01 December 2008

* Emirates Airlines, where to?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has just announced that international passenger traffic worldwide declined by 1.3 percent in October, compared to the same month in the previous year. While the Middle Eastern airlines have recorded a 3.5 percent growth, the IATA forecasts that regional carriers can expect a continued slowing of growth.

“We are gathering information, looking at trends around the world of travel and tourism, and having daily meetings,” Khalid Ahmad Bin Sulayem, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing, said last week. Dubai may revise its target of attracting 15 million tourists a year by 2015 “depending on the feedback we get,” Bin Sulayem added.

But Emirates doesn’t seem to be too worried. The carrier’s president Tim Clark told Reuters that it will take delivery of its fourth Airbus A380 by year-end as planned. He also said that Emirates expects to receive its fifth plane before the end of March 2009.

Earlier this month, Emirates Airline reported an 88 percent drop in its net profit for the half year to 30 September. The carrier’s net profit was $77 million, as compared to around $640 million in 2007.

According to an article in The Times, Abu Dhabi is demanding a stake of the airline, as the price of a multi-billion pound cash injection for Dubai. The airline is currently estimated to be worth about $15 billion.

Government sources in Dubai reportedly confirmed last week that talks for funds had begun with Abu Dhabi. (Dubai has been badly affected by the global financial crisis, with several real estate companies stalling projects and laying off staff.)

The report also states that Abu Dhabi may plan to pursue Emirates’ emerging plans to list on the Dubai Stock Exchange.

While the report has not been verified, several rumors have emerged that Dubai is turning to its richer neighbor for help. And if giving up a part of Emirates is part of Abu Dhabi’s bailout plan, will Dubai do it?


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.