IT is the year-end after all and there is simply no reason or excuse not to be part of the compulsion for travel, whether it is part of the festivity or otherwise. Annually, Christmas is celebrated by many and yet others take time off to enjoy the visual feast the festive season offers.
Christmas is probably the only occasion that is depicted in various ways around the globe. On a short sojourn in Singapore over the weekend, I took off to cruise along Orchard Road and I was amazed, as always, at the fantasy-like transformation of the entire street. Every living and non-living edifice along the street had been prettified. Some malls go the extra mile to present Christmas in context to make the decorations more meaningful.
People, people and people everywhere till midnight, the scene was one that gave me a sense of euphoria. Singapore is one place where people throng shopping complexes during the year-end season, just to window shop and be part of the crowd. Paradoxically, buying is only incidental to shopping.
In line, we also have our own city of Kuala Lumpur which is better than the best of everything else we might have seen. It is customary for me to visit the malls in Golden Triangle to enjoy the Christmas decorations and there was no letdown this year.
Tourists throng the Bukit Bintang area for all its offerings, from shopping to food and cheap massages. The crowd made me feel that tourism is thriving in the country as the shops were buzzing with transactions.
I also spent some days in Bali, Indonesia and the Christmas colours had gone up as part of the landscape around the island. Shopping centres big and small have adopted the Christmas theme and the ornamentations were simply awesome.
I have been to Bali five times over the last 15 years and with the most recent visit felt Bali had been overspent in terms of resources. I stayed at the heart of happenings in Kuta, about 10-minute walk from Kuta Beach. No doubt, prices have gone up over the years, which is actually not really a point of contention as services are generally still beyond expectation.
Just this time around, I sensed Bali was losing its charm and many frequent visitors decry the same. For return tourists, the attractions remain the same with the exception that getting around Bali had become a nightmare with congestion greeting us all through the day.
One has to plan the day with congestion in mind and if you have a 10-hour outdoor planned, you will be able to see about two to three places within the same locality. If it is Ubud, it has to be just that for the day.
With the tourist arrivals numbers Bali has, I wonder why the state government has not upgraded the public transport infrastructure.
Getting around is only by private vehicles or motorcycles. It looks like public transport is not in vogue in Bali. For residents, owning at least a two-wheeler is a must to getting around. With this, you can imagine the pollution one has to live with.
What is the price Bali is paying as a choice tourist destination? Overcrowded beaches, boom in building without any regulation and development plans and waste disposal crisis.
Quite unlike my previous trips, business seems to be hard hit this year. Shop assistants and service providers chase you to sell their wares, with some of them almost begging because there had been no sales for the day. The prices drop to a sinful low when bargaining begins and it becomes a buyer’s market.
Shop helpers were seen taking a snooze in their shop during the day and yet others get together and indulge in board games to while away their time.
The streets, not just in Kuta or Seminyak but around most of the southeastern corner of Bali were immensely congested, the whole island felt like it was collapsing under its own weight of traffic, noise and pollution.
When you drive out of the cities, the green padi fields give you a sense of calm and hope but only momentarily before they disappear and are replaced by concrete structures, mostly shops.
The point is, for tourism to survive, there must be new products offered with the existing ones upgraded. Apart from that, traffic congestion is not something tourists like to deal with when on holiday.
It may be time to take stock of our own tourist destinations like Penang and Langkawi to improve and improvise for a better pitch.
Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to all.