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Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 12 News List

World Business Quick Take

AGENCIES

■ RetailVirgin Megastores pruned

Richard Branson's Virgin Group Ltd plans to shut a third of its Virgin Megastores because of competition from supermarkets and the Internet, the Sunday Express reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. The group, based in London, may close as many as 60 of its 170 stores in the months ahead, the newspaper reported in its financial section. Most of the closures will be from the Megastores Xpress brand, the paper said. Virgin may compensate for the loss in sales by opening larger stores, the paper said. The overhaul is part of plans by Virgin Entertainment, the unit that controls the Megastores, to invest £90 million (US$161 million) to boost business, the newspaper said. Branson plans to start a Virgin Digital service this summer, selling songs to consumers over the Internet at 99 pence apiece, the Financial Sunday Express said.

■ Travel

Discount scheme launched

Southeast Asia's revitalized travel industry has launched a new program called the "Hip-Hop" scheme, which offers airfare, hotel and tour discounts to spur travel within the region amid growing restrictions on entry into the US and the mounting costs of travelling to Europe. Sebastian Lo, executive director of the Kuala Lumpur-based ASEAN Tourism Association, which launched the scheme last month, said it would run until March 25 next year to promote ASEAN as a single destination. For US$399, the Hip-Hop pass offers travellers three flight coupons to two destinations, with travel to begin and end in the country of origin -- such as Singapore-Bangkok-Manila-Singapore. Each additional flight coupon costs US$150, with a maximum purchase of six, for economy-class travel on nine participating airlines, mainly national carriers.

■ Airlines

British Airways to cut fares

British Airways Plc, the No. 2 European airline, plans to cut fares for premium seats on 103 routes by as much as 42 percent in July and August, the Observer reported, citing an unidentified airline spokesman. British Airways, based in London, wants to curb the usual decline in business travel during those months, the newspaper reported. The cuts cover 28 long-haul and 75 European routes. The airline reduced fares by 30 percent on 38 short-haul routes out of London's Gatwick airport a week ago. Prices to Los Angeles and San Francisco will be 42 percent lower, while to New York and Boston they will drop 33 percent. Cape Town fares will be 36 percent less and seats in first class and business class to Miami will drop 37 percent, the newspaper said. There was a 28-percent rise in premium passengers in April compared with the year-earlier period, the Observer said.

■ Resources

Beijing to raise water prices

Beijing plans to raise water prices next year to discourage excess use, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on its Web site, citing Jiao Zhizhong (焦志中), head of the Beijing Water Resources Bureau. China's capital city will raise average water prices to about 6 yuan (US$0.72) next year, and will make users pay more if they exceed a quota, the Internet site said. Beijing is short of water and the government will struggle to ensure adequate water supply, according to the report. Shanghai and Guangzhou are also considering raising water prices, Chinese media have reported.

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