Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quieter hotel lobbies a worry


Quieter hotel lobbies a worry
Zainuddin Muhammad

KUALA TERENGGANU: All is not well with the hospitality business in the state: most hoteliers and resort operators are scrambling to prop up their sagging occupancy rate.

With this month's average room occupancy dipping to between 20 and 30 per cent, the mood is grim. Some industry players feel that without better support only the fittest will survive the economic slowdown.

Malaysian Association of Hoteliers Terengganu chapter secretary Shahril Naelis Amir said some establishments were on a marketing offensive, trying to out do each other with heavily discounted room rates to make their accommodation packages more attractive.

Shahril, who is also Kuala Terengganu Felda Residence Hotel general manager, said business had fallen after a spike last year from the Visit Terengganu Year 2008 promotion and a boost from the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election last month.

"The association plans to weather this economic storm by shifting our marketing focus to prospective tourists from Australia, the Middle East and Asia, instead of the United States and European countries where the financial crisis has hit hardest."

He said association members could use a helping hand from the government to promote the state to the rest of the world with events to attract domestic and foreign tourists.

"We are disappointed that the state government's calendar of events has yet to be finalised although it is almost two months into the new year .

"Most of us hoteliers and resort operators have had to revise our marketing plans a few times trying to anticipate coming events.

"After a splendid Visit Terengganu Year 2008, some of our members have expressed concern that some major international events, such as the Monsoon Cup, may not be held this year and this may lead to an even lower than expected number of visitors to the state."

Kuala Terengganu Seri Malaysia Hotel general manager Ab Jalil Zainal Abidin wished he could share the optimistic view of Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said, who recently indicated that the number of visitors to the state this year could reach four million, about 500,000 more than the 3.5 million tourists who visited Terengganu last year.

"We would be delighted if that were to be true but judging by the limited number of occupied rooms this month, we have a valid reason to be sceptical, although I am willing to reserve my judgment until the end of the school holiday season next month.

"Should our occupancy rate during the coming school holiday week be lower than 70 per cent, in contrast to the usual 100 per cent, then we will know for sure that we are in for some lean and testing times for the rest of the year and necessary cost-cutting measures will be taken."

Ri-Yaz Heritage Resort and Spa general manager Malizan Zakaria said his five-star boutique resort had started offering special packages to lure domestic travellers as well as local residents.

"We are fairly new here and need people to get to know us better. As far as our low occupancy rate is concerned, we believe it is not really because of the global economic crisis. Come March, we will surely see some improvement."

- NST -

ECER infrastructure projects on track


ECER infrastructure projects on track

KUANTAN: The economic slowdown is not expected to derail the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) initiative in Pahang as the government has allocated more than RM1 billion to implement infrastructure projects to support the more than RM5.3 billion worth of investments secured.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said this yesterday after the inaugural meeting of the state ECER Implementation and Coordination Committee (ICC).

He said 24 of the 45 ECER projects for Pahang got under way last year. Eighteen more will start this year and three will start next year.

The ICC has agreed on a trust fund of RM200 million to help develop Malay reserve land.

- NST -

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gold Dinar Can Improve Value Of National Reserves

Gold Dinar Can Improve Value Of National Reserves

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 (Bernama) -- Malaysia has the means to increase the value of national reserves if Bank Negara Malaysia converted its international reserves to the gold dinar instead of foreign currency.

"Malaysia can obtain as much as RM162.6 billion for this year if the reserves were in the form of gold dinars following the rise in the price of gold globally.

"If we follow the current value, one gold dinar is worth RM518 with the lowest value being one Dirham (RM5)," said the Kelantan State Exco, Datuk Husam Musa in tabling a working paper at the Gold Dinar Seminar 2009 at University Malaysia (UM) here today.

"The price of one gold dinar this year increased 11.07 percent to RM512.20 compared to RM461.15 last year," he said.

Husam said the global economy at present was too dependent on the current currency system and reports show Bank Negara's international reserves kept in the form of gold, constituted only 0.4 percent compared to foreign currency in US dollars last year.

"As such, the use of the gold dinar can be an alternative means of settling the economic crisis due to its stable nature, compared to the use of currency in international trade," he said.

Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor of UM, Prof Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon while officiating the seminar, also said that the use of the gold dinar needs to be exposed at the early stage of university, so that the community will become aware of its alternative to the use of currency in economic activities.

"However, many things need to be done so that the global community understood its use whch can become an alternative means towards restoring economic stability arising from the global economic crisis," he said.

The Kelantan state government had introduced in 2006 the Emas Dinar Kelantan in various denominations.


PDRM Spend RM15 Million For Kuala Terengganu By-Election

February 18, 2009 14:42 PM

PDRM Spend RM15 Million For Kuala Terengganu By-Election

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 (Bernama) -- The Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) spent RM15.153 million for deployment of personnel for the recent Kuala Terengganu by-election, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung said the cost incurred was higher compared with that spent for the by-election in Permatang Pauh.

He said the expenses incurred for the Kuala Terengganu by-election were for travelling and living allowance (RM2.7 million), communication and utilities (RM50,000), canopy rentals (RM6 million), dried food and beverages (RM65,000), fuel and spare-parts (RM698,000), raw materials and others (RM310,000), maintenance and minor repairs (RM830,000) and food stuff and accommodation (RM4.5 million).

He said a total of 3,376 police personnel from various branches in the PDRM were deployed to maintain order and ensure smooth election of the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

No incident of rioting or other untoward incidents occurred during the by-election, he said in response to a question by Amran Ab.Ghani (PKR-Tanah Merah) who wanted to know the cost incurred by the police for the by-election and on riots that happened during the period.

To a supplementary question from Amran on whether there would be a similar strength of police deployment for the by-elections in Bukit Selambau, Kedah and Bukit Gantang in Perak, Chor said it would depend on the Election Commission (EC).

If there was instruction from the EC that the situation in areas where the by-elections would be held required tighter control so that voters could go out to exercise their rights without fear, then the police would act, he added.

However, he said, the police would analyse the situation in the affected areas first to determine the number of personnel to be deployed for the task.

In response to a supplementary question by Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi (BN-Batu Pahat), Chor agreed that the presence of many police personnel had resulted in a smooth election for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election.


UMK Holds Entrepreneurship Lectures

February 13, 2009 13:02 PM

UMK Holds Entrepreneurship Lectures

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 (Bernama) -- University Malaysia Kelantan (UMK), a centre of excellence under the East Coast Economic Region (ECER), will be holding a lecture on entrepreneurship on Feb 14.

Titled, Entrepreneurship: From Dreams to Reality, the lecture is part of the university's Chairman Lecture Series (CLS) programme, aimed at boosting entrepreneurship and developing first-tier human capital, ECER said in a statement today.

Among the featured speakers are Tengku Rozidar Tengku Zainal Abidin, chief executive officer of Nineteen O One Sdn Bhd of 1901 hotdogs and Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Nawi Ab. Rahman, UMK's professor of statistics in the entrepreneurship and business faculty.

ECER said the lecture series is the brainchild of the chairman of UMK's board of directors, Tan Sri Datuk Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman.

In the line-up for the lecture series in March are AirAsia Bhd's chief executive officer, Datuk Anthony Francis Fernandes and Professor Abdul Hamid Mohamed, the senior fellow of UMK's institute of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Both will be speaking about branding and creative entrepreneurship, ECER said.

Meanwhile, Asian Finance Bank Bhd's chief executive officer Datuk Mohamed Azahari Kamil, will speak about asset management and corporate entrepreneurship in a subsequent lecture.


BIOTECHNOLOGY is now actively pursued as a new growth sector for Malaysia.


Biotechnology: The advent of molecular pharming
Dr Ahmad Ibrahim

BIOTECHNOLOGY is now actively pursued as a new growth sector for Malaysia.

Under the Asean Free Trade Agreement Malaysia has to reduce duties on tobacco imports by 2010. This will negatively impact on the competitiveness of Malaysian tobacco since the cost of production is almost two times higher than Thailand and Indonesia.

The National Biotechnology Policy unveiled in 2005 is already in place. The implementation of the policy is anchored by the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (MBC). Based on their latest information, many companies have now been accorded the Bionexus Status.

Bionexus companies have to fulfil MBC's many technical and commercial criteria. With the Bionexus status, the companies are eligible for the many incentives offered under the policy, including tax breaks and some attractive research and development grants.

The focus now is on three sectors, agricultural, pharmaceutical and industrial.

In the pharmaceutical sector, there has been a growing interest in producing vaccines from plants. This is what is termed as molecular farming. Essentially it involves producing new compounds from plants through genetic engineering. The new compounds can include pharmaceutical products such as medical drugs, vaccines or antibodies.

In the European Union, genetically engineering the tobacco plant to produce vaccines has already advanced to the commercial phase. Tobacco is among the easiest plant to genetically transform.

What is needed is only to do some research to develop an economically high-yielding transformed tobacco plant designed to produce vaccines for the regional market. And this is not difficult.

In the EU, molecular pharming through tobacco is already on the verge of commercial reality. The target vaccine, of course, differs.

But why the sudden interest in plant-made pharmaceuticals? There are many reasons.

So far the commercial production of clinical-grade pharmaceuticals has relied on two major production routes; using microbial cells or animal cells.

Both use fermentation and are, therefore, very expensive to build and operate. There is also concern that animal cells can harbour human disease carrying microbes. Add that to the growing demand for halal vaccines, a plant based production system immediately becomes attractive.

This is also the reason why the plant-based production platform has attracted strong corporate interest from companies involved in pharmaceuticals as well as agrotechnology.

And among the plants, tobacco offers many technical advantages. These include the fact that tobacco already has a well-established technology for gene transfer and expression, and has potentially high biomass yield per hectare. Not to mention the existence of already available large-scale infrastructure for processing that does not come into contact with the human and animal food chains.

Most important of all, tobacco farmers can continue to grow the crop which they have amassed many years of experience and expertise. Therefore, it is time that Malaysia seriously considered investing in molecular pharming using tobacco. This also jives in well with Malaysia's call to venture aggressively into the innovation and knowledge economy. TheEast Coast Economic Region (ECER) should include this as one of their high impact projects.

Over the years, the world tobacco industry has had its fair share of controversies. In the United States, for example, many tobacco companies have lost millions in major legal settlements. But this has not stopped them from investing more.

This happens despite the advertising ban on cigarettes as well as the never ending anti-smoking campaigns launched by lobby groups everywhere. Not to mention the mandatory warning label they have to print on their packaging.

All such constraints have not deterred the industry from expanding. If at all, the tobacco industry worldwide has yet to show any sign of decline.

Can this be due to the fact that in spite of all the scientific evidences on tobacco's negative health record, the population of smokers worldwide continues to rise? Somehow, the kick that one gets from smoking appears to be worth all the risks associated with it.

In Malaysia, for many years now, tobacco farming has been the bread and butter of many rural households, especially in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

Tobacco farmers in the two east coast states have over the years emerged as a political force to be reckoned with.

In 2004, Malaysia recorded its highest ever tobacco production at 13 million kilogrammes dry. However, in 2006, this had declined to only six million kilogrammes dry. Most are flue-cured tobacco where China is the largest producer in the world.

The other major producers include Brazil at a distant second place with about a quarter of China's production. India, the US and Greece each produces about 12 per cent of China's production.

In Malaysia, with the advent of the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), tobacco farming is expected to see a decline.

Under AFTA, Malaysia has to reduce duties on tobacco imports by 2010. This will negatively impact on the competitiveness of Malaysian tobacco since the cost of production is almost two times higher than Thailand while in Indonesia the cost is even lower. The cost in Malaysia is about RM10 per kg while in Thailand it can be as low as RM5 per kg.

Prior to AFTA, the average price of cured tobacco is between RM13-14 per kilogramme. This is considered still profitable. But with AFTA, there is talk about price declining to possibly RM7-8 per kilogramme. A recent announcement by the government to maintain price at RM14 per kilogramme until 2010 is definitely welcome news.

What happens after 2010 concern not only the farmers but also the government as well because the full effects of AFTA will be felt then. It is for this reason that the government has in recent years put into place strategic programmes to wean away farmers from tobacco and move into other alternative economic crops.

Kenaf has been promoted as one crop option. Under the recently launched ECER, the target area for kenaf growing is about 10,000 hectares. This is expected to increase the income of 10,000 marginal tobacco farmers as well as create more jobs. The only worry is that the market for kenaf is still uncertain.

One potential product outlet is natural fiber for the insulation market. The other potential area of application is as composite material for the automotive industry. The question is, will farmers enjoy the same, if not a better, income level than what they have been used to growing tobacco?

Unlike kenaf, vaccine is a high value product. And through molecular farming, where tobacco is genetically engineered to produce vaccines, there is a good chance that tobacco farmers will enjoy even better income than what they have been used to.

This article is brought to you by Technology Park Malaysia

- NST -

ECER, UDM Ink MoU To Develop Halal Products

February 16, 2009 19:12 PM

ECER, UDM Ink MoU To Develop Halal Products

KUALA TERENGGANU, Feb 16 (Bernama) -- The East Coast Economic Region (ECER) Development Council Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia (UDM) to develop halal products in the region.

ECER chief executive officer Datuk Jebasingam Issace John said the MoU would strengthen ECER's commitment to implement all the projects identified under UDM's three centres of excellence -- Regional Centre for Halal Products, Bio-Technology and Herbal Products Centre and Centre for Industrial Academic Cooperation (CIAC).

"The MoU will help ECER identify competitive advantage in the halal food industry through regional development centres for halal products and centres for biotechnology products and herbs," he said at the signing ceremony.

Jebasingam signed for ECER while UDM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Alias Daud inked for the university. Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said witnessed the signing.

Under the ECER master plan, the UDM would be turned into a centre of excellence for halal product development in the region, Jebasingam said.

"The first initiative is to introduce the services provided by UDM as a regional centre for halal products and a centre for biotechnology and herbs for small-and medium-scale companies, he said.

Dr Alias said through the Agriculture and Biotechnology Faculty, the UDM received recognition from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to set up the biotechnology and herbal research centre and ECER regional halal products centre.

"UDM adopts the principle of university expansion. This policy enables the people to have access to the university to solve their problems, especially with regard to crops, livestock, household economy and youths," he added.


State Office Boost For Pahang ECER Projects

February 19, 2009 15:38 PM

State Office Boost For Pahang ECER Projects

KUANTAN, Feb 19 (Bernama) -- Projects of the East Coast Economic Region ECER) will be boosted by the presence of its new state office in Kuantan.

ECER Development Council Chief Executive Officer Datuk Jebasingam Issace John said the state office will coordinate and facilitate processes for potential investors and current establishments as well as provide information on ECER projects.

" Opening of the Pahang state office signifies the council's commitment in facilitating and ensuring smooth implementation of projects in the state. It will also strengthen the council's presence," he said in a statement.

The state office located at Sri Kuantan Square at Jalan Teluk Sisek here will be opened by Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob on Saturday.

Jebasingam said the state office will also process applications for incentives and customised incentives before approval by the Finance Ministry, investments for high-impact projects for consideration by the Cabinet Committee for Investment while manufacturing licences and expatriate posts for projects will be approved within the ECER. Under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, 45 projects have been identified under the ECER for implementation in Pahang, 32 of it are exclusive to the state, while the remaining 13 are cross-border projects involving neighbouring states.

Twenty-four projects commenced last year while 11 will begin by June, with seven projects to start before year-end.