Coffee break: Unfortunately, revenge trips will have to wait…

Like many who have been restless about being confined indoors over the past two years, I couldn’t wait to take my first real holiday after the Covid-19 lockdown. During the long lockdowns, I had dreamed of distant, exotic beach getaways. Sardinia. Santorini. maui

But the universe has conspired to be a spoilsport and make everything – flights, food and accommodation – so much more expensive than it was before the pandemic. Damn inflation!

I ended up in Langkawi along with thousands of other Malaysian employees who were missing holidays – many of whom I suspect decided to shelve their more ambitious “revenge trip” plans and head to the region. This slight uneasiness about the rising cost and relatively weak ringgit was too strong to ignore.

Not that Langkawi was particularly cheap — although it can be if you’re not looking for frills.

My Firefly flight from Subang cost at least double what I paid before the pandemic.

The chic beach hotel where my friends and I stayed was a few hundred ringgits more expensive than weeks earlier, partly due to high demand.

Even duty-free liquor and chocolate – part of Langkawi’s charm – seemed a bit more expensive than I remembered.

A chat with some friendly hotel staff revealed that even higher rates were in the pipeline as the hotel looked to recapture its target market of foreign tourists.

Local tourists, lured by lower than usual prices, had held up the hotel during the tough times, for which the staff were grateful as it helped them keep their jobs. But the Malaysians are also a demanding and difficult people, they confided. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this as they spoke to Malaysians!

All in all, what we spent on this trip was similar to what we would have spent in popular regional destinations like Bali or Phuket in pre-pandemic times. Still, there were no regrets. Although crowded, Langkawi was very beautiful.

Which brings me to my point. Despite the reopening of international borders on April 1, foreign tourists are not returning with a vengeance, even remotely. The tourism sector is still struggling to get back on its feet and will have to rely on local tourists longer to pull it through.

I think tourist spots and top hotels would do well to take advantage of this and work out a win-win situation for everyone. Sure, rates need to rise from the pandemic lows, but not to the extent that they’re out of reach for the domestic traveler.

Invest in improving your buildings and spaces, your landscaping, your service, maybe even your attitude. Don’t treat us as second rate.

Yes, our T20 in particular (top 20% income bracket) will continue jetting to London and the usual holiday playgrounds. But I think it’s fair to say that most Malaysians will be holidaying locally, if not regionally, for some time.

Higher prices, especially for food, and rising interest rates (read: higher loan repayments) will ensure this. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who winced at the impact of last week’s Federal Reserve rate hike of 75 basis points – the largest in almost 30 years – to dampen rising inflation.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agencies, or Matta, reportedly said recently that it expects the number of foreign tourist arrivals in Malaysia to reach five million by the end of the year. That’s still a pittance compared to the 26.1 million arrivals we had before the 2019 pandemic.

About a million people have arrived since Malaysia reopened its international borders, mostly from Singapore.

As long as the well-funded tourists from mainland China and the Middle East don’t return, you’ll be staying with us, the “cuti-cuti Malaysia”. So why not make it worth it for both of us? It can only be to your advantage.

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