Low ringgit a draw for Singaporeans

As the ringgit fell to a record low against the Singdollar this week, travel agencies say they are seeing more Singaporeans head across the Causeway this year.

With the extra number of long weekends this year and the weak ringgit, which has taken a beating in recent months, travel agencies and coach services have reported an increase in the number of bookings for short trips to places such as the Legoland theme park in Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur.

News reports on Monday said the Malaysian currency is at its weakest against the Singdollar since 1981, with one Singdollar being able to buy about RM2.7 this week.

Some agencies tell SundayLife! they see more travellers spending more on services such as premium coaches with massage seats and coach attendants who serve food and drinks.

Ms Molly Chittick, senior sales manager at Transtar Travel, says: "The fall of the ringgit is definitely a major factor drawing shoppers and gamblers to Malaysia. Many passengers have upgraded to our luxurious coaches which cost an additional $55."

A coach ticket to Genting Highlands costs more than $200 during peak seasons, such as the June school holidays.

Transtar Travel has seen a jump of about 20 per cent in the number of travellers going to Malaysia this year, especially Genting Highlands and Kuala Lumpur.

Ms Chittick adds that travellers have also asked for more expensive hotels, perhaps because they now save more from shopping in Malaysia due to the weak ringgit.

Such hotels include Resorts World and Maxims Hotel in Genting Highlands, where a premium room can cost up to RM1,300 (S$468) a night.

WTS Travel, which runs an average of 300 trips to Malaysia a month, has also seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of bookings this year compared to last year.

Says Mr Richard Lim, manager for Malaysia and island operations at the agency: "Usually, the sub-$200 packages would be more popular, but this year, we have seen more people going for more luxurious accommodation such as Grand Lexus in Port Dickson and Avani Sepang."

He adds that the greater demand for these hotels may also be because package deals save travellers more money than if they were to book hotels and coaches separately.

But while the exchange rate is attractive, Singaporean travellers are not turning into spendthrifts and remain prudent. Many say they would not splurge on big-ticket items such as electronic goods.

"I would not buy any electronics - they are not cheaper as some retailers adjust prices based on the exchange rate. For example, Apple products and memory cards are still better bought in Singapore," says Mr Zan Goh, who visits Malaysia about five times a year.

The 23-year-old undergraduate at the National University of Singapore adds: "I really go there for the cheap thrills, such as Auntie Anne's pretzels and Magnum ice cream, things I would not normally buy here."

Ms Nishida Long, 21, went to Cameron Highlands and Sunway Lagoon with her boyfriend during the long Vesak Day weekend last month.

"Even though I'm willing to spend on good accommodation, there was a hotel (at Cameron Highlands) with room rates of $289 a night that were too pricey for me," says the Nanyang Technological University student.

"Honestly, the ringgit is not that much lower than what it used to be, so I'm still very conscious about the fact that $289 is a lot of money that I could spend better on other things."

According to a report by Tourism Malaysia, there was a 5.7 per cent increase in Singapore travellers to Malaysia last year, compared to 2013. About 13.9 million visits were made last year. The average Singapore tourist to Malaysia spent about RM2,330 in 2013.

In an e-mail response, Tourism Malaysia told SundayLife! that the most popular places visited by Singaporeans are Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang and Johor.

Housewife Monica Dian Priliana, 36, says the exchange rate is only one of a few factors she considers when deciding on travel destinations.

She took her six-year-old son to Legoland two weeks ago. They stayed for two nights at the Legoland Hotel, which cost $600 a night.

"Our choice of holiday destinations is not based on currency differences, but more on what each place has to offer," she says.

"For example, for fashion, Bangkok is cheaper and more up to date compared to Malaysia. We have been to Legoland a few times because my son loves Lego."

Legoland, a popular getaway among Singaporean families, says its visitor numbers are dependent on the season.

Mr Mark Germyn, general manager of Legoland Malaysia Resort, says: "For example, June is typically a school holiday period when we see more visitors. It is also the start of summer holidays for most international markets."

While Malaysia has always been a very popular destination among Singaporeans, Ms Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications at Dynasty Travel, says the full impact of the weak ringgit may not be felt so soon.

"The weakening currency has to be sustained for at least one to two months before we see the full impact of travel trends. Most of the school holiday plans would have already been made at least a month ago."


This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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