Reasons to be cheerful

With several deals on airfares and hotels available, it may be a good idea to plan a foreign holiday this summer

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The financial world is in a meltdown.

Credit is hard to come by and oil prices are dismally low. The spectre of recession is looming and the global situation is grim.

But holiday-makers looking for a cheap getaway this summer may have reasons to be cheerful as airfares plummet and hotels in tourist destinations lower their rates in an effort to get people spending.

As most people move into the 'savings mode' travel is often out of the question. And yet, it is that very reason that makes travelling attractive during recession.

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Everybody else wants to earn so they will give their best to a tourist. The tourist will receive better service, discounted fares, reduced accommodation costs and more attention," says Dinesh Poojary, business development manager at Eihab Travels.

He says with the price of oil dropping from US$140 to about US$45 a barrel, airline costs have gone down significantly, translating into lower airfares.

Also, the rates of euro and pound are currently attractive against the Omani rial.

"Since fewer people will travel in a recession, airlines and hotels are coming up with special promotions and packages in an effort to lure the small number of tourists their way. This will be very advantageous to the recession tourist."

A typical example is the decision of the UK-based company, Travelodge, to offer 50,000 rooms in Britain at a cost of £9(RO5) per night.

A further 100,000 rooms will be available for only £19(RO10.5). Their usual average price per room is £43 (RO24). Rooms at the group's hotels in Spain can be had for as little as 10 euros (RO5) per night.

According to an index prepared in March this year by hotels.com, the average cost of staying in a British hotel dropped by 12 per cent during the final quarter of 2008 alone. London hotels have dropped their prices by 25 per cent in the last 12 months. The index tracks the actual prices paid for a room rather than advertised rates.

Another report, drawn up by Ovation Travel, claims that nightly hotel rates in New York have dropped nearly 30 per cent to an average of US$284 (RO110), while a stop in Mumbai will cost you only 60 per cent of last year's price.

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Anil Kumar, senior travel consultant at Kanoo Travels, has been observing the trends in the holiday market. He says the market is not stable enough to predict trends for the summer. However, he is cautiously optimistic for the travel industry as a whole.

"If you compare the current figures to last year, we haven't started feeling the pinch yet. But we'll come to know for sure in June or July, when people usually take their vacations. Already there are several people booking or making enquiries for places like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore."

According to local travel agents, special promotions within the vacation sector are becoming more common and bookings are being taken for flights leaving in the summer to cities offering cut-price hotels.

One of those to seize the opportunity for a luxurious two-week break this summer is Gaurav Agarwal, deputy manager of Daihatsu, who usually takes a foreign trip every three or four years with his wife.

He says the general slump in the leisure travel scene and the rial's strength against the euro will make this year's trip a very good one in terms of value for money.

"We're planning to go to France, Switzerland and Italy. We're flying to Rome, Paris, Nice, Istanbul and then back to Muscat," says Agarwal, who says the trip was prompted by the almost unbelievable rates.

"Because of the recession everything - travel, hotel accommodation, airline tickets - is cheaper.

This holiday would have cost me 100 per cent more last year.

Hotels and flights were more expensive.

For example each ticket from Nice to Geneva for June cost me only 12 euros each (RO6).

To fly from Geneva to Rome is 14 euros (RO7), from Rome to Paris is 29 euros (RO14.5). The most expensive part of my travel in Europe will be taking the train from Paris to Nice at 42 euros (RO20)," he elaborates.

While it may be a good time to travel, agencies say margins are down as clients who usually fly first class, now opt for business class and those who used to go business class now fly economy. "One of my clients who always flies first class is going economy this year," says Eman Saleh al Dossari, tour manager at Kurban Travel.

But Poojary says if you have the funds, there's never been a better time to plan your vacation. He chooses to see the slowdown as an opportunity for travel agents and tourists alike. "Airlines and hotels are both facing a challenging environment. They are offering special rates and added value options. It really is a great time for people to plan trips and secure great deals. At the moment we are getting a lot of enquiries for the Far East and Europe."

While Poojary is able to look at the silver lining, Eman is worried that the prevailing climate of uncertainty may prevent potential holidaymakers from taking advantage of the deals on offer. She says there has not been a huge difference in the airfare.

"They were expensive last year and while the prices have generally dropped, it's only a slight reduction."

According to her the big difference is in the 'living costs' when you are abroad on a vacation.

"Prices in Europe have dropped right down, the US has become a very affordable destination and hotel costs are very low. But everybody is scared. Nobody knows whether they're going to lose their jobs," says Eman. She adds that there is not much demand for five star accommodations this year. "Clients just want something good, not necessarily the best."

She talks about a client who had been a regular for the last five years and spent between RO45,000-55,000 for a three-week holiday with his immediate family in June or July.

"He always contacted me in March, but he hasn't called yet. I'm scared to call him thinking what if he says that he isn't going this year. I just don't want to hear the bad news."

But Shankar Bose, general manager, Bahwan Travel Agencies dismisses such fears. He says the man on the street here is wondering what recession is all about as Oman is among the least affected nations.

"It's going over most people's heads. There is a shortage in the availability of credit in the marketplace, but that hasn't really affected the travel business."

He says there are plenty of bargains to be had in hotels around the globe.

"Pricing policies for hotels are a very difficult terrain. These are unpredictable. There are all kinds of promotions - the rate of the day, travel trade special, stay five nights and pay for three, etc."

Bose acknowledges that Dubai is offering some of the best promotions in the region, but he says many clients are going further. "The thing about Dubai is that everybody who lives in Oman has been there several times and probably wouldn't want to go there for a holiday.

People are going to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, Malaysia China and Europe." As Agarwal puts it, the key to getting a better holiday for less is research. Investing time in finding the top deals well in advance either through a travel agent or independently over the Internet is what will ensure more bang for the buck.

However, the Omani vacationers had better move quickly to take advantage of these deals. If the predictions by some economists that the global downturn will come to an end in late 2009 or early 2010 prove true, then the cheap holidays which are possible this summer may not be an option for much longer."

Reasons to be cheerful
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