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Thursday, June 26, 2008

To go on holiday... or not


Does costlier petrol mean having to give up on holidays that we have become accustomed to? Not if we take the sensible approach and plan in advance, tourism experts tell PUTRI ZANINA, ZALINA MOHD SOM, SHANTI GUNARATNAM and JOHN TIONG.

Ride trishaws for sightseeing.

Hop aboard a bus and tour a place on your own.

EVERYONE'S worried about the fuel price hike. They wonder how they are going to cope, what they can cut back on and if they can still afford to go on holidays...

For the average Malaysian, that’s something they have grown to enjoy. After all, for the last 10 years, since Tourism Malaysia launched its Cuti-Cuti Malaysia domestic holiday campaign, they have been told to develop the “culture of travelling and holidaying”.

For many of us, going on holidays has become a part of our life. We hear stories of great holidays spent all year round by Malaysians deluged with choices of holidays.

This is evident from the thousands of travel stories and photographs posted on public-sharing websites or blogs by Malaysians. And the thousands of people at travel fairs prove that holidays are an important item in their annual itinerary.

But the fuel price hike is like a bomb dropped from the sky. With such a hefty increase of 40 per cent – the steepest so far, Malaysians will have to dig deep into their pockets to pay higher prices for many consumer products and services.

Our leaders and consumer associations advise us to tone down our lifestyles to suit the current financially-taxing situation. We are forced to be more prudent in our spending and we must learn to prioritise. For some of us, holidays are already a luxury and may prove impossible as we give priority to food, education and health care, among other things.

It may come down to choosing between eating well and indulging in a holiday to an exotic destination. Should we keep our money for daily necessities or spend it on petrol for that leisurely drive through the countryside to relax and unwind?

Hopefully, we needn’t turn back the clock to the era when going on holiday meant balik kampung to visit relatives and when going to a resort was something only the rich could afford.

But can we still afford to travel to holiday destinations without burning a large hole in our pockets?

We talk to a few key personalities in the tourism industry to get workable and practical tips on ways to stretch the ringgit and go the extra mile.

In essence, they all agree that PROPER PLANNING is the key now. Few would be able to act on an impulse to hop into the car and go to whichever destination takes their fancy without thinking much about money matters.

What you should do is to check out bargains and take advantage of value packages. And before you embark on the trip, you may want to work out a budget for your expenses.

Things to consider
HERE are some tips on how to get value for your money when you go on holiday.

1. Plan ahead and scout around for better, cheaper holiday packages.

2. Cheap does not always mean low quality. Spend time to research about a hotel or a destination. Never mind if the date is very much in advance or if the destination is not on your top 10 destinations. A little creativity can turn it into your dream holiday.

3. Seriously consider budget hotels. Get a guidebook on such hotels or go to They offer basic facilities and you needn’t pay for what you don’t need or use. Some even allow you to pay only for what you use, like air-conditioners and TV sets on hourly rates. Since most of these hotels are family-run, you can negotiate for better rates on the spot.

4. Transportation. For example, if you are travelling from KL to Penang by yourself, driving may not be the best option. Toll charges and fuel cost will leave you gasping, never mind the tiring drive and traffic. Consider options like offers by Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia and premier class express coaches.

Reputable companies like Transnasional and Plusliner buses are noted for being on time and offer comfortable rides. Better still, express coaches don’t just stop at big cities. They also go to smaller towns and remote jump-off points like Tasik Kenyir.

The good news is that companies operating buses to places like Genting Highland, Kuala Tahan (gateway to Taman Negara) and Tasik Kenyir have no plans to increase prices yet.

Another option is the train which gives you a sense of adventure and excitement. Trains today are more comfortable than they used to be. Besides, they are cheaper than other modes.

5. Switch to NGV, You save in the long run, more than enough to cover the initial cost of RM3,000 to install a gas tank in your car. An average tank of the gas costing RM12 will last 150km. But bear in mind that not all stations sell NGV, so you must know which ones do.

6. Package your own holiday. The claim saying that tour operators’ packaged holidays are cheaper is not always true. The words “all-inclusive, full-board and hassle-free” are lures to get you to sign up. You don’t need everything in the all-inclusive package, but you’d still have to pay for them. By planning your own holiday, you pay only for what you want and, at the same time, enjoy the holiday better at your own pace.

7. Walk the extra mile. You get to know a town or city better on foot as you can stop anywhere, anytime. Besides, the locals are your best guides and they tell better tales than tour guides, too.

Places like Taiping and Ipoh have walking maps that help tourists to go exploring on their own and in Kuching and Kuala Terengganu, trams for tourists are available.

8. Cheap ground tours. If you’d rather not walk, take the local buses. Pick a route with the most interesting route/view. Hop aboard and stay there until the bus returns to the terminal. For a two-way fare on the route, you get to see life in the city. And if something catches your interest, you can always get off the bus.

9. Join other travellers. If you must engage a guide, consider joining a group of other travellers to share costs. Guide fees are usually charged in tiers, depending on the number of travellers. Split the costs and it will be cheaper than if you’re alone. This is most applicable at destinations like Taman Negara in Pahang or a climbing trip to Gunung Kinabalu.

10. Work and play. Though volunteer tourism is new in the country, there are quite a number of volunteer works offered by both government and non-government bodies.

Government departments that offer this are Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, while NGOs include World Wide Fund For Nature, Yayasan Salam and Sahabat Alam. Besides the opportunity to travel, volunteer tourism gives you a chance to learn new cultures and discover new things.

11. Rent a house. Big groups or families should consider renting an apartment or house instead of hotel rooms. A three-room apartment costs around RM400 and can easily accommodate three families of two adults and two children each or eight to 12 single travellers. An average hotel room costs about RM150 per night. Again, do your math.


Tourism Malaysia director-general Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab:

“Malaysians will worry about price hike for sometime before deciding to move on with their lives. It was the same with the toll hike a few years ago. People made noise initially, then everything returned to normal and the highways were jam-packed on long weekends, holidays and the festive seasons,” says Mirza.

“What does that tell you? Malaysians will continue to travel domestically but at the same time, they will be more careful with their spending.”

His advice is to plan holidays well ahead of time to enjoy bargains and discounts. Those who can travel during off peak seasons should take advantage of the special packages at such times. One can also opt to fly with low-cost carriers and use the money saved for food and lodging.

He says: “Hotels too, can do their part by providing simple buffet meals and charging less instead of expensive, lavish spreads. After all, how many people eat everything available in a buffet?

“Those travelling in groups should take the coach instead of driving as it will be a lot cheaper. Now is also the best time to reflect on your habits and make the necessary changes,” he adds.

Malaysia Association Of Hotels president Datuk Mohd Ilyas Zainal Abidin:

“Malaysians can still continue to holiday domestically but now they will need to plan their vacation in advance,” says Mohd Ilyas.

Shopping for good bargains at hotels and resorts is like shopping during the Malaysia Mega Sale carnival.

“Instead of going on holiday during peak seasons, take your break during the off-peak season as the rates are much cheaper. From now till August, it is the Arab season and hotels charge premium rates for rooms, so it’s best to wait to till after the season.

“Malaysians can also fly with the low-cost carriers. Malaysia Airlines too offers fantastic rates to many destinations and have special packages with many hotels,” he adds.

He advises sharing hotel rooms to save on accommodation. “To further cut corners, they can dine at outlets cheaper than those in hotels. There are many categories of hotels and restaurants, so how much we want to spend on a holiday is entirely up to us.”

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Ngiam Foon:

“It’s a matter of time but everybody will, inevitably, feel the pinch from the recent petrol price hike,” says Ngiam Foon.

But while we need to make changes to our lifestyle, he feels it’s more important for us to know how to stretch the ringgit. He offers the following tips:

- Plan your holiday to avoid peak and super peak seasonal rates. Weekday rates are usually lower than that on weekends and public holidays. Take leave from work if you must.

- Take advantage of the year-round sales from AirAsia, Firefly or Malaysia Airlines. Look out for zero-fare or cheap flight tickets since flight tickets usually make up the bulk of holiday expenses. Also look for online-booking offers or early bird discounts from hotels.

- Go for the fixed date tour packages which are comparatively cheaper than personalised individual packages. Though you may have to travel with a group of strangers, you still get a complete holiday.

- If you’re driving, consider car pooling to share costs. Besides, driving long distances alone can be tiresome and unsafe. Better still, consider using public transport like express coaches or the train.

- Check out budget hotels. Some of our budget hotels are as good as the star-rated ones.

Malaysia Budget Hotels Association president Syed Nasaruddin Syed Abd Hadi:

Is the fuel price hike a blessing in disguise for budget hotel operators? Syed Nasaruddin does not think so but he concedes that now, there is a greater need to travel light, financially.

“Just like motorists considering NGV as an alternative to petrol now, travellers who used to stay at three-or four-star hotels will now think about saying at lower rated hotels. As far as rates are concerned, our association members will maintain existing rates,” he says.

For more competitive rates, he suggests booking online and in advance. But only 30 per cent of the association members are available on the Internet.

Sometimes, he says walk-in guests will enjoy greater savings than pre-booked guests. Since budget hotels are usually run and managed by owners, the service is more personalised and walk-in guests can sometimes negotiate for better rates.

Sime Darby Auto Connexion manager, Edward Lim:

Ardent traveller Lim is not giving up his holidays but says he may have to cut back on other luxuries.

“For a start, I’ll have to cut down on fashion food like Big Apple Doughnuts and Coffee Bean as well as car magazines,” says the 4WD enthusiast who frequently takes off-road trips around the country.

He used to buy both Top Gear and X-treme Kars products but now he would only choose one. Sacrifices have to be made but travelling will still be on his must-do list. Share

Source : nst online dated 26/6/2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Top 10: Beach Destinations

Enjoy breathtaking sand, water and relaxation at these top 10 beach destinations:

1. St-Tropez, France
2. Sydney, Australia
3. Fiji
4. Corfu, Greece
5. St. Vincent, Caribbean
6. Seychelles
7. Boracay, Philippines
8. Canary Islands, Spain
9. Maldives
10. Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Source : Week of June 16, 2008


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