Sydney celebrates 35th lesbian and gay Mardi Gras; Malaysia-based AirAsia a first-time sponsor

Hundreds of thousands of people lining the traditional route down Sydney’s Oxford Street joined some 10,000 performers on 108 floats to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade on Saturday night.

This year marks the first time an Asia-based company has sponsored the Sydney Mardi Gras aside from Fridae which was the principal sponsor of the festival in 2001.

The Malaysia-based AirAsia, which is Asia’s largest low-cost carrier airline by passenger numbers, was signed as an official partner and sponsor, and named Official Airline of Mardi Gras 2013. The carrier, which serves Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney, had presence at the pre-parade walk on Saturday, as well at other events throughout the month-long festival, including the Harbour Party and Fair Day, an AirAsia X spokesperson told Fridae in an email.

Gay AirAsia

“We thoroughly enjoyed our partnership with Mardi Gras this year, and can’t wait to grow our presence with the event next year and beyond. Next year we will also look to fly down lots of the LGBT community from all around Asia to enjoy the festivities in Sydney for Mardi Gras 2014 with us,” said the Brisbane-based spokesperson.

Organisers say this year’s event celebrates the achievements of some 2,000 marchers who took to the streets of Sydney in a bid to highlight discrimination against gay people. Named the 78ers, they marched along the Parade route with their float “78ers – The First Generation”.

At the time, homosexuality was still illegal despite NSW’s Anti-Discrimination Act passed a year earlier. The Act failed to recognise prejudices towards the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (GLBTQI) community.

The Australian newspaper recapped the 1978 march in a report last Friday: “Following a morning protest by gay rights organisation Gay Solidarity Group, demonstrators tailed a truck travelling from Oxford Street to Hyde Park, sound system in tow.

“While the march had already received prior permission, police continued to violently pounce on the protest; closing streets and clashing with participants. Some were later beaten in cells.

“Sydney Mardi Gras – and a “civil rights milestone” – was born.”

Independent MP Alex Greenwich was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Every Mardi Gras we reflect on the battles the gay and lesbian community has fought to make the way easier for us today. It inspires us to keep going. These are people who first marched at the first parade in 1978,” he said.

“And we want to celebrate and thank them for fighting for us.”

Although the first parade was broken up by the police, “it shows how far we’ve come that the police now march with us,” he said.

The Parade Chiefs this year are both ‘78’ers’ – Australian broadcaster Julie McCrossin, and the man who has been called “the architect of the first Mardi Gras,” Ron Austin.

Although members of the Australia Defence Force have been allowed to march since 2008, this year marks the first time they were allowed to do so in uniform.

The event – the city’s largest behind the New Year’s Eve fireworks – is expected to bring in A$30 million (US$30 million) into the economy and is also supported by the New South Wales government, City of Sydney and Destination NSW, a government agency for the New South Wales (NSW) tourism as well as private sector companies.

More free bus rides for JB residents who fly from Changi

shuttle bus

Four more carriers have started offering free cross-border bus rides to attract Johor residents to fly from Changi Airport.

The move by Singapore Airlines (SIA), SilkAir and Jetstar’s Singapore and Australia arms will put Changi one up on its Malaysian rival if traffic is channelled away from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, industry watchers said.

Budget carrier Tiger Airways launched the service – which is operated by bus firm Transtar – in September 2010. Jetstar hopped on last month while SIA and SilkAir came on board Friday.

Anyone can get on the buses, where the cost is up to $7 for a one-way journey, but the ride is complimentary for passengers of the five carriers, including Tiger. The cost is shared between Changi Airport Group, which introduced the service, and the carriers, all of which declined to give details.

Buses depart 13 times a day from downtown Johor Baru, and passengers at Changi can also hop on board for the return journey.

After clearing immigration and Customs at the Malaysia and Singapore checkpoints, they stop at several places including Marsiling, Woodlands and Punggol, before heading to Changi Airport.

The total journey takes between one and two hours depending on the time and day of the week. A flight from Johor’s Senai Airport to the main KL airport takes less than an hour.

Changi’s free shuttle service is one of several tie-ups the airport has introduced with partner carriers to boost traffic in an increasingly competitive landscape.

With the demand for air travel in the Asia-Pacific expected to surpass the rate of growth in all other regions, airports are vying for a greater market share.

Airlines are also going all out to woo travellers – some with new services and facilities, and others with low fares.

New opportunities, such as tapping into the Malaysian market, are also being explored.

Changi Airport Group spokesman Ivan Tan said that since October 2010, more than 200,000 passengers have hopped onto the cross-border buses.

SIA’s spokesman Nicholas Ionides declined to say how many passengers originating from Johor take SIA’s flights from Changi, but added that the airline “sees potential for growth in both corporate and leisure traffic of this nature”.

The competitive lure is not just from Johor Baru to Changi Airport. AirAsia, one of the three big budget carriers operating at Changi, also offers its travellers free bus rides from Singapore to Johor’s Senai Airport. From there, they can get on flights not served by the airline from Changi.

The more options the better, said retiree Ahmad Ismail, who lives in Singapore and has flown from both Changi and Senai airports. “With different airports and airlines offering different services, travellers can pick and choose the best deal, which is a good thing,” he said.

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