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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gov’t eyes $1-B tourism investment

The Philippine government is in talks with foreign conglomerates for a possible $1-billion "trophy investment" in the Visayas, the country’s top trade official said yesterday.

In an interview with reporters, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter B. Favila said they are negotiating with at least two firms which he refused to name in the meantime, saying only that he met them in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum.

Last January, Favila and other government officials accompanied President Arroyo to the economic summit where they met several businessmen who have expressed interest in infusing money in the country.

Favila said the investment destination they are pushing is Central Visayas, which is home to many world-class beaches and resorts. Both Cebu and Bohol are located in the region.

As for infrastructure in the area, Favila said they will address the issue by building airports and seaports to facilitate easier travel. Lack of infrastructure has been identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as one of the major hindrances to both domestic and foreign investments.

In a separate interview, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Samie Lim said hotel and properties giant Shimao Group of China is seriously considering setting up a five-star hotel and commercial resort in Bohol.

According to Lim, Shimao Group Chairman Hui Wing Mau has personally confirmed to him the company’s interest in building high-end hotels either in Metro Manila or Central Visayas, specifically Bohol. He added that the group is on the hunt for a partner and is currently considering a joint venture with tycoon Lucio Tan.

The Shimao Group is controlled by China’s second richest man Xu Rongmao and is involved in real estate, properties and hotels. It has so far invested $10 billion in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities in China. It is listed by Forbes magazine as the fifth largest firm in China.

Aside from the Shimao Group, Lim said a Middle Eastern company reportedly owned by the world’s eighth richest man Al-Waleed Bin Talal is also keen on investing in the tourism industry by building a hotel. Talal has investments in Four Seasons Hotel which operates 31 high-end hotels in over 30 countries.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The new modern city

The passing of time and the coming of a new year usually herald the coming of something new and better. The same principles hold true for the Araneta Center.

The country’s first lifestyle and leisure center was way ahead of its time when it was first built in the 1960’s. Muhammad Ali won an electrifying championship bout at the Araneta Coliseum’s "Thrilla in Manila." In his honor, the Ali Mall was built very near the site of his legendary victory. Countless basketball championships have been contested here, and the stars usually descend on the Big Dome to wow audiences regularly.

The birth of new malls, however, has reduced Araneta Center’s glitter over the years. But the Araneta Center is now intensifying efforts to reclaim its glory as it is in the midst of promising changes. Its malls’ exteriors have been refurbished to reveal more vibrant and appealing facades. These have also been interconnected via elevated walkways with the Big Dome to make it convenient for pedestrians to go and shop around. Of course, the whole Araneta Center has been landscaped beautifully, and its trees glitter at night.

Its newest shopping center, the Gateway Mall, has received international acclaim for its modern design. Certainly, its Oasis is the best place to dine and entertain in the whole Metro amidst a floating garden, with tall palm trees that reach to the skies. "The high-end Gateway Mall encapsulates the intense determination and commitment of the Araneta family to redevelop the whole Araneta Center," opines Megaworld Central Properties Inc. President Anthony Charlemagne Yu.

Over at the Center’s southern end, construction of its first building dedicated entirely to call center and business process outsourcing (BPO) firms is in full swing. Other buildings are planned in the near future to bring a strong business component to the Araneta Center. The strategic reasoning for companies here is obvious: the Araneta Center is at the very heart of Metro Manila and the only place in the metropolis where two mass transit sytems converge.

To find out more about how Manhattan Garden City will transform the Araneta Center and bring convenience to your daily life, visit the Manhattan Garden City showroom at the 3rd level of Gateway Mall. You may also call 810-3333 or email inquire@themanhattangardencity.com.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

27th annual PAASE meet, symposium set next week

On Feb. 15–17, the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering will be holding the 27th Annual PAASE Meeting and Symposium at the Century Park Hotel in Manila.

The conference will be co-hosted this year by De La Salle University-Manila, the University of the Philippines-Diliman, and Ateneo de Manila University, with the theme "Science, Engineering and Technology in Economic Development."

The event is being held in cooperation with the National Academy of Science and Technology, the National Research Council of the Philippines, and the Philippine Association for Technological Education with the support of the Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

The conference features a keynote lecture on "A Roadmap to Becoming a First-Class Science and Technology Nation" by Prof. Jong-Hwan Kim of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology as well as more than 200 scientific papers to be presented in parallel sessions covering the priority areas of the DOST, including the basic sciences, biotechnology, energy, the environment, health, economics, education, and information technology.

The first day of the conference will feature workshops on graduate studies, research, publications and intellectual property, technopreneurship, robotics, natural disaster management, clean technologies and computºing clusters, as well as talks focusing on current trends in the fields covered by the APAMS theme. These activities will be held in the De La Salle University-Manila campus.

The venue shifts to the Century Park Hotel on the second and third days. In addition to the papers to be presented orally or in poster sessions, there will be six plenary lectures on the following topics: energy, by Prof. Michael Purvis of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom; biotechnology, by Prof. Baldomero Olivera of the University of Utah; health products and nutrition, by Prof. Samuel Bernal of the University of California-Los Angeles; environment, by Dr. Josefino Comiso of the NASA Goddard Flight Center; information and communication technology, by Prof. Gregory Tangonan of Ateneo de Manila University; and policy and economics by Prof. Crisostomo Garcia, formerly of the University of Chicago.

Finally, the conference will also feature a lecture by this year’s recipient of the Severino and Paz Koh Lectureship for Science, Prof. Benito de Lumen of the University of California-Berkeley.

PAASE is an association of 170 Filipino and Filipino-American scientists and engineers, many of whom are renowned as leading researchers in their respective disciplines.

Founded in 1980, it is actively engaged in activities to help improve the state of science and technology in the Philippines. It welcomes interested faculty members, students and researchers from academic and research institutions to participate in APAMS 2007.

The event is envisioned to provide participants with opportunities to interact with accomplished scientists and engineers, and to forge new linkages for the development of Philippine human resources in science and technology.

Limited slots are also available for subsidizing student participants in APAMS 2007. For more information, contact the organizing committee at 536-0260, or log on to http://www.paase.org.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Peso continues to rally vs dollar

The peso climbed to its highest level in nearly six years yesterday, hitting a high of 48.355 to the dollar before closing at P48.365 as dollar inflows buoyed the currency further against the greenback.

The peso opened stronger at 48.45 to the dollar at yesterday’s trading compared to its previous close of 48.505 to $1 on Tuesday.

Dealers said the exchange rate was heavily affected by strong foreign exchange inflows into the stock market where investments have been drawn by higher yields against the declining rates in the government securities market.

By the end of the session, the peso had closed at 48.365 to the dollar with total volume of trade at $768 million. Analysts said they expect a sustained buildup in momentum considering the rate at which foreign exchange has been flowing into the country.

With so much funds searching for havens, inflows have been strong in the stock market, especially since government borrowing is programmed to drop dramatically this year, resulting in record-low rates in the Treasuries market.

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the peso is also tracking the movements of other Asian currencies which strengthened as the market anticipated action on Japan’s persistently weak yen.

This is the highest level since Marck 2001 said BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. The strength of the peso is because of a continued positive outlook on the economy.

Tetangco observed that trading had been thick and brisk because of large offshore inflows, remittances from overseas Filipino workers and export receipts.

Slack corporate demand also boosted the peso,’ Tatangco said, indicating that the flood of US dollars in the market has added more fuel to the peso’s momentum.

The currency market has been upbeat as expected as the National Statistics Office reported that the January inflation had dipped to a three-and-a-half-year low of 3.9 percent.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Local, foreign firms to invest ethanol distilleries in Philippines

President Arroyo gave recently her blessings and full support to commercialize the planting of sweet sorghum as a viable and sustainable source of bioethanol, thus boosting the implementation of the recently signed "Biofuels Act" or Republic Act 9367.

This early, five local and foreign companies plan to put up ethanol distilleries that could make use of either sweet sorghum, sugarcane and other feedstock.

The President has instructed Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap to assist prospective investors in identifying appropriate areas in the country where they could locate and engage in the commercial planting of sweet sorghum and establish ethanol distilleries.

Initially, investors are eyeing the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and the Visayas.

ICRISAT, in partnership with an Indian company, Rusni Distilleries, recently put up the world’s first sweet sorghum-fed ethanol plant in Andra Pradesh. Dar said the distillery has a capacity of 40,000 liters a day, and required an initial investment of $8.5 million. It started operating in October 2006.

ICRISAT is one of 15 allied centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). ICRISAT conducts innovative agricultural research and capacity building with a wide array of partners in 48 countries to help alleviate hunger and poverty and protect the environment of the dry tropics.

Early last year, President Arroyo received from Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam several kilos of foundation seeds of sweet sorghum developed by ICRISAT. Immediately thereafter, with funding from the DA-BAR and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the MMSU went on to field-test eight varieties, of which five have adapted successfully in Ilocos Norte.

Dar said field tests of sweet sorghum in MMSU have shown encouraging results, with average yield at 110 tons of stalks per hectare, from two croppings of eight months. Such yield is higher than sugarcane, which is a 12-month crop.

Further, sweet sorghum requires less inputs and water compared with sugarcane and other bioethanol sources.

Dar said farmers could earn a net income ranging from P65,000 to P72,000 per hectare from two croppings of sweet sorghum.

Sweet sorghum and sugarcane are thus complementary, and are not competing commodities. Overall, there are bright prospects in growing sweet sorghum, not only as feedstock for ethanol production, but also as food and feedgrain, he added.

Five local and foreign companies have signed up with Rusni Distilleries and ICRISAT to use the multi-feedstock ethanol distillery system, which makes use of sweet sorghum, sugarcane and other bioethanol sources.

Such development would indeed benefit tens of thousands of farmers and their families – particularly in Northern Luzon, where production trials have been successful – as they would have a viable cash crop in sweet sorghum, and also as source of food and feed.