Sheraton Grand Bengaluru unveils hi-tech convention centre

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The Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Center - Wedding Set-up
Photo: Sheraton Grand

Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center has launched one of the country’s largest Convention Center. Equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual facilities and located in the multinational IT hub of Bengaluru, the Convention Center promises to be defining element for any occasion – be it a corporate event, an elaborate wedding or a party.


Faiz Alam Ansari, General Manager, said “The dynamic venue is the first of its kind in a 5-star hotel and a benchmark as the ideal MICE space. MICE contributes significantly to the year-on-year growth in our hospitality portfolio, therefore the launch will greatly add value and generate revenue for the property.”


As a primarily business-oriented hotel, the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centerhas a space that could hold a meeting capacity of up to 2000 people spread over 2,602 square meters and structured with a ceiling height of 50 feet. It is integrated with an ultra-modern audio-visual facility and technical specs such as the 13000 ANSI Lumens Projectors as well as an in-built stage.


Convention centers are becoming a vital element for every hotel design, which are addressing the increasing demand for MICE venues. Since the MICE segment is growing rapidly, the facility of a Convention center becomes a necessity and not a luxury for hotels. The centers offer special conference packages and various F&B options to entice the MICE segment.

Today, one of the greatest challenges that MICE hotels face is retaining a share in the increasingly competitive marketplace. The Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Center is proactive to the needs of MICE travelers, this gives it a competitive advantage. To attract MICE business effectively, the hotel is agile and flexible in both services and facilities to respond to extensive planning and new demands.


India air fares and hotels rates to increase by 2020

After posting sharp rises in 2019, prices in the global travel industry are likely to slow in 2020, with flights rising a modest 1.2%, hotels rising only 1.3%, and rental car rates up 1% (in USD terms), according to the sixth annual Global Travel Forecast, published today by CWT and GBTA. While the global economy is doing well overall – and expected to grow a solid 3.6% in 2020 – a raft of uncertainties are set to put a damper on pricing.

“The risks and ambiguity have increased over the past few months – not least the threat of escalating trade wars, the impact of Brexit, possible oil supply shocks, and the growing likelihood of recession,” said Kurt Ekert, CWT’s President and CEO. “This forecast will help travel buyers make the right decisions in an increasingly challenging environment.”

India’s strong economic growth is fueling greater demand for business travel and driving up prices. Airfares are forecast to increase 5% (in local currency terms; 0% in USD terms), while hotel rates and ground transport prices are expected to climb 6.8% (1.8% in USD terms) and 4.5% (-0.5% in USD terms), respectively.

“Earlier this year we saw a spike in airfares after Jet Airways ceased its operations in April, so we’re already at a high base in 2019,” said Vishal Sinha, CEO, India, CWT. “With other airlines adding capacity to fill the vacuum, fares have begun to normalize and we expect that to continue next year. However, if the rupee weakens against the dollar, Indian carriers could be faced with bigger fuel bills and we might see that being passed on to travelers.”

“Hotel rates are also expected to rise, as the demand for rooms outpaces supply, especially in secondary cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur, and Ahmedabad. At the same time, the commercialization of mid-tier properties by players like Oyo is also pushing prices upwards.”

Released by the Global Business Travel Association, the voice of the global business travel industry, and CWT, the B2B4E travel management platform, the 2020 Global Travel Forecast uses data generated by CWT Solutions Group, to give an early look at the trends and developments that will shape the business travel industry in the year ahead.

“Technological advancements and an increasingly volatile economic and political landscape across the globe have changed the way today’s travel buyers need to do their jobs,” said Scott Solombrino, GBTA COO and Executive Director. “This annual forecast provides insights into the key drivers forcing these shifting priorities and gives a road map for travel buyers looking to plan their 2020 travel programs.”

Asia Pacific

Air: 1.3% Hotel: 1.3% Ground: 0.5%

Asia’s expansion has slowed down due to worsening US-China relations, tighter global financial conditions, and natural disasters. But the region remains the most dynamic, with steady GDP growth, benign inflation, and a sense of optimism.

Air: In Asia Pacific, the shutdown of India-based Jet Airways’ operations in April created a gap in the market for some key routes, and the reduced competition has meant higher airfares – but with other airlines adding capacity to fill the vacuum, fares have begun to normalize.

Hotel: Asia’s hospitality industry is booming with hotel investment volumes predicted to grow 15% year-on-year. Japan will host the Rugby World Cup later this year, and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, which will boost visitor numbers to the region. The Japanese hotel market is seeing a sharp increase in supply to accommodate the anticipated surge in visitors to the country during these events.

Ground: In China, steady demand and increased competition will hurt car suppliers. Across the Asia Pacific, ride-sharing is booming, with many companies allowing their employees to use these services for business travel. Providers like Didi Chuxing, Grab, Go-Jek, and Ola is pursuing aggressive expansion plans, while also taking steps to put more stringent safety measures in place.

Europe, Middle East & Africa

Eastern Europe: Air: -0.2% Hotel: 0.7% Ground: 1.5%

Western Europe: Air: 0.5% Hotel: 0.7% Ground: 0.5%

Middle East & Africa: Air: 2.2% Hotel: 2.5% Ground: 0.5%

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects steady growth, ranging from 0.3% in the Middle East to 1.6% in Europe, and 3.6% in Africa. Across Europe, labor unrest, climate change protests, global trade wars, rising oil prices and regional terrorism all have the potential to cause a slowdown.

Air: Istanbul’s new airport, one of the largest in the region, will likely change flows between Europe and Asia, providing an alternative stopover point for flights to China and Eastern Asia.

Hotel: Denmark and Egypt are both countries to watch, with hotel prices in Denmark expected to fall next year. On the other hand, Egypt’s rates are on the up – projected to rise by 4.7% – as its economy settles down after a period of unrest.

Ground: Eastern Europe’s franchise model for rental car businesses will see slightly higher growth of 1.5%, due to supply and demand in the region. Rail prices still vary greatly across EMEA due to inconsistent regulation.

Latin America

Air: -1.6% Hotel: -0.4% Ground: 1%

Economic activity in Latin America continues to grow – albeit slower than anticipated – and is expected to rise by 2.5% in 2020. A volatile political and economic situation in some of the largest economies like Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil will hurt prospects.

Air: Given the long distances, a growing middle class, and low market penetration of air travel, there are many opportunities, and airlines are making the best of them. Since 2017, several new carriers have entered the market and low-cost carriers have gained a significant share in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

Hotel: Following a steady decline in new hotels from a 2015-2016 peak, things may be picking up, with Mexico leading the way. More than 10 new corporate chain hotels opened in the region in the first quarter of 2019 with growth set to continue throughout 2020. Properties in Mexico and across Latin America are likely to continue to cut prices.

Ground: A slight increase for rental cars is driven by growing demand in Brazil, the region’s biggest economy. Rental car companies report a cultural shift towards sharing cars rather than owning them, and growth in tourism is also boosting the industry. 

North America

Air: 2.3% Hotel: 2.3% Ground: 1%

While the US economy is thriving, there is growing uncertainty, due to tariffs and trade wars. US GDP growth is set to slow to 2.1% in 2019, and slow further in 2020 and 2021, to 2% and 1.8%, respectively.

Air: Flight prices are expected to rise, reflecting the strong economies of the US and Canada. Most airlines are looking to ancillary fees as a way to stay competitive, so the costs of services like Wi-Fi and lounge access may be up for negotiation for corporate travelers.

Hotel: The hotel industry has seen slow, but steady growth. A gradual slowing will help rates return to normal, correcting the high prices seen in some of the major cities. Technology-focused areas – like San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Vancouver – are still seeing growth. However, demand in these cities has been high for so long that prices have risen too far – and business travelers are staying further out in response.

Ground: Due to the nature of long-term contracts, we are unlikely to see any upward trends in pricing until 2021 or 2022. Traveler preferences are dictating a change in car preferences, shifting away from traditional sedans in favor of more versatile SUVs and trucks.



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Hajj tourism at its peak in Saudi

Nearly 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims marked on Saturday the second day of Hajj, the peak of the Islamic major pilgrimage, the world’s largest annual gathering of the faithful. The 2019 Hajj pilgrim numbers surpassed last year’s.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived on Saturday in Mina, to supervise over the comfort of the pilgrims and the provision of services and facilities to them in order to perform their rituals easily and safely, according the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The Saudi General Authority for Statistics said on Saturday night that the total number of international and domestic pilgrims this year has reached 2,489,406, including 1,855,027 pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom.

A total of 634,379 are domestic pilgrims, 67% of them non-Saudis. The numbers for 2019 have already surpassed last year’s, when 2,371,675 pilgrims performed Hajj.

The number of male pilgrims, both international and domestic, was 1,385,234 pilgrims, while the female pilgrims numbered 1,104,172, it said.

Hajj officially started on the evening of 8th of Dhul Hijjah, or Friday August 9th, and lasts until the 12th of Dhul Hijjah but some pilgrims still perform Hajj on the 13th of the same Islamic month, corresponding to Wednesday August 14th.

The second day of Hajj is known as Yawm Arafa, as pilgrims left the holy site of Mina for Mount Arafat (also known as Arafa). Once at Mount Arafat – where Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon in 632 CE – the pilgrims stood in contemplation, praying and asking God for forgiveness of their sins amid continuous chanting of “Labbeika Allahumma Labbeik” (“Here I am, O God, here I am”). They also listened to a sermon near Jabal Al-Rahmah.

After sunset on Saturday, the pilgrims started to leave the Arafat holy site, to complete their journey of faith to Muzdalifah, another sacred site. At Muzdalifah, they spend the evening praying and sleeping on the ground under the open sky. They also gather pebbles for the symbolic ritual of stoning the devil on the third day of Hajj.

Pilgrims headed to Muzdalifah mostly aboard trains, or buses but some made the trek on foot.

The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Salih Benten praised the efforts of the government agencies in the service of pilgrims, which contributed to the success of its plans for the more than 2.4 million people to stand in Mount Arafat, thanks to round the clock cooperation between government agencies, as joint operations rooms continued to make sure services are available to the pilgrims.

In an interview with state-run Al Ekhbariya TV channel on Saturday, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Dr. Benten reviewed the efforts of the Kingdom in providing additional pilgrimage projects in 2019. He said the pilgrims had several options to reach Muzdalifah: a train that transports about 350,000 pilgrims, buses that will transport 900,000 pilgrims through frequency trips, as well a one-trip buses that will transport about 700,000 pilgrims. As many pilgrims enjoy taking the walking route, the asphalt was painted in temperature-reducing colors.


The minister spoke about the Makkah Route initiative, a program first launched by Saudi Arabia during Hajj 2017 with a view to facilitating- travel by international pilgrims. The program started with some Malaysian pilgrims but the new procedure was later expanded to include other countries. This year the program was implemented at Jakarta, Dhaka, Kuala Lumpur, Islamabad, and Tunis airports, used by 171,648 pilgrims this Hajj.

On the Makkah Route initiative, which is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, Dr Benten said the Kingdom begins to serve pilgrims before their arrival. “There are electronic platforms that facilitate the registration of pilgrims, offices of pilgrims affairs in their countries inform them of services before they come, and their trip is scheduled before they come to the Kingdom,” the minister said.

Sea of White

During Arafat Day, the pilgrims cram into an area that is about 33 square kilometers in area, making the movement of pilgrims between the holy sites, especially on peak day, a major logistical challenge that Saudi authorities undertake every year.

Mount Arafat was a sea of white on Saturday, peppered with other colours, as the pilgrims, in their Ihram white special garments, and with many pilgrims carrying green, yellow, blue or red umbrellas to guard against the scorching sun, began as of sunrise on Saturday to move to Arafat to stand there in contemplation before God. This segment of the second day’s ritual is referred to as “Standing before God,” and is one of the most solemn of the pilgrimage.

According to a well-known Hadith of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) “Hajj is Arafat”. This saying underscores the fact that standing in Arafat is key ritual of Hajj, the major Islamic pilgrimage. Muslim scholars have interpreted this saying as meaning ‘Whoever misses the standing (in Arafat) has missed Hajj’.

As part of the second day, the pilgrims also perform Sa’i, a key rite that involves walking back and forth seven times between Safa and Marwah hills near Kabaa in the Haram.

The pilgrims also perform prayers and listen to a sermon at Arafat’s 110,000-square-meter Masjid Namirah (Namirah Mosque) and the surrounding areas, which marks the location where Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) set camp before he delivered his final sermon.

‘It’s a healing process’

Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is the most important spiritual journey in a Muslim’s life.

This year, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has directed hosting under a Hajj guests program 200 pilgrims of the families of the victims and injured of the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed more than 50 people. Some 6,500 pilgrims from 79 countries traveled to Makkah as guests of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Guests Program for Hajj and Umrah, which is implemented by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance. The guests include Islamic figures such as preachers, scholars, muftis, and officials, as well as the families of martyrs and the injured.

Speaking in Makkah, Rachid Omar, a pilgrim from New Zealand, whose son Tariq was killed in the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, said: “It’s a healing process. I feel like I’m at peace at the moment … everything is very peaceful, everyone is very nice with each other and—yeah, it has been a lovely experience so far.”

Asked what were his first thoughts when he reached Makkah, Omar said: “At first I didn’t believe I was on a flight coming here to Saudi Arabia, to Makkah, because it was a childhood dream coming here. At first, all I was thinking about was all in my supplication to my deceased son and also for myself to have—to heal myself and my wife and my family. That’s my main intention, apart from the main—doing the obligation of the fifth Islamic pillar, doing the Hajj.”

“I burst into tears when I saw the Kaaba .. I was thinking about my son. And also I was thinking about—I’ve been praying towards Kaaba all my life, and a few days ago, I’ve seen the real thing, and mashallah. It’s just indescribable, the feeling was so amazing, especially my first Tawaf and when I touched the wall of Kaaba. It was an amazing feeling.”

No epidemics or infectious diseases

The Saudi Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah said on Saturday that the health situation of pilgrims is reassuring and no cases of epidemics or infectious diseases among the pilgrims have been recorded.

He said that as directed by King Salman to provide the best health care for pilgrims, preparations were underway long before Hajj, noting there were 25 hospitals in the Holy Sites, Makkah and Madinah with more than 5,000 beds serving pilgrims.

“We have around 30,000 people to serve pilgrims, in addition to great preparations in the Holy Sites .. We also have mobile clinics that provide services on-site directly, and we have more than 100 mobile clinics that are close to gatherings of pilgrims to provide emergency services urgently for those in need,” he said in the remarks carried by SPA.

He said that “we transferred to Arafat Holy Site around 400 patients from hospitals outside Arafat, and some of them from Madinah, in order to ensure that they complete their Hajj rituals.”

According to the latest Ministry of Health statistics, 363,567 pilgrims received medical care free of charge in hospitals and health centers in Makkah and Madinah and the holy sites between July 4, when the Hajj season started, and Saturday August 10.

According to the ministry, a total of 29 open-heart operations and 685 cardiac catheterizations were performed in the hospitals in Makkah and Madinah, along with 1,948 dialysis operations, 103 endoscopic operations and 532 different other surgeries, while 2,044 pilgrims were admitted to hospitals. Eight births were also recorded to date.

Before embarking on Hajj, pilgrims perform rituals such as donning Ihram, or the special white garments, signifying purity and equality, declaring their intention to perform the major pilgrimage; walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba. Hajj started on Friday with Yawm Al Tarwiyah (Day of Quenching Thirst) with the performance of the first rituals, with pilgrims wearing the Ihram garments and heading to stay overnight in Mina, located between Makkah and Muzdalifah, seven kilometers north-east of the Grand Mosque.

One of the most beloved events of Hajj started on Friday night when the Kiswa, the finely embroidered cloth that covers the Kaaba at the center of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, was replaced, as it is customary, every year on the eve of second day of Hajj when most worshipers have made the trek to Arafat. The Kiswa replacement was carried out by 160 technicians and makers. The Kiswa consumes about 670 kilograms of raw silk and 120kg of gold wire and 100kg of silver wire.

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Attending ATM? Don’t miss these travel discounts

Looking for a weekend staycation, long-haul getaway or the perfect Eid break on a budget? Visit the first-ever  ATM Holiday Shopper where hundreds of exclusive travel and tourism deals will be on offer for one day only.

“Taking place at Dubai World Trade Centre on Saturday 27th April – the day before the official opening of Arabian Travel Market – travel agencies, hotels, and far-flung destinations will be offering a wide range of incredible deals to consumers attending the show,” said Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market.

With itineraries for thousands of hotels and resorts across the world, Middle Eastern holiday website HolidayMe will be providing 20% off package holidays to the first 100 visitors to its stand. While, Holiday Factory, a leading tour operator in the UAE market, will be offering 10% off package holidays to 25 destinations across the Indian Ocean, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

If you’re looking for a relaxing family break over Eid, visit Ras Al Khaimah’s stand and receive up to 20% off on hotel stays or a complimentary room upgrade at various properties across the emirate as well as up to 20% off on spa treatments and food and beverage during your stay.

Experience warm, welcoming and authentic Arabian hospitality with up to 35% off when booking a package holiday at one of TIME Hotels’ various properties across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Other deals on the day will include 10% off when booking a trip to Lebanon with Nakhal; up to US$50 off per adult on all escorted tours booked through Cox and Kings plus free visa and travel insurance on European escorted tours and 10% off when making a booking with coach travel company Globus and Cosmos and an additional 5% off for repeat customers.

Consumers will also have the chance to enter into a raffle draw with the chance of winning a trip to the Czech Republic for two people – inclusive of flights and accommodation. Other prizes include two tickets to the UEFA Europa League Final in Baku, two tickets to the UEFA Nations League Final in Portugal and two tickets to a Manchester United match in the UK.

Curtis said: “The event will feature a number of talks and presentations in a relaxed environment – designed to provide travelers with in-depth knowledge on a range of travel destinations and tour packages that cover all major attractions within any one country – as well as information on visa compliance and travel insurance.”

Attendees can immerse themselves in faraway cultures with the world’s first Virtual Reality (VR) Travel experience. Ride through the streets or soar over the sights of some of the world’s most famous cities including Rome, Tokyo, the Swiss Alps, Masai Mara Kenyan Safari, Dubai, Paris and Washington DC.

Enjoy a range of family-friendly attractions throughout the day such as cultural displays, calligraphy, henna and falconry amongst many other activities.

Curtis added: “Holiday Shopper is a great addition to ATM 2019 and we look forward to welcoming consumers, offering them a range of attractive discounts and incentives as well as providing a complete overview of some of the world’s leading travel destinations to further whet the appetite!”

Brand new for this year’s show will be the launch of Arabian Travel Week, an umbrella brand comprising four co-located shows including ATM 2019, ILTM Arabia, CONNECT the Middle East, India & Africa – a new route development forum and new consumer-led event ATM Holiday Shopper. Arabian Travel Week will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from April 27 to May 1.

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