How We Now Holiday, Post-Covid-19

By Rachel Yeoh

November 2022 FEATURE
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TRAVELLERS ARE SEEING green after the Covid-19 pandemic ‒ no, not green with envy, but in the literal sense with nature. When international borders shut after the first quarter of 2020 due to Covid-19, all of us were largely constrained to our homes. Short-distance travel was also out of the question as we cowered at home to avoid the invisible enemy. Now when travel bans have been lifted and we can travel freely again, many of us seem to have altered our travel preferences and behaviours.

As you may also guess, more travellers now favour rural and nature-oriented locations with fewer folk to lower their chances of contracting Covid-19. Intrapersonal constraints, a by-product of the pandemic, now influence the choice of destination, travel activities[1] and preferred accommodation.

In the US, we hear that business and leisure travellers now prefer to stay at resorts, suburbs and small-town properties.[2] This is distinctly different from pre-Covid days when travel lodgings located in urban areas were highly favoured.

In Asia and the Pacific, research by the Asian Development Bank and the World Tourism Organisation this year reveals that visitor management will become increasingly important since travellers now opt for more “authentic” and low-impact experiences at nature-based localities.[3]

So, what accommodation styles are on-trend post-Covid-19, exactly?

Glamping

For those who want to experience camping but do not want to rough it out with mosquitoes, shared bathrooms (or the lack of one) and the feel of the hard ground on their back, glamping is a luxurious form of camping that offers a nature-based escapade within a glamorous setting. Think glasshouses that stand below lush forest canopies, open-air rain showers, plush beds with a comfortable duvet, and in some locations, air-conditioned rooms.

The concept was first introduced in Malaysia in 2015,[4] and Tourism Malaysia was quick to jump on the bandwagon to promote it as a new tourism product. Hardcore campers may scoff at the idea, but glamping makes holidaying with nature a more practical option for families with young children and seniors.

Madeline Khaw, a teacher who lives in Kuala Lumpur, shirked the city to “glamp” at the foothills of Genting Highlands recently and felt it was a needed getaway to recharge in nature with a small group. “Just to be away from crowds is what I prefer now,” she says.

One of Penang’s prime glamping spots is Boulder Valley, located in the northern part of the island along the border of Teluk Bahang and Balik Pulau. According to Muhammad Amir Qayyun, HR Manager of Boulder Valley, many are willing to travel across the peninsula to “glamp”, feeling the need to be with nature. ​“We can see a difference before and after Covid-19 – our occupancy rate has increased 20 to 30 percent, and we are almost full during the weekends.”

Boulder Valley. Photo by: Boulder Valley Facebook.

Dog-Friendly accommodations

When paw parents decide to go on vacation, pet boarding becomes part of the planning. However, not all pet owners have the luxury of leaving their pets behind ‒ some are guide dogs who need to be with their human companions, whereas some pets suffer from anxiety in the absence of their owner. Nirosha Elleangovan deals with the latter and is often on the lookout for dog-friendly accommodations when she travels. “Hotels are usually pretty strict with their no-pet policies, unlike homestays. It would be great and more convenient if more hotels become pet-friendly to encourage travel.”

Pet travel and lifestyle website, BringFido.com, reported an increase in pet-friendly vacation rental and hotel bookings post-Covid-19 of 140 percent and 55 percent, respectively. This phenomenon may also be due to a high pet adoption rate among Malaysians during the pandemic. In fact, Malaysia ranked third in Asia when it came to pet adoption searches during the height of Covid-19, just behind Singapore and the Philippines.[5]

The first few purveyors of pet-friendly travel accommodations were boutique hotels located in the heart of George Town. Noordin Mews, a Straits eclectic shophouse-turned-boutique-hotel featuring Peranakan decor welcomes dogs of all sizes, weights and breeds. Another pet-friendly boutique hotel is Kim Haus Loft located on Campbell Street. The newest “member” to receive pets as guests is the newly opened Ascott Gurney, which has an in-room amenities package that includes sleeping mats, pet towels and a food bowl.

Noordin Mews. Photo by: Noordin Mews Facebook

Village and farm stays

Homestays in villages and farms across Malaysia are not new. It started in 1995 under the Malaysia Rural Tourism Master Plan. Many have run with it, curating unique stays amongst greenery untouched by development, often accompanied by a clear stream meandering through the property.

These accommodations often offer minimal luxuries; expect refreshingly cold baths from water collected in a cement water tank and the setting up of mosquito nets before saying good night. One of those registered under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) is Mohd Akhir’s kampung (village) stay, Dusun Tok Wak Desa Sentosa, at Kampung Keda in Ulu Legong, Kedah.

Located in a valley surrounded by hills and verdant forests, guests will wake to misty cool mornings before being served a cup of kopi o sweetened by freshly harvested stingless bee honey. Depending on your chosen “holiday package”, you may be swept off to a full day of activities that include meals on the Ulu Legong river, coffee bean roasting, shrimp hunting and hiking.

Village and farm stays are usually more affordable and often preferred by travellers who do not need the bells and whistles that come with elaborate facilities that spell comfort. Mohd Akhir says that those who visit “want to learn and experience how we conduct our everyday lives. They also want to immerse themselves in nature.”

Dusun Tok Wak Desa Sentosa at Kampung Keda in Ulu Legong, Kedah. Photo by: Mohd Akhir

Luxury Eco-Resorts

Eco-friendly resorts ‒ what is new? While sustainability within the tourism and hospitality industry has increasingly become a priority over the past decade, more affluent travellers are now choosing to holiday in nature-based resorts that take sustainability seriously. Covid-19 seems to have also altered consumer behaviour to appreciate brand names with eco-friendly policies, ecological products and the like. Studies have shown that the effects of fear and uncertainty stemming from the pandemic have promoted altruistic behaviours and deepened consumers’ environmental concerns.[6] Industry players believe that this will continue to gain greater interest[7] over time.

Teoh Gini, an avid traveller, thinks that by supporting a business that truly cares about the environment, she is doing her part to promote sustainability. “Not all eco-friendly places are what they advertise,” she says. High on her list of eco-friendly resorts to visit is The Datai Langkawi, a five-star resort that practices sustainability at every level of operation. Led by Irshad Mobarak, their resident naturalist, the establishment initiated The Datai Pledge to be an active instigator for sustainable change and regenerative travel.

“They do proper waste segregation, water treatment ‒ they even melt down candles from each room and remake them to save wax.” Of course, luxury eco-friendly resorts fetch a hefty price, but Gini believes that those who can afford it “should support these initiatives by paying a little bit more for their efforts”.

The Datai Langkawi. Photo by: Your Golf Travel

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8653101/

[2] https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/72637/CHR%20Survey%20Results%20-%20Pre-%20and%20Post-COVID%20Travel%20Preferences.pdf?sequence=3

[3] https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/784186/covid-19-future-tourism-asia-pacific.pdf

[4] https://www.tourism.gov.my/media/view/tourism-malaysia-keen-to-promote-glamping

[5] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.647308/full

[6] https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/20/8688/htm

[7] https://www.hospitalitynet.org/opinion/4103717.html

Rachel Yeoh

is a former journalist who traded her on-the-go job for a life behind the desk. For the sake of work-life balance, she participates in Penang's performing arts scene after hours.


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