With Chinese New Year just 21/2 weeks away, retiree Peggy Toh has booked herself a seat on a coach to Johor Baru tomorrow to get her supply of festive goodies.
"I plan to buy goodies such as pong piah or sweet pastry with maltose filling and wife biscuits, pineapple tarts and almond cookies. All the goodies are available in one spot and are much cheaper than in Singapore," she says.
The 55-year-old Clementi West resident is among a group of Singaporeans who have signed up for festive shopping trips across the Causeway. These trips are organised by Residents' Committees (RC), travel agencies and community organisations.
Many of the shoppers are drawn to the lower prices of goodies and other festive items in Johor Baru. For example, a regular-sized container of good quality pineapple tarts cost as low as RM15 (S$6). A tub of similar quantity tarts can be priced from $12 in Singapore.
With the ringgit at a historic low against the Singapore dollar - the exchange rate is about $1 to RM2.68 - Singaporeans are likely to get even more bang for their buck across the Causeway.
A tour typically starts at 7am and ends at about 8 to 9pm with lunch, dinner and shopping in malls such as Aeon Tebrau City Shopping Centre and Sutera Mall thrown in. A coach ticket costs between $45 and $70, including meals.
The trip that Madam Toh is going on is organised by the West Coast Ville RC. More than 70 Clementi West residents have signed up for the one-day tour. The trip includes stops at popular shops selling Chinese New Year goodies, such as Yee Siang Confectionery and Yong Sheng Gift Shop.
These trips usually attract those aged 50 and above, organisers note.
Says Ms Helen R Chandran, a member of the West Coast Ville RC who planned tomorrow's trip: "More than 90 per cent of the participants are senior citizens. It's like a short getaway for them where everything is taken care of and they don't have to worry about how to get to the places."
"Last year, we had 80 people sign up. This time, we added a durian buffet for lunch as the residents really love to eat the fruit at Tangkak," she adds.
Some organisations have planned two-in-one festive shopping trips within Singapore and to Johor Baru. Punggol East Constituency Committee has a trip on Feb 8 and the Kaki Bukit Division by Aljunied GRC has one on Feb 15.
Four 40-seater coaches have been booked for the trip on Feb 8 - which includes a stop at San Chai Temple in Johor Baru, a Taoist place of worship popular among Singaporean devotees especially during the Chinese New Year period, says Ms Ng Swee Bee, legislative assistant to Workers' Party MP Lee Li Lian of Punggol East.
The U Live community, an initiative by the NTUC to engage the elderly, says the demand for such tours is high.
It has been offering one-day festive shopping trips to Johor Baru since 2009 and has one tomorrow.
"There has been a significant increase of 15 to 20 per cent in the number of participants every year. We started with about 30 participants and since then, it has more than doubled to the current 70," says Ms Lim Kay Min, director of community engagement and membership at NTUC Club.
Retiree Foo Yip Kee, 86, has been going on the tours with his wife since they began in 2009.
"We enjoy such trips to Johor Baru, especially now with the weak ringgit. The tour fare is reasonable and we are saved the hassle of organising our own trip there," he says.
At 96 Travel & Tours, tours to Malaysia account for 90 per cent of its offerings so it was a no-brainer to customise pre-Chinese New Year shopping tours. "Compared to 10 years ago, the demand for such tours has grown by 15 per cent," says sales manager Andy Toh.
Besides Johor Baru, the agency also organises New Year trips to Batu Pahat and Malacca.
But growing demand for such trips does not necessarily translate into better business for retailers across the Causeway.
Yee Siang Confectionery, a popular destination for Chinese New Year goodies, says business is not as bustling as it was 10 years ago.
"Then, we used to have 50 coaches of people coming on the weekends during the Chinese New Year period. Now, the number has dropped to about five," says store manager Eow Kai Chin.
About half of its patrons during the festive period are Singaporeans, he adds, attributing the drop to stiffer competition in the area as well as in Singapore.
Madam Toh says she will continue to go on such trips for as long as she can.
"I get to mingle with friends and have a short getaway. At my age, it's good to keep active," she says.
This article was first published on January 31, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.