The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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Liberty Island to Reopen Amid Government Shutdown

Posted by vmsalama on October 12, 2013

I had an amazing view of Lady Liberty around sunset tonight. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that the state would pay about $61,600 a day to reopen Liberty Island on Sunday (tomorrow) through Oct. 17. If the government shutdown is not resolved by then, officials said, they will renegotiate to keep it open.

I haven’t been over to the Statue since I was in grade school — I might have pay the old gal a visit. PS — I took this photo from Battery Park – one of my favorite places in NYC. They’ve truly done wonders with it!

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in Battery Park, Cuomo, Debt, Government Shutdown, New York, Obamacare, Statue of Liberty, Uncategorized, Washington | Leave a Comment »

Ramadan Kareem

Posted by vmsalama on September 1, 2008

Ramadan begins tonight here in the UAE and I offer my warmest wishes to those celebrating the month-long feast.  It is sure to be an interesting month all around.  Unlike Ramadan i have spent in Egypt, the West Bank or Turkey, the UAE – which is comparatively liberal to most other places in the region – makes up for it during Ramadan with bans on all food, drink or smoking in public, and advisories for modesty.  By no means am I criticizing the enforcement, it will just interesting to see Dubai switch from an expat playground to a city for Islamic reverence.  

A little article on Ramadan to kick start the holiday.  Ramadan kareem to all.

Ramadan from Monday

Millions of Muslims in the UAE start their month-long fast for Ramadan from Monday, September 1. 

They will give up food and drink from dawn to dusk during the day, and worship inside crowded mosques nationwide. 

The holy month brings sweeping changes in the lives of residents – of all faiths – every year. 

Working hours are reduced, with staff – fasting or not – either leaving or starting earlier than usual in private companies. Government offices, meanwhile, will keep reduced but uniform hours – 9am to 2pm this year. 

City roads are eerily quite as the time for breaking fast (sunset) approaches. On the flipside, traffic rushes to life again in the wee hours of the night, as residents flock to restaurants and shopping malls, which stay open late. 

Regardless of their religion or nationality, many residents invite each other for iftar, the meal taken to end the fast every evening. Iftar parties are common even to companies and hotels. 

Tailors and readymade garment shops also do brisk business as people stock up new clothes for the end of Ramadan – the month is followed by Eid, the festival for ending the fasting month successfully. 

Also, city officials usually hold special events and lectures in Ramadan. For example, Sharjah will host its annual Ramadan festival for a 19th straight year. 

This year, the onset of Ramadan and the school year have coincided, with students braving the September heat to study and, of course, play. 

The news of the month’s arrival broke on national TV and radio on Saturday evening, when the special moon-sighting committee said the fresh crescent – necessary to mark a new Islamic month – will be visible on Sunday night. 

“The committee … congratulated all Muslims inside and outside the UAE on the happy occasion and prayed to Allah [God] for peace and tranquillity in the world …” reported the national news agency Wam. 

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the “five pillars” of Islam. The tradition started more than 1,400 years ago. The point of fasting in Islam is to build self-discipline, a tool to overcome desires or habits that are taboo in the Muslim faith. 

It also serves as a window into the lives of the less fortunate, making it easier for people to part with their wealth in charity. 

Like other Islamic months, Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days, depending on the arrival of the crescent moon. 

That means this year’s Eid holidays will start either on September 30 or October 1. 

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Hotels look to locate near retail space

Posted by vmsalama on May 5, 2008

by Vivian Salama

The National

The region’s retail and tourism sectors are becoming increasingly interdependent, hoteliers and real estate developers say.

Hotel developers looking to build in the GCC are increasingly seeking sites close to retail space, according to officials in both industries.

“When we look for new locations, the first thing we ask is, ‘Is it near to a mall or shopping centre?’” said Samir Baidas, the vice president of international lodging development for Marriott.

The GCC saw a total of 2,319 new hotel and serviced apartment rooms open in the first quarter of 2008, according to TRI Hospitality consulting. By last year there were a total of 96,138 new hotel and hotel apartment rooms opened in the region. This number is due to increase by 29 per cent by 2010.

International exhibition and publishing company DMG World Media says it expects a demand for up to 400 new malls in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia in the next 10 years. Operators of Dubai shopping centres say more malls equal more business, particularly as the city seeks to establish itself as a global shopping destination. More than 100 projects worth more than US$70 billion in hotels and leisure tourism activities are underway in the UAE.

“Demand for these services is so strong that there’s enough for everybody to go around,” said Ben Godon, director of Vision, a hospitality asset management firm. “People who haven’t got involved in these mixed-use developments are eager to do so now given the successes of this model.”

The InterContinental Hotel Project opened three new hotels, or 1,000 rooms, in Dubai Festival City this year coinciding with the annual Shopping Festival. Dubai hotels reported occupancy rates between 92 per cent and 95 per cent in January and February thanks largely to an influx of festival goers.

Officials at Festival City estimate that tourists generate 20 to 30 per cent of their retail profits, with many of the shoppers coming from hotels on their premises. “Thirty per cent is obviously very significant,” noted James McCallum, group director of retail for Al Futtaim Group, the developer of Festival City, adding that the numbers were sometimes higher during peak tourism seasons. “There is really no separating the two in Dubai, and that will increasingly become the case in Abu Dhabi looking ahead.”

The Marriott is developing two Courtyard hotel resorts in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait City, both beside major shopping centres. Officials in the hospitality industry say soaring summer temperatures force them to look for alternative methods of entertainment when beaches lose their allure, and air-conditioned retail space is the most practical option. “When families come for a long weekend, they have their families in a secured area, closed, no hassle of transportation, away from the heat, and they can spend the whole day without going away from the business block,” said Mr Baidas.

Retail developers also build malls with the tourism market in mind. In Bahrain, Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) is working on the country’s first City Centre which will be its largest mall. As in Dubai, the key to the prosperity of Bahrain’s retail industry is simple: tourism. In 2007, it generated a record Dh62.39 billion (US$17 billion), a 15 per cent increase on 2006, according to government figures.

Most of Bahrain’s tourists come from the GCC. They included 7.4 million Saudi Arabians in 2006. For mall developers, this is big business. “Malls of this size target tourists and local residents,” said Shahram Shamsaee, senior vice president of retail for MAF Malls. “But of course, when we develop these malls, we have these tourists in mind, especially in this part of the world.” 

Industry insiders say Dubai has excelled in retail tourism, with events such as the Dubai Shopping Festival making it a global retail hub. Since its launch in 1996, the festival has grown significantly. The first festival grossed an estimated Dh2.15 billion (US$59 million) and attracted 1.6 million visitors. Last year it attracted more than 3.5 million visitors, earning Dh10.2 billion.

“Dubai has combined tourism and shopping in a very dynamic way,” said Michael Kercheval, president of the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC). “To the extent that tourism development continues at the same level, it will continue to boost retail, just as the rate of retail also encourages tourism.”

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Five new malls on the way in Dubai

Posted by vmsalama on April 20, 2008

by Vivian Salama

The National

Courtesy of Nakheel

DUBAI // Nakheel, the Dubai-based developer, will begin construction of five major new malls in the emirate before the end of this year. 

The malls would contribute an additional 1.3 million square metres of retail space to the city’s landscape, said Graham Dreverman, the group managing director of Nakheel Retail. 

“In Dubai alone, Nakheel is building communities for over three million people over the next 20 years, so we need to supply somewhere between five and six million square metres of retail floor space,” said Mr Dreverman. “There is an undersupply of retail space in Dubai today.”

Scheduled for completion in 2012, the malls include shopping centres on Palm Jumeirah and Palm Deira, the 140,000 square metre second phase of Ibn Battuta Mall, and India Mart and Great Mall, both in Nakheel’s International City.

Palm Deira Mall will be the largest in Dubai when it opens, superseding Emaar’s 520,000 square metre Dubai Mall and I&M Galadari’s 930,000 square metre Mall of Arabia.

“Big is great if it makes sense,” said David Thurling, the managing director of Nakheel Shopping Malls. “If we’re building the malls at 400 or 450 million square feet, we’re doing so because it meets the demand.”

Tourist spending is a major contributor to the success of most of Dubai’s shopping malls, and Nakheel will build 21,000 hotel rooms alongside the retail centres. The malls will also target the large, mostly Asian, expatriate community.

“There’s India Mart, which will service the community here, which is predominantly South Asian.”

Nakheel currently operates two retail centres in Dubai: Ibn Battuta Mall and Dragon Mart, the largest Chinese wholesale trade centre outside of China.

While Ibn Battuta Mall has a Géant hypermarket, Nakheel has signed a memorandum of understanding with an as yet unnamed major supermarket group to lease space in all of its new malls.

The combined new projects would be worth “billions of dollars”, said Mr Dreverman, adding a firm figure would be available once construction contracts had been finalised.

“In the next six months, we’ll be on the ground and within the next 12 months, we’ll actually have started on the sites of all of these,” he said.

Eventually, Nakheel intends to create one-stop retail and entertainment destinations at its new malls. 

The Palm Jumeirah mall will include a 1,800-seat Cirque Du Soleil theatre, which Mr Dreverman likened to Las Vegas. It will also house the largest group of restaurants under one roof in Dubai. 

Great Mall, in International City, is planned to accommodate the largest collection of home furnishing retailers in the world.

“This we see as essential, given the housing boom here,” said Mr Thurling.

Nakheel will unveil more details at the annual convention of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres, which starts today in Dubai.


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Bhutto Assassinated

Posted by vmsalama on December 27, 2007

The Muslim world’s first female leader has been assassinated, probably by the same radical elements who threatened her life even while she lived in exile.  I will be writing something on what this means for Pakistan, but in the meantime, the BBC has a great obituary.  Click here to read it.

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