Fadzil Faez and his family spent the long weekend in conjunction with Malaysia Day, enjoying a long-awaited break from the bustle of work – but, despite the national nature of the holiday, nowhere in the country would he -same.
Instead, he and his wife took their two young children across the border to Hatyai in Thailand where they spent three days shopping and tasting food.
It was the first time they had left the country since the borders reopened, and Fadzil said they had a great time.
“The buffet is cheaper there,” he said, reminiscing about the holidays.
“A steamboat buffet only costs 300 baht per person while children under 90cm can eat for free.”
And in the country’s tourist hotspots, he said, they were even allowed free entry.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Fadzil said he decided to go to Thailand because he didn’t want to get stuck in Malaysia’s infamous traffic.
He added that getting to popular tourist sites in the country was not as easy as before.
“In Langkawi, for example, there are fewer ferry rides now,” he said.
“Sometimes we buy tickets there, but we can’t get tickets to come back.”
Prices for local tourist destinations were also enough to make him think twice.
“A trip on the Langkawi Cable Car costs RM50,” he said. “And if you want to go on the Skybridge, you have to pay extra.”
For Fadzil, the trip to Thailand was worth it even though the ringgit exchange rate was not as strong as before.
He said it was also easy to avoid the crowds at the border by entering through a point other than Bukit Kayu Hitam.
The trend of traveling to Thailand has been making waves recently, with some expressing displeasure over the value of the ringgit which they say has been affected by such decisions.
Norain Othman, from the faculty of hotel and tourism management at Universiti Teknologi Mara, said Thailand is more diverse in terms of tourist attractions.
“And in terms of hospitality services, they are more user-friendly, from taxi drivers to vendors to hotel workers,” she said.
In any case, she added, Thai cuisine has always been a hit with Malaysians.
“The prices there are cheap and the food is very fresh, especially the seafood,” she said.
Further south, Indonesia has also worked to publicize its secondary provinces and develop unique local attractions that reflect its identity as a country, by organizing tourism campaigns for seasons and festivals.
From a domestic tourism perspective, Norain said, even Thai travelers were once mostly unaware of efforts to promote high-end tourism in their country.
She said it took campaigns such as “Thai Trip to Thailand” to increase their awareness and perception of national holidays.
“The Thai government has also recently introduced tax incentives to boost domestic tourism, and this has shown positive results,” she said.
Referring to the local tourism sector, Norain said there seemed to be a lack of high-end theme park operators as well as facilities that cater to people with special needs.
“Tourists are also averse to unfriendly sellers and they don’t like the lack of high-end products,” she said.
The local tourism industry has also struggled with issues such as high transport costs and room rates, in addition to poor customer service and a high service charge.
Norain said the attitude of travelers also differs between generations.
She said baby boomers prefer popular places and sites of religious significance, as well as agri-tourism products.
So-called Generation X travelers, on the other hand, seemed to have stronger local tastes and a desire to experience the nature and culture of their own country.
“They’ll choose places that are worth the price, and places with good food and drink,” she said.
“Millennials are more about getting away from it all, cultural diversity and historic places,” she said.
“They will visit national parks and wildlife refuges and buy brand name products.”
As for Gen Z, she said, their attitude toward travel tends towards social status, new experiences and shopping.
“They focus on hard places, health care and sports activities,” she said.