Times are tight, but clever travellers know there are big discounts to be had, writes Jane E. Fraser.
And now for the good news...
The economic cloud hanging over Australia might be putting a dampener on spending but it does have a silver lining for determined travellers.
Those who keep an eye on the market over coming weeks can expect to find some bargains as operators drop prices to shore up demand. While some are raising prices to offset currency fluctuations, others are starting to discount rates and packages to encourage Australians to keep travelling.
Adding to this are ongoing reductions in airline fuel surcharges, due to a drop in the price of crude oil.
Airlines including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, Air Mauritius and Lufthansa have lowered their fuel surcharges in recent weeks.
There are some good international airfare deals in the market, with carriers sticking to their traditional pattern of releasing earlybird specials towards the end of the year for travel the following year. Flights to Europe are selling from about $1900 and earlybird specials for package tours and cruises are also available.
Singapore Airlines says it has released its earlybird fares earlier than normal, to help restore confidence in the market, and has extended the concept to more destinations.
Even rail operators are getting in on the act, with Rail Plus offering free days and discounts of up to 25 per cent on rail passes for next year.
Agencies that specialise in cruising are reporting unprecedented discounts from the international cruise lines that normally rely on US and British passengers to fill their berths. Cruises from Australian ports are selling at half or even a third of normal rates as cruise lines scramble to boost passenger numbers.
The managing director of Creative Cruising, Ernie Skalsky, says: "In most cases you can get on to the four-and-a-half to five-star vessels for around $100 a day, all inclusive.
"That's tremendous value for money."
Luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent is offering a two-for-one deal for Clipper Odyssey South Pacific cruises booked by the end of this month. The cruises are priced in US dollars, so travellers will still feel exchange-rate pain, but the deal represents unusual savings for the traveller.
It is difficult to pinpoint which sectors of the industry are suffering most, with agents and operators reporting mixed results. There is general agreement the market for older travellers has dropped and luxury operators are starting to concede they are losing bookings.
The backpacker and adventure-travel market is traditionally resistant to economic conditions and the largest adventure travel operator, GAP Adventures, says it is holding up well. All-inclusive holiday providers such as Club Med are also doing well (see breakout box).
Many hotels and resorts are offering deals such as "second person stays free" or "three nights for the price of two", while some have released specific "crunch time" packages or "budget beater" vouchers.
Families will also benefit from "kids stay free" deals, or packages that include activities or kids' club passes.
Coach tour operator APT is offering a "discount on a discount" on some of its Tasmanian tours, doubling previously offered discounts as it struggles to fill seats.
Australian travellers have always been resilient and hard to discourage, with the market recovering well after incidents such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the SARS outbreak.
With interest rates dropping and government handouts on the way, it is likely many Aussies will shrug off the economic situation and continue to hit the road.
The best way to get value for the Aussie dollar is to spend it in Australia but for travellers who want to head overseas, there are options without the ouch factor.
Lonely Planet spokesman Malcolm O'Brien says for those who still hanker for a far-flung destination, Brazil has a favourable exchange rate.
O'Brien says Iceland is another option, provided reasonably priced flights are available, as the economic situation has brought down prices in what has traditionally been an expensive destination for travellers.
In Asia, O'Brien recommends Korea, which has a good exchange rate and offers activities such as hiking, hot springs and Buddhist temples.
Popular South-East Asian destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam are also worth watching. "The hotels and resorts are dropping their prices because they're not enjoying the occupancy they want," he says.
Closer to home, O'Brien recommends New Zealand, which remains good value, and Vanuatu, which he says is a good place to get back to basics.
One direction travellers turn to when times get tight is all-inclusive holidays. Club Med, for example, is recording double-digit growth in Australian bookings. While general manager Heidi Kunkel says the growth is partly due to company's move towards more upmarket holidays, she knows all-inclusive pricing is a big drawcard. "There are no surprises on the credit card when you return because everything is included and paid prior to departure," she says.
P&O Cruises Australia is also bucking the trend, with strong forward bookings.
While others are delaying investments, P&O is doubling its Australian fleet in the next two years.
Source : TheAge
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