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LATest e-bulletin February '24

In this issue: Quote of the month ② Flying High and Low Mount Rinjani (Lombok) and a Three Boys Tale ④ So Many Good Reasons to Work with LAT ⑤ Singapore, the Improbable Art Centre ⑥ Indonesia Tourism Infrastructure DevelopmentCosta Crociere Lands in MalaysiaSingapore Ship Adventure


"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place"

George Bernard Shaw


Flying High and Low

It is important to highlight the aviation industry’s significant progress towards surpassing the 2019 peak year for air travel, despite facing economic challenges. Additionally, it is crucial to emphasize the urgent need for ramping up Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to achieve aviation's decarbonization goals. We have eagerly awaited such expansion to facilitate the return to healthy numbers of tourists but also to contribute to minimizing environmental and community impact.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air travel demand has reached nearly 99 per cent of 2019 levels, based on its November 2023 air travel performance data. In November 2023, total traffic (measured in RPKs) rose by 29.7 per cent compared to November 2022, bringing global traffic to 99.1 per cent of November 2019 levels. International traffic saw a significant increase of 26.4 per cent compared to November 2022. The Asia-Pacific region led the way with a remarkable year-over-year growth of 63.8 per cent, while all regions showed improvement compared to the previous year. November 2023 international RPKs reached 94.5 per cent of November 2019 levels.

Domestic traffic also surged, with a 34.8 per cent increase compared to November 2022. Overall, November 2023 domestic traffic exceeded the November 2019 level by 6.7 per cent. China experienced particularly strong growth, with a remarkable 272 per cent increase as it recovered from COVID-related travel restrictions. In terms of international passenger markets, Asia-Pacific airlines saw the most significant increase in November traffic compared to November 2022, with a growth rate of 63.8 per cent. Middle Eastern airlines also experienced a notable rise in traffic, up by 18.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2022.

It is also worthwhile to note that Malaysia continues to offer some of the most affordable hotel rates globally, with 5-star hotel rooms priced at just USD 120. Malaysia is experiencing very low tourist arrivals compared to pre-pandemic levels. There is an ongoing debate about the causes of these low numbers and the challenges of running businesses amidst soaring costs and increases in sales tax. It is our belief that all stakeholders, from airlines to tourism promotion boards, local authorities, and the private sector, should come together to address the hard questions related to the faltering post-Covid recovery. These challenges are likely attributed to erratic and short-sighted policies rather than solely economic factors. It is disheartening to witness Malaysia, with its rich natural beauty, historical sites, diverse pan-Asian cultural heritage, and fantastic cuisine, being managed and promoted inconsistently. There is a notable lack of a consistent and credible long-term vision and monitoring of the territory, which is essential for sustainable growth and development.



Mount Rinjani (Lombok) and a Three Boys Tale


Sukri had skin as smooth as silk, slightly dark. A mass of unkempt black hair framed his clean-shaven face. He had two big dark eyes nestled above his small, sharp nose. His thin lips concealed his smile of the whitest teeth that, when provoked, emerged fresh as the morning. His small ears were hidden by the bush of his hair, while his chin protruded slightly with a barely noticeable dimple. Of medium height, he had a lean and strong physique with broad shoulders and proportionate limbs. His large hands and wide feet betrayed a life of outdoor hardships.

Sukri didn't wear shoes.

Sukri didn't wear hats.

Sukri was one with the earth and the sky.

The three shook hands and brought them to their chests as they exchanged courteous smiles in the losmen courtyard.

A few words, an invitation to share breakfast.

"A van will pick us up soon," said Sukri.

"Ah, good, to take us to the beginning of the trail?" Gabriele asked in his broken Indonesian.

Sukri smiled upon hearing the foreigner attempting their language, a smile of appreciation.

"First, we'll go to the village to get the necessary supplies and fill the water containers."

"What do we need to take with us?" Aldo intervened.

"Just spare shirts and socks, good walking shoes, a sweater or fleece jacket, a hat for the sun, and two blankets that you can take from here at the losmen, to cover yourselves at night."

"The Rinjani is cold at night and during the day when it's cloudy," added Sukri.

"And for camping equipment, do you have everything?" Gabriele asked again.

"Yes, tent, sleeping pads, utensils, and headlamps."

They sipped tea, their sentences interspersed with momentary silences.

Their gazes, reserved but interested in each other, danced discreetly among them, only partially hiding the desire to get to know and understand each other.

Sukri had never encountered a young and mixed couple like Gabriele and Aldo, with whom he could communicate in his language. The little English he knew, he was learning by himself and with a level of education that barely allowed him to read and write. Speaking his language made him serene and confident. His contact with Aldo was immediate, as they were similar in age, language, and culture, although they came from islands far apart and from different ethnic groups. Gabriele, the foreigner, or bulè in the local idiom, had a reassuring, helpful, and friendly air.

They checked the equipment that had arrived aboard the van as they descended the dirt road to the village below.

Even though Sukri had repeated those gestures and faced the Rinjani many times, he felt an unusual electricity running down his spine and couldn't help but glance at the other two, who, with excited and happy smiles, happily returned his gaze.

It was then that Sukri showed a small plastic bag containing resinous flowers and leaves, which, when opened, emitted an intense and pungent smell. A pinch quickly passed from the bag to the rolling papers, and they smoked while the van sluggishly bounced down the descent.

They entered the village store laughing.

They ascended along the first part of the path, which gently rose without steep slopes. As they ascended, they simultaneously entered a green space of secondary forest shrouded in a thick white blanket of fog, encapsulated in an increasingly muffled silence. They were traversing an ethereal Acheron, a layer above which they would leave behind men, obligations, conventions, beliefs, goats, and uncles, entering the tangible dream of their existence no longer in service to anyone or anything but themselves. The uncle had taken advantage of that tender boy more than once, up there among the solitary rocks. Events that Sukri never quite understood and that further clouded his already dim understanding of the silences and obedience that surrounded and occupied his adolescence. There was physical pain, yes, but it wasn't that piercing and sharp pain that lingered within him for long.

The macaques watched them, emitting unexpected screams, tearing through the cottony silence. They ascended, and the path narrowed more and more until it became barely perceptible at times. And as they ascended, the vegetation gradually thinned, and the clouds dissolved, revealing a tropical alpine landscape with huge tufts of clouds hanging above, releasing moisture without raining down.

The march was long, but they didn't feel the passing hours or the fatigue. They often stopped to contemplate the panorama around, below, and above them, exchanging not words but only looks of natural understanding. They felt each other's presence as if they were three brothers who had grown up together. Enveloped and compressed by the absence of words and the contentment of the moment, they were annihilated by the spectacle surrounding them.

Night came to extinguish the day with a dark darkness soon invaded by the diffuse glow of the moon. They camped on a plateau that they cleared of rocks before pitching the tent, which remained unused. After dining on rice cooked over the fire with wood gathered from around them, accompanied by simple dishes of chicken and vegetables, they drank tea and smoked, eager to be wrapped only in their blankets and themselves, protected by the sky and an environment that could not be dangerous.

Sukri recounted the first time he climbed that mountain as a child, recalling the effort of walking under the weight of a large water container that his father had mounted on the rigid saddle. He remembered the pain and burning of the saddle straps rubbing against the skin of his lower back, soft child's skin. Now that same skin was tough, from numerous climbs that had hardened not only his limbs but also his heart to some extent.

He recounted how he had learned a lot about the art of cultivating weed and how risky it was to take the goats to pasture while also tending to the crops. The goats were very fond of that herb, causing extensive damage and then becoming uncontrollable. His father and uncle knew this well. But he said nothing about his uncle.

There was a veil of reserved caution that he wanted to lift but didn't know how. To make fly away all that dark and abrasive that lay within him; to let it dissolve in that smooth and smiling naturalness and harmony that those two boys infused in him. Something he had never felt in a similar way except perhaps when he ascended alone with the goats in the thin air of the mountain. Those goats he talked to and listened to without interrupting or imposing anything, of which he had never taken advantage, and out of gratitude, they had never eaten his weed plants.

Gabriele sat next to Sukri, put an arm around his shoulders, and gently hugged him, pressing out that weight that began to blow from within and to come out through his lips arched into an "o," like intense smoke rings that once outside dissolved into the air. Sukri in turn hugged Gabriele, a smile with white teeth erasing the melancholy and celebrating the lightness found while Aldo observed the scene smoking, releasing rings from his mouth. The tent remained there on the side, a dome of useless modernist techno worship, while the three, lying among the blankets and among themselves, dozed off under the vault of stars that reappeared spinning under closed eyelids.

Numb and with limbs stiffened from the previous day's march, they rose early the next morning in a dawn of lights inclined and refracted by the floating mists. They resumed their journey until they reached the edge of the large crater and looked out over the lake occupying it. They immersed themselves in the cold water, which in a few minutes refreshed their naked bodies, freeing them from fatigue and sweat. They stayed in that place for a long time, playing in the water and lying on the volcanic sand, letting every scoria ooze from their skin dry in the sun. They felt purified, and Sukri felt the simultaneous intensity and lightness of those moments, a sensation he had never felt before. He didn't want to stop time or let it pass. He felt like everything was just there in that moment, and suddenly he felt no regret or melancholy.

Sukri felt at one with the sky and the earth. Gabriele and Aldo drew his attention with a huge balut, necessary, they affirmed, to resume the long journey to the other shore. Slowly they moved towards the opposite side of the crater. They walked around the lake on rough terrain, often stopping to contemplate that landscape of imaginary abstraction. To Sukri, who had traveled that path several times, everything appeared on that day as a surprising novelty, unexpected and surreal. He knew that the stones and plants and volcanic rock and the lake were always the same. It was the circumstances that, profoundly different from usual, had altered the gradation of the lenses through which he looked; he now saw the traces of melancholic hope for something unknown, stemming from a past of incomprehensible pain, blur at that point and in those graceful moments, free from yesterday and tomorrow, from constraints that provided no solutions. And that great mountain that had welcomed him since he was a child revealed itself as never before under the guise of a protective figure, a man dressed in dark, calm and impassive, observing through folds and corners of a thinly veiled intimacy.

There was no one else in that place except the three of them. And the perception of that overbearing presence. From the lake shore, the path began to climb, following steep switchbacks that became narrower and narrower until they reached a small clearing where Sukri informed them, they would spend the night before reaching the summit. Evening lights descended in the west as the euphoric fatigue seized the three. They were tired from the long walk, the baths in the cold lake water, the sun. They were full of those images of nature, at once lush, harsh, rough, and luminous. They were euphoric in their own company and in their mood that made them so similar in that place and those moments, though they had chosen to be so different and distant from each other's events. There was no space or gap between them; the language of sounds and gestures united them in a light, harmonious corporeal composition, immersed in a cosmic dimension where flows ran freely, unimpeded. They did nothing but gather firewood along the way to light the fire and warm themselves. The tent remained in the tubular canvas bag. They prepared dinner and ate in silence.

The night watched them. The mountain watched them. The man in dark watched them. They saw themselves and the world. They felt the flow carrying them running among them. They sipped black tea and smoked. The warmth of the drink and the drowsiness induced by the smoke amalgamated their feelings and sensations into a suspended grace upon them like a protective cloak under which they huddled once again intertwined with the earth, the sky, and each other, dissolving into the night.

They rose very early. Before dawn. With a couple of hours' walk, they would reach the summit, and from there, in a rush on the same day, they would return to the starting point. Sitting by the fire preparing hot coffee, Gabriele thought about how many times he had already climbed alpine peaks, starting in the night with headlamps, head down, eyes on the feet advancing in rhythmic steps on dark and creaking glaciers! In the absence of ice, in the brightness of that lunar environment, he was struck by a distinct déjà vu. Environmental differences did not change the feelings and emotions he felt identical in both places. He felt between them a natural bond devoid of hindrances and contradictions. Gabriele increasingly felt the need to immerse himself in them regardless of the apparent incongruities of the conditions and dimensions he was passing through, transporting him. In that place, at that moment, at that fleeting point of standing, his mind was immersed in such considerations while sipping coffee, preparing for the last leap to the summit.

They reached the summit at the first light of dawn. Beyond the vastness of the land and waters below them, Gabriele saw that same curved horizon of the midnight sun in Greenland. The sun rose from the darkness of the night and ascended round and strong with fire, clearly indicating a direction to follow, the continuation of the path Gabriele had taken. Following it, he felt he would find the starting point again.



So Many Good Reasons to Work with LAT

Established in 1991

Independently owned and operated

Purely B2B with travel industry partners

Online booking engine with immediate

confirmation of hotels, tours and transfers

Skilful Contents Provider and Technology user

Knowledgeable and efficient reservations personnel

Long and proud association with the MICE industry in all Lotus destinations

Fully committed to Sustainability and CSR

Climate Contribution for all packages and services on offer

Extensive selection of scheduled group departures and innovative product lines

Direct access to a vast pool of local professional contributors

Owns small boutique island hotels strategically located

LAT Indochina subsidiary operating in Thailand and Vietnam

Multilingual guides in all destinations

Operations offices throughout its destinations

Centralised bookings and payments for multi destination tours

Assistance in language


TATTLER

Singapore an Improbable Creative Art Centre


Marina Bay Sands is a swanky three-towered hotel where patrons come for the casino, the cocktails, or the infinity pool, and now to see exhibits reminiscent of burial chambers and about “Malaysia’s exotic unknown”. Singapore is hosting the second edition of Art SG, South-East Asia’s biggest art fair. Artists from Thailand to Taiwan are strutting, and selling, their stuff. Singapore—squeaky-clean and under tight government control—is an unlikely creative hub. Fittingly, a bank is sponsoring the jamboree. But it has stability, a rarity in a turbulent region. Hong Kong, long an art centre, has faced political turmoil and creeping censorship. Super-rich art collectors based there, and elsewhere in Asia, are moving to Singapore, which is regarded as a neutral territory. The island’s biggest attraction is as a gateway to South-East Asia. Plenty of artists and buyers live among the region’s 675m people. The “nation by design”, as Singapore’s prime minister has described his country, may just plan itself to regional artistic success.



HIGHLIGHTS

Indonesia Tourism Infrastructure Development

Although international arrivals to Indonesia in November 2023 exceeded 10.4 million arrivals – surpassing the target of 8.5 million – Indonesia’s tourism investment is still not up to expectations and remains dominated by private domestic direct investment. Much less is invested in appropriate infrastructure and urban planning, as manifest in Bali. We do hope that a sustainable and long term approach will be undertaken by the authorities.


Costa Crociere Lands in Malaysia

Costa Cruises, along with cruise operator Hwajing Travel & Tours (Hwajing), has established its first international cruise homeport at Port Klang in Malaysia. The strategic decision to anchor Costa Serena at Port Klang aligns with Hwajing’s commitment to exploring new markets and offering passengers an unparalleled travel experience.


Singapore Ship Adventure

Go City and Tall Ship Adventures are offering exclusive bundle deals for the Sunset Dinner Cruise onboard the Royal Albatross and a choice of two Go City passes in Singapore. The Royal Albatross’ Sunset Dinner Cruise is known for its unique, elegant, gourmet dining experience set against the backdrop of 360-degree sea views along the Sentosa Coastline.


Our whole product for free and independent travellers, groups and MICE are based on a Climate Contribution programme. This means that part of the greenhouse gas emissions that will be generated are offset by projects in collaboration with Climate Partner, one of the leading climate protection solution providers for companies.


The arising emissions are being compensated by supporting a third-party certified geothermal energy project in Darajat, Java (Indonesia). ​The project helps to meet the growing demand for electricity in Indonesia. By increasing the share of renewable energy, the dependence on fossil fuel-based electricity decreases, and about 705,390 tonnes of CO2 emissions are saved per year.


For over thirty years, Lotus Asia Tours Group has provided services and assistance to travellers the world over, specialising in the design and implementation of corporate events, activities, incentive tours and motivational travel, targeted at FIT, GIT and MICE markets, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indochina. The group also operates four boutique island hotels in Indonesia, in Lombok, Bali, Sulawesi and Papua. To learn more about our brand please head to our website, or contact us directly; we look forward to hearing how we could help make your next trip, tour or event memorable and successful. Corporate Office D-5-4 Megan Avenue 1, 189 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia T: +60 (0)3 21617075 · F: +60 (0)3 21617084 · E: latgroup@lotusasiatours.com


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