Be unprepared at your peril
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.