Be un­pre­pared at your peril

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

AC­CORD­ING to Roy Mor­gan Re­search’s in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tor of tourism, travel & leisure, Jane Ian­niello, ‘‘Tra­di­tional bricks-and-mor­tar travel agents are los­ing pop­u­lar­ity as more Aus­tralians use the in­ter­net to book their overseas hol­i­day.’’ But one of the big traps when book­ing hol­i­days on­line in­stead of via a pro­fes­sional and knowl­edge­able travel agent is grab­bing cheap air­fares with­out fac­tor­ing in the cost of ac­com­mo­da­tion and sea­sonal avail­abil­ity.

Last month, I snapped up re­turn flights to Sri Lanka from Syd­ney on bud­get car­rier Scoot.com’s site for a tiny $1200, or about half the price of fares charged by ma­jor air­lines on this route. What I didn’t ac­count for were the high tar­iffs and the dif­fi­culty of find­ing a bed dur­ing Sri Lanka’s an­nual fes­tive hol­i­day sea­son.

The so-called teardrop isle has been un­der­go­ing a surge in pop­u­lar­ity as a tourist des­ti­na­tion since 2009, fol­low­ing the abrupt halt of the 26-year civil war be­tween the Sri Lankan mil­i­tary and the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka is now widely tipped as one of the world’s hottest new places to visit this year, along with emerg­ing Myan­mar and Brazil, par­tic­u­larly 2016 Olympics and Par­a­lympics host city Rio de Janeiro.

It was my first visit to Sri Lanka in 20 years and I had not reck­oned on the com­par­a­tively high price of ho­tels and some Colombo restau­rants, such as the chic new Min­istry of Crab, but trans­port is cheap, shop­ping is a bargain and if you dine in lo­cal eater­ies, you can score lunch and drinks for two for about $4.

I forked out $300 a night for a room in a nine-villa com­plex near the his­toric Dutch town­ship of Galle on Sri Lanka’s beau­ti­ful south coast be­cause the bou­tique ho­tels in the fash­ion­able Galle Fort walled precinct were booked solid. But at least the Jetwing Ho­tel at Era Beach turned out to be a lovely beach­front prop­erty with an en­tic­ing pool and, in any other Asian des­ti­na­tion, would prob­a­bly have set me back about $450 a night.

But af­ter paying $160 a night for a ho­tel near Si­giriya, the an­cient World Her­itage-listed rock fortress in the cen­tral re­gion of Sri Lanka, my good hu­mour dis­si­pated. De­spite sev­eral vis­its from house­keep­ing at­ten­dants to try to fix the prob­lem, the bath­room con­tin­ued to reek of sewage. (I couldn’t open the win­dows or bal­cony doors to let in fresh air be­cause the ho­tel’s res­i­dent mon­keys were very ea­ger to join me in the room.)

In cen­tral Colombo, I was able to book a ba­sic room on the spot in the un­re­stored wing at the his­toric Galle Face Ho­tel, built in 1864 and billed as ‘‘the old­est ho­tel east of Suez’’, but at $200 a night, de­spite the grandeur and at­mos­phere of the ho­tel’s pub­lic ar­eas, this could not be con­sid­ered a hol­i­day bargain.

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