GEORGE TOWN: Thousands of foreign workers took the opportunity of the Hari Raya holiday break to visit Penang’s tourist attractions over the weekend.
“They came in droves, even chartering their own buses,” said Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng.
He said from the first day of Hari Raya, a constant stream of buses brought the workers to the lower station of Penang Hill, adding that most were from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Cheok said he also learnt that most of them were factory workers, adding that foreign workers used to come to the state in chartered buses before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They are well-behaved and waited patiently for their turn to ride the funicular train up the hill. Due to the large crowd and longer waiting times, we hired clowns to keep everyone entertained,” he added.
Over the long weekend, he said Penang Hill received up to 8,000 visitors daily despite the poor weather and renovation work that reduced the railway’s operating times.
Mohd Hussain Ali, 42, from Bangladesh, was in a group of 36 who came here in a chartered bus from Kulim.
“Most of us are colleagues in a factory, and we came with friends working in other factories nearby.
“Since this is a major public holiday and all of us are not working, we decided to charter a bus to Penang Hill and Batu Ferringhi.
“Shared among us, the charge is not expensive. We have worked so hard, so we want to enjoy our break in Penang,” he added.
It is believed that the number of locals visiting Penang was not that high.
Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chapter chairman Tony Goh said the occupancy for large hotels with more than 300 rooms averaged only about 60%, with smaller ones with fewer than 250 rooms receiving up to 80% occupancy.
“As for hotels at the beaches, they averaged about 80% to 90%. This was due to a last-minute pick-up of between 10% and 20%.
“Occupancy is softer than last year’s Hari Raya when the border in Malaysia was opened and domestic travellers had not opted for overseas travel.
“But this year, many Malaysians have taken to travelling overseas for the long weekend holiday,” he said.
Goh added that hotels are gearing up for a surge during the next long weekend break with Labour Day falling on Monday.
At the usual local tourist haunts, Association of Tourist Attractions Penang chairman Ch’ng Huck Theng said crowds were smaller.
He said locals had chosen to balik kampung instead of visiting Penang, while other communities might have avoided interstate travel for fear of being caught in traffic snarls on the highways.
“We had looked forward to more visitors, but found promotions for this Hari Raya rather lacking in trying to woo domestic travellers,” he said.
Checks on Penang’s main roads found them to be busier than usual. Roads leading out of the state on mainland Penang and into the North-South Expressway were congested in the afternoon.