SEMINYAK ~ Bali is experiencing near-record hotel and flight bookings for the upcoming Christmas and New Yearâ€™s holidays, reflecting continued and renewed interest in what has repeatedly been voted the worldâ€™s best island destination, industry officials said this week.
Â Â Â Â Â Even ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is taking a pre-Christmas break here, arriving on Wednesday after months of political tumult to put his feet up for a week, his lawyer Noppadol Pattama said.
Â Â Â Â Â Singapore Airlines, which operates three flights daily from Singapore to Bali, as well as three return services, is seeing a â€œdouble-digitâ€ increase in passenger numbers to Bali for the December to January period.
â€œI can safely tell you that we are experiencing double-digit growth for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holiday season compared to last year, in terms of forward bookings,â€ Singapore Airlinesâ€™ Bali manager Desmond Lim told The Bali Times.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Tourists were generally vacationing anywhere from three days to a week, but it varied depending on the market, with Europeans staying longer than Asians, he said.
Â Â Â Â Â Singapore Airlines, the worldâ€™s second-largest by market capitalization, says Bali is â€œan extremely attractive tourist destinationâ€ and is vital to the airlineâ€™s operations as it carries passengers from all over the world who transit in the city-state.
Bali, it says, is strategically important in terms of location and what it contributes to the airlineâ€™s revenues.
National carrier Garuda Indonesia is â€œfully bookedâ€ for Christmas and New Year on flights from Jakarta to Bali, and has added 2,000 additional seats to meet demand, Bali manager Uun Setiawan told The Times.
Load factors on international routes to Bali were also up, he said.
â€œFlights from Tokyo to Bali are almost full, and if necessary we will add flights,â€ he said.
Meanwhile, Bali Adventure Tours â€“ a comprehensive tourism-recreation firm with attractions ranging from an Elephant Safari Park in the central area of Taro to high-octane activities like paragliding, mountain cycling and white-water rafting â€“ says after a downturn business is once again thriving.
Â Â Â Â Â â€œSome of our customers are booking via our website (www.baliadventuretours.com) but we cooperate with all the travel agencies in Bali, who send us tourists,â€ operational manager Rick Bolt told The Times.
Â Â Â Â Â The foreign-owned firm, which since its inception in 1989 by Australian Nigel Mason and his Balinese wife Yanie has hosted celebrities like David Beckham, Claudia Shiffer and the late â€œCrocodile Hunterâ€ Steve Irwin, would see higher customer numbers this holiday season as Baliâ€™s tourism once again boomed, said Bolt.
â€œPeople will visit this island again and again â€“ they know and love Bali,â€ he added.
Leading hotels are recording high occupancy levels for December as rooms quickly fill up, hotel executives said.
â€œRight now we have 85-percent occupancy for December and Iâ€™m sure that will rise, especially as weâ€™re getting so many Russian tourists,â€ Iva Farida, sales director of the 390-room Nikko Bali Resort & Spa in the five-star enclave of Nusa Dua, told The Times.
The holiday period would likely be extended due to the arrival of Russian tourists, who typically stayed longer at that time of year, at least until mid-January, she said.
The beachfront propertyâ€™s main markets were Asia, Europe and domestic, with the majority of guests Japanese and Russian, added Farida.
At the Hard Rock Hotel in front of the legendary Kuta Beach, public relations manager Dewi Banowati said other holidays, such as Idul Adha, the Muslim Day of Sacrifice that this year falls on December 31, were helping to bolster the domestic tourism market.
Â Â Â Â Â The rock & roll-themed hotel had â€œa 60-percent occupancy rate for December and we are convinced it will increase as weâ€™re doing a lot of promotion,â€ she said, adding that most guests came from Malaysia and Singapore.
Â Â Â Â Â On the verdant northwestern coast of Bali, the clientele is mainly European at the Matahari Beach Resort in the village of Pemuteran in Singaraja Regency, according to manager Gede Astika.
Â Â Â Â Â Recent efforts by businesspeople to promote the relatively remote area had led to a surge in vacationers staying at local hotels, like the five-star Matahari, which opened in 1995 and whose nightly rates run to US$466, he told The Times.
Â Â Â Â Â â€œWeâ€™re expecting a full house this Christmas, and the reservations are continuing to pour in,â€ he said.
This is such a natural area â€“ and probably the only place in Bali where you wonâ€™t find beach sellers,â€ added Astika, whose hotel is the only member of the Relais & ChÃ¢teaux hospitality network in Southeast Asia.
Â Â Â Â Â Back in tourist-thronged Kuta, and staff at one of the busiest travel agents were gearing up for a bumper holiday season.
Â Â Â Â Â â€œCompared to last year, the number of people making inbound bookings is increasing,â€ Barbara Purwa, operations director at KCB Tours & Travel, told The Times.
Â Â Â Â Â The agency was also seeing a rise in the number of Bali-based bookings for travel outside the island and country, to places like Singapore, she said.
Â Â Â Â Â By William J. Furney
Â Â Â Â Â Managing Editor
Â Â Â Â Â The Bali Times
Â Â Â Â Â With staff reporter Indra Prayogi