Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Vying for cut-price travel

HOLIDAY HAGGLING This Lunar New Year holiday is longer than before, and many are taking advantage of cheap overseas tickets, but prices don't tell the full story

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Cut-price seats for overseas group tours are still available for the Lunar New Year vacation, but prospective holidaymakers must make reservations now before seats disappear.

"Group tours for the upcoming holidays are 80 to 90 percent full," said Ming Chen (陳明明), deputy marketing manager of Star Travel Corp (燦星旅遊網), one of Taiwan's top three online travel agencies.

"There are vacancies still available at favorable prices, and we expect they will sell out very quickly," Chen said.

The Lunar New Year holidays, which run from Feb. 5 to Feb. 13 this year. Previously the holiday ran for five days.

"With longer holidays, travel demands are stepped up as well," said Yuki Lin (林軒醇) from the marketing department at the Lion Travel Service Co (雄獅旅行社).

Because popular destinations like Hokkaido have seen full bookings since the end of last month, bookings for Lunar New Year group tours with Lion surged by nearly 20 percent from a year ago, Lin said.

Generally, prices for peak-season tour packages are hiked up by NT$5,000 to NT$20,000 per person depending on the destination.

This year, however, exceptions have been made to offset losses suffered by travel agencies and airline companies in the fallout of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which devastated South Asia and eastern Africa.

Worries that contagious disease might break out in disaster areas have put off many tourists who planned to visit the the Thai capital of Bangkok, the Indonesian resort island of Bali and other attractions in Malaysia, although these places were not affected by the tsunami.

Of the holiday destinations most visited by Taiwanese, only Phuket in Thailand is on the list of tsunami-hit areas. But the Southeast Asian market in general has stagnated.

"No one has shown any interest in taking trips there," sighed Lin Jui-ping (林瑞平), president of the Kaohsiung-based Asia Travel Service Co (亞洲旅行社), which mainly organizes tours to Asian countries and domestic tours.

Lin predicted that outbound tourism to Southeast Asian countries would not return to normal until March.

Unwilling to stay idle and suffer losses, however, some airlines and travel agencies have joined forces to promote Southeast Asian tours at very low prices. (易遊網), for instance, offers six-day group tours to Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand at NT$6,999 per person, a dramatic drop from the normal price of between NT$15,000 and NT$20,000.

Those who miss these lowest-priced packages can still join the tours, which depart on Feb. 5 and Feb. 11, at prices starting from NT$11,900.

"Now is the best time to pick up cheap tour packages, especially for young people and graduates who don't want to spend too much money on their first overseas trip," marketing manager Victor Lin (林育德) said.

Tours departing on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 still have places available, Lin said.

Trips to Bali are nearly 30 percent below the normal price even though the island was not affected by the tsunami last month. This has allowed travel agencies to offer independent tours to the island for the Lunar New Year holidays, Chen said.

For those who fancy a trip outside Southeast Asia, chances are that more money will have to be forked out for fewer choices, with Lunar New Year only three weeks away.

Seven-day group tours to Japan, for example, are priced at more than NT$50,000, jumping from the normal price of around NT$30,000, which compares to the cost of a trip to Europe, according to Lion Travel.

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