TOKYO: Japan on Saturday launched a new Shinkansen bullet train service linking Tokyo with the ancient city of Kanazawa, which is famed for its huge castle and traditional food and crafts. Operating at speeds of to 260 kilometers (160 miles) per hour, it cuts travel time to Kanazawa, in the central region facing the Sea of Japan (East Sea), by more than an hour to just two hours and 28 minutes. Japan already operates bullet train lines from northern Aomori through to southwestern Kyushu. But the coastal Hokuriku region was not connected with the network, and travelers had to switch trains or fly between both sides of the main island of Honshu. With the final section to Kanazawa now completed more than 40 years after it was planned, the coastal region hopes to attract more tourists and businesses. Japan launched its first Shinkansen service between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics.
Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks
Countries are demanding travelers have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies
A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage
Updated 23 June 2021
RASHID HASAN Hebshi Al-Shammari
RIYADH: With summer vacations underway and more countries easing restrictions on international travelers, health risks from COVID-19 remain a source of concern.
Citizens are being encouraged to follow health precautions before departure to ensure a safe trip, while health insurance is also an entry requirement for some countries.
Pre-flight tests are required and more countries are demanding travelers to their countries have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies. Others require visitors to buy healthcare policies from their destination’s government.
For travelers under 18, health insurance that covers COVID-19 infection is mandatory. The 12 accredited health insurance service providers are following the guidelines.
In a joint press conference with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation last month, Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) spokesman Othman Al-Qasabi said that a new insurance policy in conjunction with the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) will include benefits that cover the risks of COVID-19 infection.
The policy is mandatory for those under 18 planning to travel.
Talal Albotty, regional director of the Central Region at Salama Insurance Co, told Arab News that the central bank initiative in collaboration with the CCHI aims to distribute risks and losses if these occur.
Comprehensive coverage is included for travelers on international flights against all risks related to travel outside Saudi Arabia, he said.
“A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage. The policy includes coverage of emergency medical expenses, personal accidents, or transportation of a deceased from or to Saudi Arabia and liability toward others as per the conditions and exceptions delineated in the unified insurance policy,” he said.
Albotty said the cost of an insurance policy does not exceed SR375 ($100) a month. However, if more services are added, these will be calculated proportionately as per the duration of the policy.
The policy is for people vaccinated against COVID-19 and is required for anyone under 18 traveling outside Saudi Arabia since they are not required to take a vaccine under global protocols, he said.
Husain Quhal, a senior executive with a leading insurance company, told Arab News: “The Saudi Central Bank has launched a campaign to educate people on the importance of travel insurance covering COVID-19 risks as well as reducing costs of traveling abroad.”
Feroz Khan, vice president of sales in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for Webbeds, a leading accommodation supplier to the travel industry, told Arab News: “Resumption of flights in May, opening of borders, and relaxation in travel and quarantine protocols have all resulted in positive travel sentiments.”
Webbeds is in touch with its partner company in the Kingdom and will make this travel insurance available for travel agents to book online shortly, he said.
Saudis travelers will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna.
Travelers who have received two vaccine doses, those who have completed two weeks since receiving the first jab, those who are immune by recovery no more than six months since infection and children under the age of 18 who have travel insurance obtained in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank will be the only groups allowed to cross international borders.
624 new sites added to Saudi national heritage list
The register is building a special database for archeological sites
Updated 16 June 2021
RIYADH: The Heritage Commission has added 624 new archaeological sites to the National Antiquities Register in the first quarter of 2021.
With the addition of these new sites, the number of registered heritage sites in the Kingdom has risen to 8,176.
Dr. Jasir Al-Herbish, CEO of the commission, said of the newly registered sites 38 are in Makkah, five in Madinah, 48 in Hail, 54 in Al-Jouf, 52 in Asir, 35 in Tabuk, 4 in the Northern Borders region, 342 in Riyadh, 25 in the Eastern region, 18 in Qassem, and three in Jazan.
The National Antiquities Register has been established for the preservation and management of Saudi archaeological and historical sites. Al-Herbish said the commission is taking all measures to streamline all records digitally.
The register is building a special database for archeological sites.
More than 25,000 Jacaranda trees add to Abha’s beauty
The jacaranda plant belongs to the bignonia family, with trees able to grow to more than 18 meters in height
Updated 15 June 2021
ABHA: More than 25,000 jacaranda trees are adding a splash of color to Abha’s environment. The trees perfume the city’s gardens and streets and light up the surroundings with their distinctive hue. They have become the daily destination of choice for those seeking enjoyable times amid violet forests.
The mild climate in Abha during the spring and summer has helped Asir municipality to successfully plant and nurture these trees, with the authority expanding the scope of its cultivation to include many main streets, public facilities, parks and squares.
These efforts are in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program and are based on an annual plan to plant trees and flowers in the region to enhance and diversify its vegetation cover, beautify the streets, provide an oxygen source, and offer a regional tourist attraction.
The municipality said the trees gave Abha a distinctive identity and a bright spectrum. The flowers of the jacaranda tree last for up to eight weeks and give off a distinctive fragrance, which spreads after it rains.
The municipality, which also planted a million seasonal roses in several locations in Abha, said the jacaranda trees were chosen in accordance with the needs of the local environment, especially as they only needed small amounts of water and did not pose a threat to the infrastructure.
• The jacaranda plant belongs to the bignonia family, with trees able to grow to more than 18 meters in height.
• During the first year, they can reach a height of 3 meters.
• These trees reproduce naturally by seed (pollination) in March and April, but they can be planted throughout the year in protected areas.
The jacaranda plant belongs to the bignonia family, with trees able to grow to more than 18 meters in height. During the first year, they can reach a height of 3 meters.
These trees reproduce naturally by seed (pollination) in March and April, but they can be planted throughout the year in protected areas. They can also be cultivated by some newly developed methods such as sprout pots or indoors until they become strong, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
The cultivation of jacaranda trees in Saudi Arabia is also limited to areas that enjoy moderate weather, such as the southern region.
Al-Fan Street, in the center of Abha, is a popular location with visitors from different age groups who are keen to document its aesthetic.
The municipality said a plan was developed to manage the site, starting from May 1, and that there was coordination with Asir police to supervise streets and squares according to COVID-19 precautionary measures.
Exploring the weird and wonderful landscapes of Yemen’s UNESCO World Heritage Site
Updated 10 June 2021
DUBAI: Socotra Island has been variously described as ‘The Galapagos of the Middle East’ and ‘The Jewel of Arabia.’ This Yemeni UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago, situated east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea.
The unspoiled, alien-like landscape of the island has intrigued travelers and scientists alike for decades. According to UNESCO, it is a site of “universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna.” The UN body estimates that 37 percent of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species do not exist anywhere else in the world.
Until its airport opened in 1999, Socotra was very difficult to get to. This year, Air Arabia began operating a direct chartered flight once a week to the island from Abu Dhabi — a journey of around two hours.
We caught the final tour of the season — travel to the island stops during the monsoon season (late May to September). And while there are three hotels on the island we opted for a camping trip. Be aware though: This is camping, not glamping. There is no electricity, no running water, no toilets and no showers. So a portable bidet, biodegradable wipes and biodegradable soap are a must in order to protect the island’s delicate environment. Its capital, Hadibu, already has a serious problem with trash and plastic.
We first set up camp at Dihamri, a rocky coast covered in white coral. It’s the perfect spot for snorkeling — you can see all types of sea life in the crystal-clear waters, including stingrays, turtles and puffer fish (pro tip: bring sea shoes).
During our visit, it was still around 35 degrees Celsius and quite humid at night, making it unbearable to sleep in the tent. On the plus side, sleeping outside gives you a clear view of the stars. On other nights, we weren’t so lucky, as the winds picked up, rattling the tents and keeping us awake until sunrise.
Despite the lack of sleep, the beauty of the island energized us and we continued to explore. We hiked to Kallissan, where there is a natural pool in which to cool off, then set up camp in Arher, a stunning site full of giant white sand dunes at the edge of the mountains with great coastal views. The dunes are high and challenging to climb (it took us about an hour to get to the top), but definitely worth it.
There are so many spectacular sites to explore if you’re prepared to put in the hours hiking: The unique dragon blood tree, for instance, so called because of its red sap. Legend has it the first dragon blood tree was created from the blood of a dragon that was wounded when it fought an elephant. In Arabic, the tree is called dam al akhawain — the blood of the two brothers — as the story goes that the tree first grew on the spot where two brothers, Darsa and Samha, fought to the death.
There are also a number of abandoned Soviet tanks around the place, a lasting reminder of the influence the USSR had on Southern Yemen. From 1967 to 1990 South Yemen (including Socotra) was the only communist state in the Arab world.
Along with the tales of the past, we met many wonderful locals willing to share their knowledge of the island, from Wagdi, our tour guide, to Abdullah the caveman who spends his days fishing in the Detwah Lagoon and will happily invite you to his cave for fresh fish.
Seafood, cooked in a variety of ways, is the staple diet of Socotra. You can get crab, stingray and lobster for as little as a $1. For breakfast we enjoyed traditional Yemeni bean stews with bread, cheese and local honey.
Our return flight — the last scheduled flight out before the end of the season – was cancelled due to a cyclone. That delay gave us the opportunity to explore Hadibu and engage further with the locals, who were very helpful. The island has no functioning ATMs and getting money was a struggle, as the island does not have much cash flow. We’d advise taking an emergency fund.
We’d also advise scheduling your visit for March — when the island’s famed bottle trees (desert roses) bloom — or in October or November, shortly after the monsoon season, when the island is green. But whenever you visit, Socotra really is like no other place on earth.
Saudi tourism app links beneficiaries to service providers
The application gives the best options on the prices of rest houses, chalets and tourist services of all degrees
Updated 05 June 2021
MAKKAH: Tripper Online, an application providing an innovative interface to link Saudi tourism providers to customers in the Kingdom, will help tourists plan their holidays easily in future, according to a member of the Saudi team behind it.
Abdul Aziz Bukhari, Tripper Online’s chief financial and technical officer, said the app would provide a platform for tourists wishing to enjoy all manner of trips and activities in the Kingdom to search for and deal with service providers.
“We decided to start working and achieve all the requirements of the tourist market by designing an electronic platform that combines all these trips and services, and through which the providers of these services can provide beneficiaries with offers through applications on Android and iOS systems,” he told Arab News.
Bukhari stressed that the requirements of using the app meant providers would have to uphold certain sets of standards, and enable the use of electronic payment options or cash.
“The languages used (by the app) are Arabic, English and (Mandarin) Chinese and work is under way to introduce Italian and Japanese,” said Bukhari. “The application came into (use) six months ago, but the demand for and interaction with the application began early.”
He explained that the development team launched a big marketing campaign, resulting in many orders from across Saudi Arabia. “The beginning was encouraging and saved a lot of effort on the service seekers’ part, offering a beautiful model to shrink the distance between service providers and beneficiaries,” he said.
We decided to start working and achieve all the requirements of the tourist market by designing an electronic platform that combines all these trips and services, and through which the providers of these services can provide beneficiaries with offers through applications on Android and iOS systems.
Abdul Aziz Bukhari, Tripper Online’s chief financial and technical officer
Traffic through the app, Bukhari added, continues to be positive, with trips to the Kingdom’s coast and islands proving popular, as well as its cooler areas with the hot summer months approaching.
“The application gives the best options on the prices of rest houses, chalets and tourist services of all degrees. We compare offers, service availability, area coverage, payment options, study market needs, manage cruises, book vacant flights and electronic collection,” he said.
The apps’ vision is focused on safer and more luxurious tourism, cooperation with accredited providers from all over the Kingdom, and networking across areas such as food, tour guidance, equipment provision, hospitality, diving, health clubs, swimming, paragliding, jet skiing, fishing, music, group activities, camping, sightseeing, transportation and others.