PATA Annual Summit ’17 – Negombo

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This year’s PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Annual Summit 2017 was held in Negombo, a laid back city along the west cost of Sri Lanka, lined with golden sandy beaches and friendly, welcoming locals all around.
Negombo is approximately 10 km from the Bandaranaike International Airport, our point of arrival. We flew with SriLankan Airlines; the PAS 2017 Official airline. The friendly staff, delicious menu and comfortable interior made my first experience flying with this airline a delightful one.

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We arrived in Sri Lanka before dawn and the beachfront hotel, Beacon Beach, became our temporary home in Negombo. The welcoming staff raised our spirits and made our first day in this island nation a happy memory to look back upon.
After a good night’s rest it was time to attend the anticipated PATA Conference held at Jetwing Blue hotel, close to where we were staying.

The theme for this year’s PATA Annual Summit (PAS 2017) was “Disruption. Innovation. Transformation: The Future of Tourism”. The four-day event began on May 18th with 406 delegates from 39 countries, a true melting pot of cultures.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau hosted the event along with the Ministry of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs of the government of Sri Lanka.
Various dynamic, innovative and knowledgeable individuals spoke at the event and gave valuable insights with respect to the theme.

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PATA CEO, Dr. Mario Hardy perfectly summed up the objective of the Summit, he said “The PATA Annual Summit brings together international thought leaders, industry shapers and senior decision-makers who are professionally engaged with the Asia Pacific region. At PATA we understand that to overcome the challenges and issues facing our industry, the public and private sectors must work together

On the conference held on Friday, May 19th, opening statements were given by the Hon. John Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka, and by UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai.

5 Rafat Ali

Mr. Rafat Ali, CEO & founder of Skift presented his keynote address; “Managing disruption through innovation”

He talked about “Mega Travel Trends” such as the consumer behavior of wanting to book tours and activities last minute, aversion from packaged tours, over-tourism, low cost long haul airlines, “festivalization” of meetings and events; for example innovative conferences such as SXSW and TED.
He gave his insight on how the idea of luxury has changed over the years, new luxury is small brands with larger than life stories and how dining out has itself become a huge event which has resulted in restaurants becoming destinations themselves while pushing airlines to noticeably improve the quality of food the serve.

Summit attendees listened to numerous international industry leaders and innovators including Aleandre Kwan, Philanthropies Asia Programme Manager – Microsoft; Andrew Chan, founder and CEO of ACI HR Solutions; Andrew Craig, Head of Corporate Communication India, South Asia and Southeast Asia – Visa Worldwide; Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO and Co-founder – Tripfez; Greg Klassen, Partner at Twenty31 Consulting Inc.; Ha Lam, Co-founder and COO – Triip.me; Jesse Desjardins, Global Manager, Social & Content – Tourism Australia; Joe M. Naaman, Senior Executive Advisor – Global Advisory Council, Skylight Intelligence; Joe Nguyen, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific – comScore; Jeremy Jauncey, founder & CEO – Beautiful Destinations; Muna Haddad, Managing Director – Baraka; Oliver Martin, Partner at Twenty31 Consulting Inc.; Sarah Mathews, Head of Destination Marketing APAC – TripAdvisor; Thao Nguyen, Head of Strategic Partnerships, APAC – Airbnb; Vijay Poonoosamy, Vice President, International Affairs, Office of the President & CEO, Etihad Airways, and Wong Soon-Hwa, Regional Director APAC – Blacklane.

The conference focused on the idea of embracing the disruption and using it as an advantage to triumphantly stride forward into this rapidly evolving digital age. Other topics discussed were: ‘‘The Transformation of Marketing”, “Research Innovation”, “Disrupting the Travel Industry”, “The Real Future of Tourism: Young Tourism Professionals”, and “Embracing Disruption: A Blueprint for the Future of Tourism”.

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For the remainder of the ongoing summit,  we stayed at the Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions, Negombo. The tranquil atmosphere of the hotel can soothe the anxious and instill an aura of peacefulness. Staying here made it clear why this hotel is known as the best Ayurvedic resort in the country. Ayurveda is an ancient traditional system of healing with its roots in the Indian subcontinent. The resort offers its guests treatments customized to each individual’s body, mind and soul.  

On May 20th, in partnership with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), PATA held a Ministerial Debate. The panelists for the debate included Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General – Tourism Malaysia; Mr. Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO – Nepal Tourism Board; Mr. Wander Meijer, Director Asia Pacific – GlobeScan; Mr. Hiran Cooray, Chairman – Jetwing Hotels; Mr Jon Nathan Pangilinan Denight, President and CEO – Guam Visitors Bureau; Mr. Lawrence Leong, Former Assistant Chief Executive (International Group) – Singapore Tourism Board; Ms. Thao Nguyen, Head of Strategic Partnerships, APAC – Airbnb, and Mr. Erick Stephens, Chief Technology Officer-APAC, Microsoft. Concepts such as Sustainability Leadership and the Sharing Economy, or as emphasized by Mr. Eric Stephens; Access Economy were discussed and how they affect the travel and tourism industry. BBC Correspondent & Presenter Yogita Limaye moderated the debate.

7 Dr. Taleb RifaiDr. Taleb Rifai inspired the audience with his heartfelt speech regarding the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

In his speech, Dr. Rifai expressed, “Asia and the Pacific, which leads the world in international tourism growth, can and should, be a leader in sustainability and innovation; a leader in utilizing the transformative power of travel and tourism in building a new and better world, the world which is today without any doubt, steered by the Pacific. That is why PATA, bringing together the two margins of the Pacific is today a truly global and not only a regional organization.”  

He also highlighted the importance of travel and the tourism industry.
“Our Industry is one of optimism and hope…
The more we travel the better we become, the more our eyes open…”

8There were performances by extremely talented groups at the event. My favorite was the cultural dance.

2018

The PATA Annual Summit 2018 will take place in Gangneung, the Republic of Korea.
To learn more about PATA, visit their website: PATA.org 

Photos courtesy of e-Travelers Club
*Facts for this post partly obtained from PATA’s press release

Thank you for reading.
Connect with me on Instagram: @maria9saif

Walk With Me – Sri Lanka

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May 2017 has been an especially exciting time for me. I traveled to Sri Lanka, “The Wonder of Asia”. This island nation of incredible beauty, fascinating culture, renowned tea and delicious food has left me inspired. The friendly and welcoming locals made this a trip I will cherish forever.

In response to the weekly prompt, I’d like to share a photo of spirited young Sri Lankan school kids.
Friendships forged around this time of our lives and the memories made as a result are indeed a blessing.
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Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂
Weekly Prompt Friend

Interested in planning your own trip to Sri Lanka?
Click here to go to Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau’s official website and get started!

Connect with me on Instagram: maria9saif

Traversing Terror

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The media increasingly uses the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” in association to an attack or crime that has been carried out by a person or group that claims to be Muslim.

This constant attitude portrayed by the media has brainwashed many people into thinking that Muslims and Islam are synonymous with causing terror. The truth however, something which mainstream television and news strive ever so rigorously to obscure, paints a different picture.

Over the past month, many Muslims have become the victim of vicious attacks by terrorists. Infact, let me just take a moment to state that it is Muslims that are the most adversely affected by such violence and hate committed in the name of Islam.You can google and check the statistics for yourself.

My own country, Pakistan, has been ravaged by horrific attacks. We watch the news and it rips our soul apart continuously. I can see the vacant expression on the faces of the people of my country and all the people on the news that have been victims of the madness,insanity and inhumanity. The smiles have faded and in the world as it is, it appears that being a realist translates itself directly into philosophical terms as being a pessimist.

turkey attack28th June, 2016 – Istanbul Atatürk Airport Attack

45 dead. “On Tuesday night, three suspected Isis militants launched a brazen assault on Turkey’s main airport, exploding their suicide vests after gunning down numerous passengers and airport staff.”~ via The Independent

2nd July, 2016 – Dhaka Cafe Flag-map_of_Bangladesh.svgAttack

20 killed. “Gunmen whom many have linked to Isis raided a popular cafe in an upscale neighborhood in Bangladesh’s teeming capital.” ~ via The Independent

iraq-3rd July, 2016 – Baghdad Bombings

160 dead.”The bombings came near the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the streets are filled with young people and families after dusk”
“they attacked Baghdad. In the early hours of Sunday morning, a car bomb exploded in the crowded Karrada shopping district.” ~ via The Independent

July 4th, 2016 – Triple Bombings in Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah: Around 2am, attacker detonates near US consulate. Bomber dies
  • Qatif: Around 7pm, Shia mosque in eastern city struck. Bomber dies
  • Medina: Also at 7pm, Prophet’s mosque attacked. Four guards killed, bomber dies

“Four security officers have been killed and five others wounded in a suicide attack outside one of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said.
The bombing at the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina was the third attack to hit the kingdom on Monday, following blasts in the cities of Jeddah and Qatif.”

“The blast struck moments before sunset prayers when people were breaking their fast inside the mosque.
The masjid, which is also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, is visited by pilgrims from around the world during the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan.”~ via Al Jazeera

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A serene image of Masjid-an-Nabawi

Al-Masjid an-Nabawī was established and originally built by the prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him), situated in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is the second-holiest site in Islam, after al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.

These events are tragic and all other such atrocities are equally disturbing. What is more disturbing for us as Muslims is that whenever such an incident occurs our religion and people as a whole face a backlash. Before propagating such hate please understand where we; the wrongfully accused and often times ignored, stand.

(All Images in this post are from the internet)

The Matterhorn

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A major throwback to an unforgettable trip to Switzerland in 2013.

I stood at the edge of the pristine Riffelsee lake, awe struck with the stunning view of the Matterhorn in the background. The clouds made it look as though the mountain was calmly floating in the air without being bound to the ground.

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The Riffelsee lake lies above the picturesque town; Zermatt. The alpine lake can be reached via the Gornergratbahn mountain Railway.

For a more detailed account on my journey please have a look at the following post:

Valais – Summer Bliss

In response to The Prompt: I Was Here

Thank you for visiting my blog 🙂

Celebrate Spring

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Hey everyone 🙂

I wrote this article for a magazine. I have mentioned some energetic and vibrant Spring festivals that take place around the world. If you know of anymore please comment and let me know.

(Photographs are not mine)

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Thanks for reading 🙂

A week of Bliss

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Skardu, Pakistan.

I pack my bags in anticipation of the trip that lies ahead. A much awaited journey to Skardu, located in the central valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The town is the capital of Skardu District. It is nestled between grayish brown mountains, which curtain some of the spectacular Eight-thousanders of the Karakorm range. Skardu sits at the convergence of Indus and Shigar river.

The name of this placid town itself is enveloped in an air of mystery and wonder, “Skardu” is derived from a Balti word which translates to “star stone/ meteorite”.

I depart from Islamabad for the flight to Skardu. The inspiring views of valleys and magnificent mountains such as the monstrous Nanga Parbat (8,126m) are an unforgettable sight. After a brief 40 minutes of blissful soaring, the plane touches down at Skardu Airport and I lay eyes on the quaint town that has been unanimously declared as one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

I am staying at the Shangrila resort, rightly named, as it does appear to be a piece of heaven on earth. It is located on the brim of the picturesque Lower Kachura Lake or Shangrila Lake as it is more popularly known. The lush grounds of the resort are laden with scrumptious apples and an array of brightly colored flowers and fragrant roses.
Each angle offers a picture perfect moment. The hospitable staff and delicious food has made my stay all the more enjoyable. I would highly recommend the trout from the menu, which is from the resort’s own trout farm, prepared perfectly by the chef.

Shangrila offers an immersive experience with nature, disconnected from technology and the regular humdrum of daily life, allowing you to submerge in what appears to be a fairy-tale getaway. The cottage style accommodations bode well with the surroundings and have become quite iconic themselves.

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The aircraft café at the resort is one of the unique features. In 1950, Orient Airlines’ DC-3 plane crashed minutes after takeoff, the incident, thankfully did not result in any casualties. The plane was bought for 150 Rupees and arduously hauled to the present site where it offers a cozy setting where you can have cup of tea or coffee.

I spend hours strolling along the paths that wind through the rock gardens towards the Shangrila zoo, here you will see pheasants, pigeons and glamorous peafowl.

Skardu is the staging post for mountain expeditions and trekking to K2, Gasherbrum, Trango Towers, Broad Peak and some of the worlds longest glaciers like Siachin, Biafo and Baltoro, to name a few. This town not only attracts leisure tourist but also a large flow of adventure tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from the world over.

The climate conditions in winter are quite extreme, with temperatures dropping to -10°C during December to January. Summertime is pleasant with slightly chilly evenings and therefore the peak tourist season is from April to October. Because of conditions in winter, the town resorts close down, their seasonal nature has resulted in high prices during peak holiday period.

Tourist staying in Skardu have the opportunity to visit some popular excursion sights:

  • Upper Kachura Lake is located a short distance away from Shangrila resort. A four wheel drive can escort you to the sight of the clear vast lake with depths of up to 230ft. A rest-house by the name “Upper Kachura Lake Hotel” will take you on a boat ride across the lake for a reasonable price.
  •  Satpara Lake is located approximately 9km from Skardu and provides water for drinking and agricultural purposes. It is the town’s main lake.
  •  Skardu Fort lies on the eastern side of Mindoq Khar hill 40 feet above Skardu town. It dates back to the 8th century CE. Local legend has it that it was built by a ghost servant of the Rmakpon dynasty ruler.
  •  Shigar Fort, also known as Fong-Khar is a 400 year old palace complex and is located on the route to K2.
  • The beautiful Deosai Plains, one of the highest plateaus in the world are accessible via Skardu, located at a distance of 30 km from the city and takes approximately an hour to reach. It is the shortest route.

On my last night in Skardu at Shangrila Resort, I am somewhat saddened to be leaving such a heavenly abode. It was an enriching experience and thanks to the welcoming town’s people I have priceless memories to bring back home with me.

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-Words and photographs by Maria Saif

The Time of My Life – Interlaken

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I trot off the picture post card Swiss train and arrive in Interlaken, it’s the middle of August and the weather is so pleasant, the sun is shining and a cool breeze blows throughout the day. Interlaken is located in the Swiss canton of Bern and as the name of the charming town suggests, it lies between two emerald and turquoise hued lakes, Thun and Brienz, these lakes are a sight to see, they gleam like brilliant gems encrusted in a royal crown. River Aar flows through the town connecting both of the lakes and river Lütschine flows from the mountains to the South. Towering Mountains, Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger staunchly stand in the South and Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s home mountain with a height of 1322 meters lies in the North. The town has a population of just over 5500, but because of tourists, the quaint town looks so much livelier.

For those who need a break from the eye soring concrete jungle, this is the place to be. The residences and buildings are low level  so they do not obstruct the spectacular view..although there is one concrete monstrosity, it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb, I’m not quite sure how that must have happened but I pretend it isn’t there.

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In Interlaken you get to witness nature at its best. The once quaint town cut off from the rest of the world previously known as Aarmuhle has now become a blooming tourist destination, offering visitors an array of activities. It’s a haven for the adventurous, the laid back and the luxurious.  In compared to most of Switzerland, it’s not that expensive and great for budget travelers. Hostel style accommodations are available and it’s a unique experience.

I check in to the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof.  It’s a lovely concept of hostel accommodation with select service hospitality; here you can get double rooms or bunkers. There is a common area where breakfast is served and a coffee machine is present for you to enjoy. You can do your laundry in the laundry area and even prepare meals in the common kitchen facility.  When you check in, you receive a number of silver tokens with respect to the nights you plan to stay. You can use these tokens for various facilities the hostel has to offer. It’s a pretty neat concept, you also get to meet a lot of other travelers during your stay.

When I arrived in Interlaken, I couldn’t help but notice the colorful paragliders up in the sky. Just like every good munchkin, I too always dreamt of soaring like a majestic bird, so I decided I wanted to be up there too. I sign up for a paragliding trip with Paragliding Interlaken. This is going to be my first time. The next day, I wake up excited as ever and a little nervous at the same time. The Paragliding Interlaken van picks me up at my hostel and the friendly team greets us and assures us that everything will go smoothly. After a 20 minute ride we get off and walk for 5 minutes until we reach the drop off point. Here I get strapped with all the gear and then my pilot Miki and I take a running start. My heart beat sounds like drums playing at a rock concert. Butterflies went awry in my stomach as my pilot and I jump off the hill, I felt the parachute lift us up with a jerk. The view is absolutely awe inspiring. It is a clear beautiful day and I can see both the lakes, the entire town and the mountains in the background, it was magnificent, not scary at all. We stayed up in the air for about 15 minutes and it was a smooth glide. I would strongly recommend everyone to do this.I actually met some Interlaken residents who said they had never gone paragliding because they were afraid.I hope they change their minds eventually because they are missing out.

 

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The next day I go to a popular excursion point. I take the funicular to Harder kulm.The ascend to the peak is incredibly steep. The funicular stops at the top and everyone steps off board, a short walk to the mountain restaurant we see a spectacular view; the protruding terrace offers a breathtaking panoramic sight of the entire town, the lakes and the  majestic mountains.

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Upon returning, I check out of the hostel, bid goodbye to the lovely hosts and head on over to Bönigen, my last stay point in Interlaken at the Seiler Au Lac hotel, it lies on the shore of lake Brienze. The view from my room is one I wish I could to wake up to every single morning for the rest of my life. I sit out in the balcony and just take it all in, the sheer beauty of it all. As I look out to the lake I see a raft float towards the shore and all the people in it joyously shout “wohoo” as they jump off the raft and into the lake. I get the strongest urge to want to do that myself.

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Lake Brienz

I sign up for white water rafting with Outdoor Interlaken. The next day I start to have second thoughts, I am thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but it’s too late to chicken out now.The next morning I have a hearty breakfast and before I know it, The Outdoor Interlaken’s van arrives at the hotel to pick me up, we are briefed about the basic rules and the river guides assure us that we are not going to die. we will be rafting in river Lütschine.

We put on our wet suites, boots, helmets, life jackets and drive up to the spot where the adventure would begin. I look out the window of the van and I see the river we are supposed to be rafting in. We reach the drop off point and are divided into groups of 6 in each raft, the seventh is our river guide. I am put on board with five Arab men who are confused as to which direction is left and which is right .Our guide is Santiago. All the river guides show us how to paddle, steer and maneuver in different situations they also guide us as to what we should do if something goes wrong. After prep, we carry our rafts into river. The weather is chilly, its drizzling and foggy. We hop aboard the raft and the ride begins. Cold water splashes from all sides, our guide navigates us away from rocks and when its time, he yells “EVERYBODY GET DOWN!”, which requires everyone to secure themselves into the raft making sure the paddles don’t hit anyone.

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After a while as we drift into calmer waters, Santiago shows us how to rescue someone if they fall into the river. “Use your knees”, he says “push them down and then pull em up”. Half the guys on the raft jump off, the other guys and I try to help them back up again. We head onwards and stop at one point. Our guide tells us that the river ahead is very difficult to navigate through and it would be dangerous for beginners, so we skip that bit and go back into the river after heading further down. By now we are all getting a little tired and then finally! lake Brienz appears, we swiftly flow from the freezing  river into the warmer waters of the lake, when we almost reach the shore, our guide tells us that we can dive into the lake if we want, we all jump out . We are all wet and cold but that was an adventure none of us will ever forget. We drive back with our guides to change into our clothes; they offer us drinks of our choice. Judging by what I had just been through I asked for hot coco.

This is my last day in Interlaken, I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to meet so many amazing people and spend time in such a gorgeous town, it truly was the time of my life.

One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure” ~ Willliam Feather

Happy Holidays everyone and I wish you all the best for 2014  🙂