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Vol. XIV No. 16
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by Saichon Paewsoongnern

 

TRAVEL & TOURISM
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Seville: Arab culture under the Spanish sun

Suvarnabhumi Airport to open for commercial use by year-end

Central Thai provinces join forces

‘Exotic trips are hot’

Don Muang Airport to continue to serve domestic, chartered flights

Mae Hong Son chamber worries over delays in infrastructure projects

Cathay boon for Penang

Air France pioneers mobile phone services

More Thais travel overseas on the Thai New Year ‘Songkran’ holiday


Seville: Arab culture under the Spanish sun

Levent Bergkotte
“Quien nunca ha visto a Sevilla, nunca ha visto a una maravilla.” Who has never seen Seville, has never seen a wonder. This saying is the motto of the inhabitants of this city in the southwest of Spain. The capital of Andalucía is a vibrant, charming place that takes you back into time to the period of the Moors and the Spanish explorations to the New World.

Situated along the Guadalquivir River, which 500 years ago was much wider and deeper than now, Seville was one of the starting points for boats crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards America. Spain conquered nearly all of Middle and South America and the Conquistadores brought gold and many other precious materials and items back to their homeland. The whole of Spain, especially Andalucía and Extremadura, where most explorers came from, prospered from all this new wealth. The former explorers settled down and had huge, beautiful villas built to spend the rest of their lives as rich men.
But it wasn’t the Spaniards themselves who laid the base for the cultural treasures Seville and Andalucía are today. It was the Moors. They occupied the southern half of present Spain for several centuries and introduced their advanced culture and architecture. Many surviving buildings from that period have a typical Arab architecture. Also, many buildings constructed later also incorporated Arab features, which had become part of the Andalusian style. The Alhambra palace in Granada and the Mezquita in Córdoba, both highlights of Moorish architecture, are now among the most important tourist sights in Spain.

Cathedral of Seville
Seville also has a number of magnificent buildings. The highlight of Seville’s architecture is La Giralda, the clock tower of the huge cathedral. A visit to this magnificent building is most impressive, regardless of whether or not you’re religious. Not far from the cathedral is the Alcázar, a palace built as a fort by the Moors and later also used by the Spanish royal family. This is now an interesting museum. The Maestranza is the most famous bull-fighting arena in Spain. Although the act of bull fighting itself is loved by many but probably despised by many more, the building is very pretty, nevertheless, and worth a visit.
La Isla Mágica (the magical island) is an island in the Guadalquivir River which was the setting for the 1992 World Expo. This area has now mainly been converted into a business park, but there is also an attractions park here which the kids will love to visit.
Although a visit to Seville could very well be combined with a stay along the Costa del Sol, the southern Mediterranean coastline of Spain, most people who visit the capital of Andalucía do this as a stand-alone city trip or part of a tour through Spain. While it is a large city, the historical centre is quite compact and easy to explore on foot. Most interesting sights are in the triangle formed by the Torre de Oro (golden tower) on one point, the Maestranza on the other and the cathedral on the third extreme. Another way to explore the city is by horse and carriage, or on one of the open-roof tourist buses. These have a number of different routes through and around the city centre, passing along various points of interest. Passengers can hop on and off at the many stops along the route; tickets are valid for 24 hours. With the ticket comes a booklet containing many discount coupons for attractions, restaurants and flamenco shows, to name a few.
Seville is the centre of the Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter. Although this is celebrated throughout the country, Seville is known to have the most impressive processions and celebrations. If you want to visit the city during this period, better make sure to book your accommodation far in advance. Both the Semana Santa and the not less famous Feria de Abril (April fair) are the top attractions every year.
The best period to visit Seville and the rest of Andalucía is in spring and autumn, when the temperatures are very pleasant and rainfall is limited. Winter can be quite wet, while the summer is extremely hot and dry.
Seville is well-linked to the rest of the country and Europe. There are many daily flights from various points in Spain, especially from Madrid and Barcelona, but also direct flights from other European cities. Seville is also linked with Madrid by the high-speed AVE train, a serious contender to domestic flights reaching speeds up to 300 kilometers per hour.
From Bangkok, air fares to Seville are quite high, as the Andalusian capital is not a major destination and fares given are on legacy carriers. A far better option would be flying to Madrid or Barcelona, with ticket prices from 30,000 baht, and booking a connecting flight on one of the many low-cost domestic carriers offering very reasonable fares, such as Vueling Airlines or Air Europa.
 


Suvarnabhumi Airport to open for commercial use by year-end

Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi International Airport will be operable by the end of 2006 though later than originally understood, Airports of Thailand (AOT) Public Co., Ltd. President Chotisak Asapaviriya said.
Construction of the new international airport, earlier assured to officially open for commercial purposes in June, is now 99 percent complete and initial operability is merely a matter of time, according to the AOT president.
The Suvarnabhumi Airport, designed to replace Bangkok’s ageing Don Muang Airport, is estimated to make Bt17 billion in revenue this year.
Part of its revenue came from its transport safety center which was open around the clock for domestic and foreign passengers to call at 02-535-1666 and obtain safety and travel information during the Songkran festival from April 13-17, said the AOT chief. (TNA)
 


Central Thai provinces join forces

Thailand’s four central provinces have launched a joint campaign highlighting 40 attractions in the region.
Under The Blessing Central campaign, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has issued 5,000 tourist passport guides to promote Saraburi, Lopburi, Singburi and Chinart.
Sights in the passport include King Narai Great Shrine and Phra Prang Sam Yot in Lopburi, Wat Phra Phutthabat and Chet Sao Noi waterfalls in Saraburi, Bang Rachan Heroes Monument and Wat Phikun Thong in Singburi, and Chainat Bird Park and Wat Phra Borommathat Worawihan in Chinart.
The campaign runs until June. Visitors can obtain the passport at TAT’s head office or at TAT’s Central Office Region 7. (TTG Asia)


‘Exotic trips are hot’

Specialist agents offering niche products are now on the most-wanted list for Singaporean travelers, a trend observed by the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) at its recent three-day consumer fair.
NATAS’ CEO Robert Khoo said travelers were “looking for something different” and exotic destinations such as Moscow were very popular at the fair.
Approximately 54,000 transactions were recorded at NATAS Travel 2006. However, sellers posted mixed results. “Generalist agents feedback was that response was not as good as expected. But specialist agents reported that they did very well,” Khoo said, adding some specialists registered “record sales.” (TTG Asia)


Don Muang Airport to continue to serve domestic, chartered flights

Caretaker Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal said that the existing facilities at Bangkok’s Don Muang International Airport would continue to cater to domestic and chartered flights after the opening of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport scheduled for later this year.
Turning down a proposal made by the board of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI), which requested that the Don Muang International Airport be closed after the commercial opening of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, Pongsak said it is the government’s policy to continue using both airports as it would create more advantages for the country.
He said that it was up to THAI to determine how to operate its office at Don Muang.
Progress regarding the exact date of the opening of the Suvarnabhumi Airport would be announced to the public later as Airports of Thailand Public Co., Ltd. (AOT) is entirely responsible for the construction, he said, adding that the new airport would be opened for commercial purposes in late July as announced earlier.
So far more than 60 items, including the runways, passenger terminals, luggage scanning equipment and passenger check-in systems, are now complete and ready for operation, he noted. (TNA)


Mae Hong Son chamber worries over delays in infrastructure projects

Infrastructure projects worth several billions of baht, approved by the outgoing government of caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, may now be delayed, said the chief of the Chamber of Commerce of this northern resort province.
Poolsak Sunthornpanichkij said that he was concerned that several projects, especially a plan to construct a tunnel and a road (which would cost about Bt1billion) linking Mae Hong Son with Sa Merng District of nearby Chiang Mai Province, would be delayed now that Thaksin had announced that he would not take up the prime minister post after the April 2 general election.
Poolsak said as a new and capable prime minister has to be appointed, anti-Thaksin groups led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) should now stop rallying activities so that the country’s economy could move forward.
Several government-run projects may have to be stalled for the time being, he said, adding that he was confident that the government would eventually be able to solve the problems, especially on investment and tourism. (TNA)


Cathay boon for Penang

Due to strong demand, Cathay Pacific is reintroducing on April 24 its non-stop flights between Hong Kong and Penang, which were discontinued nine years ago.
Cathay Pacific (Penang) Manager, Mandy Ng, said the decision to restart the service was vital in enhancing tourism arrivals into Penang from its international network, as well as boosting outbound traffic to Hong Kong and other countries in the region.
“We are also working very closely with Tourism Penang, and we trust that with the new service in place, we will be able to bring in more travelers from Japan, Korea, Taiwan and London, as well as cater to the increasing number of leisure traffic from Mainland China into Penang via Hong Kong as the gateway,” Ng said in a statement.
The new service will depart from Hong Kong to Penang on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and fly from Penang to Hong Kong on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Cathay said existing flights between Hong Kong and Penang via Kuala Lumpur would remain unchanged. (TTG Asia)


Air France pioneers mobile phone services

Air France, the first airline to take delivery of a new Airbus 318 equipped with inflight system OnAir, will allow the use of mobile phones by early 2007.
From March to September that year, Air France will carry out messaging and email trials on services to Europe and North Africa, followed by voice calls.
During the trials, passengers will be surveyed and the results will determine if the service will be extended to other aircraft in the fleet. (TTG Asia)


More Thais travel overseas on the Thai New Year ‘Songkran’ holiday

Although most Thais prefer to do their holiday travel at home in Thailand during the annual Thai New Year ‘Songkran’ holiday, the number of people who went abroad during the holiday increased from last year, according to a poll conducted by University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC).
Yachai Choowicha, UTTC survey committee chairman regarding business said that of more than 1,200 respondents to the poll, 32 percent said their activities during the Songkran festival centered on paying respects to the elders in their families by doing the traditional pouring of water over their hands, while 27 percent said they would have special meals at home. 27 percent of those surveyed said they would make merit and only 11 percent said they would travel.
The poll was conducted before caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that he would step down, so two-thirds of the respondents – approximately 67percent - didn’t plan to travel during the long period holiday while only 33 percent did.
The respondents were reported to be inconsistent in their answers: nearly three-fourths - 73 percent - said they planned to tour in Thailand, especially in the eastern region, while almost 33 percent decided to go overseas on holiday at an estimated expense of Bt58,000 (US$ 1450) per head.
Asked about their concerns regarding the Songkran festival, 59 percent worried about their safety during the journey, while 52 percent worried that burglars might break into their homes while they were away. Slightly over 50 percent worried about increased prices of goods, while hot weather was a concern to 36 percent.
Asked about Thailand’s current situation, the high price of oil caused concern amongst two out of three people (67 percent), followed by corruption (64 percent), a sluggish stock market (55 percent), politics (54 percent) and southern violence (41 percent).
Thanawat Polvichai, head of the Economic and Business Forecast Centre at UTCC, said this year, the number of Thais traveling abroad is increasing, with most going to Hong Kong (to visit Disneyland), China and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, he said, Thais who opted to travel at home are expected to spend about Bt90 billion (US$2.25 billion), an increase of Bt10 billion from last year, due to higher prices of goods, services and gasoline.
He predicted that consumers will spend more money on goods and services following the decision of the premier to step down from office.
The poll respondents suggested that they wanted the new government to boost foreign investor confidence, and solve problems caused by pornography, poverty, education, drugs, and high prices of goods. (TNA)


 


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