Invasive beetle threatens Japan’s famed cherry blossoms

The appearance of cherry blossoms is hotly anticipated each year, with forecasters publishing updated maps weeks in advance. The blooms attract tourists but also locals who organize hanami or viewing parties in cherry-blossom hotspots. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Invasive beetle threatens Japan’s famed cherry blossoms

TOKYO: Across Japan’s capital, delicate pink and white cherry blossoms are emerging, but the famed blooms are facing a potentially mortal enemy, experts say: an invasive foreign beetle.
The alien invader is aromia bungii, otherwise known as the red-necked longhorn beetle, which is native to China, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula and northern Vietnam.
The beetles live inside cherry and plum trees, stripping them of their bark. In serious cases, an infestation can kill a tree, and experts are sounding the alarm.
“If we don’t take countermeasures, cherry trees could be damaged and we won’t be able to enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in a few years times,” Estuko Shoda-Kagaya, a researcher at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, said on Thursday.
The beetle was first spotted in 2012 in central Aichi prefecture but has now spread across the region near Tokyo, according to the environment ministry.
Experts say it may have entered in Japan with imported wood materials.
In January, Japan’s environment ministry officially designated the beetle an invasive alien species, meaning its import and transfer are banned.
“The damage will spread further if we don’t do anything,” said Makoto Miwa at the Center for Environmental Science in Saitama.
He said beetle larva should be killed with pesticide, and trees with serious infestations should be cut down to save others.
The center has issued a guidebook with details on how to identify and kill the beetle, which grows up to three to four centimeters (1.2-1.6 inches).
“It’s important to cooperate with local residents to get rid of the insect. It takes time and we need many people to check each tree,” Kagaya said.
“And I understand people feel it’s a loss to cut down cherry trees, but it’s important to take action before the damage spreads to other trees,” she added.
Tokyo’s cherry blossom season officially started last week as forecasters watching trees at Yasukuni Shrine announced that the city’s first blossoms had appeared.
The meteorological agency said this year’s first blossoms appeared nine days earlier than average due to warm weather.
The appearance of cherry blossoms is hotly anticipated each year, with forecasters publishing updated maps weeks in advance.
The blooms attract tourists but also locals who organize hanami or viewing parties in cherry-blossom hotspots.


Tour operators and hotel groups sign up to Saudi tourism growth project

Saudi Arabia plans to create 1.2 million jobs in the tourism sector by 2030. (AN photo/Mo Gannon)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Tour operators and hotel groups sign up to Saudi tourism growth project

  • Vision 2030 has a goal to create 1.2 million new jobs in the industry
  • We are participating here to show people that Saudi Arabia has really changed: tour operator

DUBAI: From diving in the Red Sea to sand-skating in the desert, from Jazan’s Fifa Mountains to the archaeological wonders of Al-Ula, it has been impossible not to be wowed by all that Saudi Arabia has to offer on the opening day of this year’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. Travel posters of its varied regions blanketed almost every pillar in the concourse, through which thousands of visitors passed on their way into the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, part of a colorful Saudi tourism campaign. 

And if you somehow missed that on your way into the exhibition halls, then you couldn’t have missed the Saudi pavilion, featuring 60 travel-related agencies under the umbrella of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

“We are participating here to show people that Saudi Arabia has really changed,” said Abeer Al-Rashed, project co-ordinator for Al Sarh Travel and Tourism, which organizes tours and helps with visa arrangements. “It’s not just a desert in Saudi Arabia. We have a lot of activities.”

The expanded role of tourism under Vision 2030, which has a goal to create 1.2 million new jobs in the industry, is top of mind for those with a foothold already in the region.

“We are thrilled at this accelerated pace of growth in Saudi Arabia and want to make sure that we’re aligned with that,” said Simon Casson, president of hotel operations for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Its Riyadh hotel, Four Seasons’ first in the Gulf when it opened in 2002, is now offering a tour of the Tuwaiq escarpment, otherwise known as the Edge of the World. 

Four Seasons’ plans for a hotel in Makkah, announced in the fall, are in the design phase, with construction expected to begin next year. “The site of the hotel is really the last remaining piece of land that’s ringside, if you like, and has a direct view facing onto the Kaaba, so that will partner very well with our Riyadh hotel,” Casson said.

As for more hotels? “I would say stay-tuned because we’re actively working on other opportunities within Saudi Arabia — not things we can announce at this time but we see a tremendous amount of opportunity as we look forward.”

Omer Kaddouri, Rotana’s president and CEO, also sees tremendous potential. It’s operating four hotels in the Kingdom right now and will have three more by the end of the year. 

“They’re building more reasons to travel there,” Kaddouri said, speaking of the recent changes. “I’d like to say that by the time they’ve reached their 2030 vision, Rotana will have no less than 20 operating hotels in the Kingdom, with more in the pipeline.”

As for the long-awaited Nobu Hotel in Riyadh, Khaled Al-Ashqar, director of sales and marketing, said it’s “very close” to opening. The boutique hotel, with a restaurant by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, will also have a tea lounge and a live cooking station in the Royal Suite. “I’m 100 percent sure it will be the spot of the city,” Al-Ashqar said.