Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Journey to Middle Earth

Posted by pakin On June - 20 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Discovering the splendour that is New Zealand

It’s the Earth not the Moon, I think. We are walking the path that skirts the pool of geothermal geysers at the Whakarewarewa site in the town of Rotorua, New Zealand. The moon-grey rocks are smothered in mud and pungent smoke, with sporadic hissing that suggests the chemical fury underneath. The scene is alien. The air is calm, a kind of nervous calm because we know there will be an outburst. Once every 40 minutes or so, the subterranean pressure pushes the heated, underground water through the crack and shoots up a jet of spray up to 30m, drawing cheers from fortunate visitors who happen to be present at the moment of thermal activity.

It’s definitely the Earth, not the Moon, because as far as we know there’s no water, let alone a watery spectacle, anywhere else but here.

Nature can be angry and unkind — think volcanoes, which dot New Zealand — but it can also be an unparalleled blessing. The North Island of New Zealand has enough of such blessings to draw the crowds of admirers, and Rotorua is of the requisite stops on everyone’s itinerary. This pretty town sits by the lake of the same name, and like most lakes it was a benign product of violent volcanic eruption hundreds of thousands of years ago. At the back is Mount Ngongotaha, at whose peak you can look down at the scenic basin, twinkling with little lights as night sets in.

The Maoris settled here in the 14th century, and now Rotorua, a main attraction to every domestic and international visitor to the North Island, still has a large concentration of Maori population. The geothermal site at Whakarewarewa — it’s not that hard to pronounce — is actually housed inside Te Puia Maori Culture Centre where you can look at Maori craft, taste their traditional food (steamed meat), and wander the terraced platform encircling the geysers. In short, this is a perfect setting of an earthly arrangement between man and nature: how we live, wonder and bow at the mighty mountains, forests, beasts, waterfalls and their mysterious forces, and how they in turn allow us to live in peace with them.

New Zealand plays by that arrangement wisely. Besides the lake and the geysers, Rotorua over the years has added a number of attractions that combine the purity of nature with man-made elements. You can ride the Skyline gondola to the top of Mount Ngongotaha, and up there you take the mountain bike path snaking along the slopes, or ride the luge in a mini-adventure downhill. At Agrodome, visitors watch the famous sheep show — this is New Zealand, where sheep outnumber humans — a cute, well-rehearsed performance by a burly shepherd and his furry flock. It doesn’t feel like a circus but a livestock demonstration: to wit, this is what New Zealand thrives on anyway, tourism and agriculture. In the past decade, New Zealand’s is-it-the-Earth-or-the-Moon natural marvel has received a major boost from Sir Peter Jackson and his movies, first the Lord Of The Rings, then the Hobbit trilogy. In fact, I join the trip to the North Island with SF Cinema and Dtac along with the lucky winners from their campaign, to visit the set of the films that has been turned, smartly, into tourist attractions. Once again, New Zealand is adept at augmenting the reality of its land with the fantasy that increases its value.

An hour from Auckland, where most planes coming to North Island have to land, and midway to Rotorua, is the town of Matamata and Alexander Farm. This rolling, picturesque landscape of eternal green — it has over 12,000 grazing sheep — is now known as Hobbiton, and the agricultural nature of the place is now fused inseparably with its role as the location for the Shire, home of the Hobbits, the small people who become the heroes in the fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The location scouts first came here in the late 1990s, and soon a new road was paved, sets constructed and the crew arrived for an extended shoot. True, it’s the South Island that supplied most of the Middle Earth in the two trilogies, but Hobbiton, or the Shire, was where it all began: in the book and the films, this is where Gandalf first came to Frodo (and Bilbo). The memorable scene when the grey wizard, played by Ian McKellan, blows the pipe smoke into the shape of a ship while gazing at the sunset was shot here. The guide can show you the bench where they sat, and for fans, that is huge.

In the past, visitors would go straight from Auckland to Rotorua, but now Hobbiton is a tempting stop, even if you’re not familiar with the movies. Meanwhile on the way back from Rotorua to Auckland — where you’re likely to catch the plane home — one option is to first explore Taupo area, an adventure town with various attractions, from its lake to its thundering waterfalls. But to continue in the spirit of otherworldly wonders New Zealand is so good at offering, a slight detour to Waitomo Cave is recommended. Descending the steps, you find yourself in this fabled grotto whose ceilings are covered with thousands of glow worms emitting biochemical light from their bodies. On a small raft, you float silently in the dark, save for the eerie lights from the creatures above you.

That strange feeling returns: It’s the Earth, not the Moon or any other extraterrestrial planets. Or to be more precise, it’s New Zealand.

Thai Airways flies to Auckland five times a week. The flight takes around 11 hours, roughly the same as a flight to European cities.

Located in the southern hemisphere, the season in New Zealand is in reverse of Thailand. The coldest the North Island can get is around 10C, in June and July, and the warmest months are December and January, when the temperature can go up to 25-30C.

Independent travellers prefer hiring cars to travel around New Zealand. The best way is to arrange it beforehand through tour agents in Thailand, which offers consultancy and hotel reservation, as well as plans your driving route according to your wish.

Te Puia Moari Culture Centre and Whakarewarewa geyser site in Rotorua opens every day. A day pass for adult costs NZ$51 (1,275 baht), which covers exhibitions, shows and the geyser site.

Hobbiton, the set of The Lord Of The Rings movies in the town of Matamata, opens every day with no need for reservation. Ticket costs NZ$79 (1,975 baht). Farm-stay accommodation is also available.

GENEVA – The number of people displaced worldwide has hit a new record, with 65.3 million people forced from their home as of the end of 2015, the UN said on Monday.

“This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed,” the UN refugee agency said.

The figures, released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis.

As conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the will to resettle refugees, according to UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said.

“The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today,” he said in a statement.

The number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015, according to the UN figures.

Counting Earth’s population at 7.349 billion, the UN said that one out of every 113 people on the planet was now either internally displaced or a refugee.

That marks “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent”, the agency said, noting that the number of people displaced is now higher than the populations of Britain or France.

Tealium focuses on enabling business to drive better real-time interactions with customers

WITH THE omnichannel trend growing rapidly in the digital marketing industry, much of the focus has switched to the open Web experience while exploring expansion into mobile apps and a better shopping experience.

Omnichannel aims to provide the customer with a seamless process, whether shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by phone or in a store.

However, since mobile traffic has surpassed its desktop counterpart in Thailand over the last two years, optimising for mobile has become one of the market’s key concerns.

Andy Clark, general manager, Asia Pacific Japan, of tag management provider Tealium, said that as there is a stronger omnichannel play, companies are more keen to drive optimisation across both customer acquisition and cross/up sell.

A tag management system (TMS) makes its easy to manage the implementation of digital marketing technology solutions. Tag management also serves as a foundation for driving better omnichannel experiences.

Tealium’s core focus across the globe this year is on enabling business, across industries, to drive better realtime interactions with their customers.

“As our customers and partners mature in their digital journey, we want to enable them to leapfrog the challenges of managing disjointed platforms and focus on the important things – driving customer engagement, revenue and process optimisation.

“We will continue to invest in strengthening our business in Austalia and New Zealand, Japan, and increasingly, in Southeast Asia – including Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand,” said Clark.

Tealium believes that it is not one technology, but the multiple technologies and vendors that organisations are using that are causing the disruption – not just distracting marketers from their core brand responsibilities, but also fragmenting the customer view.

With a customer data platform like Tealium’s, marketers have the ability to unify those fragmented data sources and push towards the centre to drive totality of a visitor or customer. From there, it becomes much easier to create a better, more compelling experience across all channels.

Today’s consumers are expecting brands to understand them and engage them with them based on who they are, wherever they are – and it’s the brands that are leveraging data to create personalixed, onetoone communications that will win over those consumers.

The key service from Tealium is Customer Data Platform (CDP), which combines three core products: the leading enterprise tag management solution, Tealium iQ; an omnichannel customer segmentation and action engine, Tealium AudienceStream; and a suite of rich data services, Tealium DataAccess.

Tealium’s CDP enables organisations to unlock customer data trapped in siloed marketing systems, build a unified customer view, and take realtime action.

Tealium sees the new era of realtime customer engagement as being both agile in responding to customer needs, and driving deeper customer relationships based on a more comprehensive understanding of that customer. This includes being fully aware of bounce rates, having patience in specific environments, and having the capabilities in place to adapt quickly.

In recent years, tag management systems have rapidly evolved to become a key foundation for data management and enrichment. Leveraging tag management, marketers can build a single source of truth for creating comprehensive, unified customer profiles – which can then be used to drive more timely and relevant omnichannel experiences.

Tag management benefits digital marketers in a number of ways, including accelerating campaign timetomarket, meaning marketers can launch more revenuegenerating campaigns faster and easier; and leveraging bestinclass solutions with the ability to quickly and easily test new vendors and use the applications that best fit evolving business requirements.

It is also improving website performance through intelligent tag loading and superior architecture; reducing costs by freeing up valuable marketing and IT resources for other strategic projects; and standardising data, ensuring all vendors are using the same data definitions to ensure consistent, accurate customer engagement.

PTT Plc has set aside capital expenditure of 25 billion baht to develop its oil business over the next five years. The national oil and gas conglomerate is also conducting a feasibility study regarding a potential listing of its oil business on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

Auttapol Rerkpiboon, executive vice-president for oil business, said PTT planned to expand its number of petrol stations to 1,575 in the second half of this year, up from 1,450.

For its overseas market, the number of petrol stations will be increased to 200 by year-end, up from 160. That number is expected to reach 500 by 2020.

Mr Auttapol said petrol stations could also be installed in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines.

PTT also plans to upgrade its existing petrol stations to be more accessible for handicapped people, with 100 such stations expected to be rolled out by the end of this year. Also, the company plans to design its own in-town petrol stations under its “Garden in the City” concept, especially in Bangkok’s central business districts, said Mr Auttapol.

For its non-oil business, the company plans to expand its number of Amazon Coffee shops to 1,700 by year-end up from 1,500. It also plans to increase its number of 7-Eleven stores at petrol stations to 1,400, up from 1,270.

For the commercial sector, PTT plans to increase its jet fuel service network with major airlines. The company hopes to expand the network to 10 countries in the next few years from the current six — Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, China and Malaysia.

The plans are part and parcel of its strategy to compete with other oil retailers after the sharp drop in global oil prices, which pushed up demand for the commodity.

Demand for fuel in the first five months of this year increased 6% — virtually unchanged year-on-year. That rate was well above the conservative growth rate of around 2% each year before oil price collapse in 2014.

PTT raised its sales promotion budget to 400 million baht this year, up from the usual 300 million, he said.

“We need to keep our oil retailing market share at 40%, as competition has been stiff over the past two years,” said Mr Auttapol.