabilization.
  4. There will be more mobile bookings and research.
    More and more travelers will be turning to their mobile devices to not only research lodging and travel options, but to book and communicate room preferences directly with the hotel. Mobile channel booking has increased four-fold between 2008 and 2010 according to Forrester Research. Plus, Google is projecting that mobile will overtake PCs as the most common Web-access device by 2013. With travelers adopting smartphones and tablets at such a rapid pace, it's crucial for hoteliers to optimize their website for mobile usage to capture potential mobile transactions.
  5. Demand and average rate are up in most markets, but not equally distributed.
    The top 25 markets in the U.S., and those that were really battered at the height of the recession, have seen the most bounce by and large. Many secondary and tertiary markets have not seen a strong recovery to date.
  6. Revenue management will make the art of managing a hotel more of a science.
    Revenue management has morphed from the days it was first introduced by the airline industry in the 1970s to being a complex science today. Managers have always lowered prices to stimulate sales when demand is weak and have raised prices during peak demand periods. Hotels are now able to update prices for all future arrival dates to match market demands each day, via advanced market intelligence applications. TravelClick has pace reports for transient and group demand that look at bookings one year in advance. Plus, Smith Travel Research will soon introduce reports offering intelligence looking at future bookings, rather than solely historic figures.
  7. Proliferation of distribution channel management will largely impact pricing.
    More than ever, it will be vital for hotel owners and operators to stay on top of the distribution landscape that is expanding beyond OTAs, including popular sales vehicles such as meta-search, flash sales and mobile channels. Beyond simple awareness of the different mediums available to sell hotel rooms, hoteliers must know the costs of the variety of distribution channels and the returns expected from each. Hoteliers must preserve rate parity and their brand by utilizing the most cost-effective distribution channels, instead of using desperate measures to sell inventory.
  8. Brands will put more money into deals to expand market share.
    The brands are at war for the development deals that have a chance to get financed. Starwood, Hyatt, and Intercontinental are aggressively pursuing the Hilton and Marriott juggernaut. Whether it's key money, mezzanine debt or equity, seasoned developers will have their way with the brands as they fight for share of the new builds.
  9. Prepare for growth.
    However, know where we are in the game. We are in the second inning of the industry when compared to a baseball game with the peak or 9th inning coming in 2016...use caution from 2017 and beyond. These next five years will see hotel values with annualized double digit growth. Demand will stabilize in 2012 but rates will grow beyond the rate of inflation. That means profits and values improve markedly.
  10. Social media will continue to transform connections with travelers.
    By 2016, half of the travel industry will be using social media as a way of generating revenue and bookings. Currently more than one-fifth (22 percent) use social media as a revenue generating tool with a further 27 percent planning to do so over the next five years. Plus, social media will become more of a key component of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) algorithms. Facebook's posts are already integrated into Bing search and Google+ emerged with native integration into Google search. Hotels can no longer afford to linger over adding social media to their marketing mix. It's now a necessary element of traffic-driving success.

Monday, December 26, 2011

24 travel companies collapsed in 2011

Research commissioned by Kelkoo Travel has found that 24 holiday companies collapsed in the last 12 months, leading to 74,000 holidaymakers reclaiming £26 million.

The figure was a slight improvement on 2010, when 29 companies failed, impacting 189,000 travellers and resulting in £47 million worth of compensation claims.

The research, produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, found the average traveller waits up to four months for a refund.

Despite the significant amount of money that can be reclaimed, more than 6,000 travellers (8%) have missed out completely on compensation payments to which they are entitled.

The research highlights that the largest failures over the past 12 months have occurred in the peak season when customer bookings and deposits are at their highest.

Kelkoo Travel managing director Chris Nixon said: “Economic conditions in the holiday market have been incredibly challenging in 2011 with travel companies having to contend with factors such as rising fuel costs and the impact of air passenger duty. But it is reassuring that significantly less holidaymakers were affected by travel company collapses this year compared to 2010. Since 2007, when APD was introduced, package holiday prices have increased by 20%. On top of this, there has also been the backdrop of weak consumer spending and income growth that have dampened demand. All of these factors have had a direct negative impact on travel companies. Unfortunately, 2012 will see other holiday companies go to the wall, so travellers booking their summer holidays over the next few weeks should check that they book with an ATOL-protected company, so they can be sure that if their travel company does collapse, then they will be compensated.”


Sunday, December 18, 2011



1. Cologne
Germany's reputation for legendary Christmas markets is well deserved -- and this is the granddaddy of them all. With the dramatic backdrop of the famed Cologne cathedral, the Kölner Dom, casting its magnificent shadows on the festive proceedings, the market at the Domplatz is a good place to start. Next, head to the Medieval Christmas Market, where handcrafts and live music compete with a breathtaking live nativity set for your postmodern attention span.
When: 21 November until 23 December
What to buy: Räuchermännchen (wooden dolls complete with smoking pipe), nutcrackers, children's toys, and well-priced charity products whose proceeds go to the needy.
Food and drink: Wash down aromatic baked apples and roasted almonds with the traditional, cinnamon-infused glühwein. Plus, an eco-friendly, fair trade ethos means that you can conscientiously indulge in organic treats.
For the children: At the Alter Markt you'll find a child's winter paradise, complete with a merry-go-round and a puppet theatre. Ice skaters, head to the Heumarkt.
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2. Vienna
Come wintertime, Christmas markets in Vienna become as ubiquitous as the city's elaborate Baroque architecture. You'll find the Viennese version of winter wonderland -- at once cosy and elegant -- coming to life in public squares all over town.
After stopping by the popular Christkindlmarkt in front of the Rathausplatz, waltz over to the market in front of the lavish Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial residence. True to Vienna's storied musical heritage, expect plenty of classical concerts fueling the nonstop city-wide party.
When: mid-November until Christmas Eve
What to buy: Hand-blown glass, jewelry, candles and handmade baby cribs
Food and drink: Key indulgences include apfel strudel, maroni (chestnuts), bratwurst and lebkuchen (gingerbread). To drink? Glühwein or punsch, natürlich.
For the children: Little ones will go starry-eyed at the market in front of Vienna's neo-Gothic Rathaus (town hall), which is decorated as a giant Advent calendar. A hands-on Christmas workshop, pony and carousel rides and a bewitching winter garden also delight.
3. Bruges
The Medieval splendor of this UNESCO World Heritage site, full of serene grace and picturesque canals, only intensifies when December rolls around. Don't skip the awe-inducing Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival, held in a massive thermal tent. Two tips: dress warmly, and plan to do some serious chilling out with a cocktail in the Ice Bar.
When: 25 November until 3 January
What to buy: A fantastic array of Belgian chocolates, along with ceramics (think beer steins), and cozy handmade clothing.
Food and drink: You're in Belgium: have a beer. Why not try one of the rich ales specially brewed for the holidays?
For the children: Keep shopping-weary kids on their toes at the ice skating rink, held on the Market Square.
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4. Strasbourg
In the heart of Alsace, the German-inflected region of France that is said to be home to the first Christmas tree, this gorgeous market is a classic. Since 1570, the Christkindelsmärik has offered serious holiday enchantments, making it the oldest in France. Stroll from Place Broglie to Place Kléber under the glow of thousands of brilliant lights until you arrive at the festival's focal point: the breathtakingly giant Sapin de Noël, or Christmas tree.
When: 26 November to 31 December
What to buy: For Christmas decorations (Strasbourg's been peddling them since 1600) head to the Place de la Cathédrale. Enticing Alsatian food specialties can be found in Place des Meuniers.
Food and drink: While adults savor vin chaud, kids can sip on warm jus d'orange sweetened with honey. Along with plenty of German-inspired treats, try the bredele (Alsatian butter cookies in toothsome flavors like ginger and anise) and maennele, or little brioche men.
For the children: Picture a kiddie paradise: puppet shows, visits by Saint Nicholas, spirited games, ice skating, a crèche vivante (living nativity scene) and even an ice garden with an obstacle course.
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5. Prague
As snow dusts its gothic spires and its fabled Astronomical Clock chimes in the chilly air, Prague's cityscape transforms into a gothic midwinter fairy tale. While Staroměstské náměstí, or Old Town Square, is always one of the most stunning in Europe, during Christmas it's downright ethereal. Set against the evocative skyline, the towering Christmas tree -- imported each year from the Krkonose Mountains in the North -- conjures an enchanting Bohemian vibe.
When: 26 November until 8 January
What to buy: Hand-carved puppets and wooden toys, Bohemian crystal, Czech glass and ornate ceramic mugs. Or why not buy a live carp -- sold in tubs lining the streets -- to cook up a traditional Czech Christmas dinner?
Food and drink: Grab a traditional fried-dough, cinnamon sugar trdlo washed down with svařené víno (mulled wine) or medovina (honey liquor). Want to ward off the cold with the hard stuff? Many Czechs swear that a shot of the traditional, warmly-spiced liquor Becherovka tastes like Christmas itself.
For the children: Handmade Czech puppets never fail to elicit wonder in even shopping-weary children. Check out the petting zoo and the open-air stage, where children from around the Czech Republic sing and dance in traditional dress with inimitable holiday cheer.