City lights outshine sandy beaches in Penang

GEORGE TOWN: Easy access to a wide variety of food and a line-up of diverse cultural activities and fun-filled events seem to have made tourist accommodations in the city centre more popular than those on the beaches.

Penang is famed as an island state and Batu Feringghi, the most well-known destination, used to be packed with holidaymakers indulging in the sunshine and beautiful beaches.

This has changed, somewhat.

Malaysian Association of Hotels’ Penang chapter chairman Tony Goh said city hotels are seeing better times, surpassing the occupancy rate of beach resorts.

He said this had become more apparent with the increase of events downtown since May.

“The occupancy rate of city hotels picked up from mid-May, thanks to the increase in corporate and business events as well as more visitors seeking leisure (activities) or medical treatment.

“Tourists prefer the convenience of being closer to places of interest and eateries, and there are more choices in the city,” he added.

Goh said that even so, the beach resorts are still doing well as leisure travellers prefer them.

“While beach resorts have higher occupancy on weekends and public holidays, hotels in the city do better on weekdays,” he said, adding that hotels under the association, with a total room inventory of some 16,000, recorded an average occupancy rate of between 60% and 80% on weekends.

Prestige Hotel general manager Melvin Ooi said holidaymakers, especially domestic tourists, would opt for town hotels due to their accessibility to cultural activities, food, entertainment and other services.

“George Town is famous for its variety of hawker fare and historical sites. As for beach hotels, they are traditionally known to seasonal guests.

“Collaborative efforts must be carried out to attract guests beyond the traditional summer or holiday seasons,” he added.

Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa communications director Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman said most of the hotel guests were from China, the Middle East and Europe.

He also said the market is now different compared to the time when Batu Feringghi was the main spot for hotel stays and tourism products.

“It is a bit slower now because there are many hotels in George Town.

“There is a line-up of programmes in town, such as the George Town Festival and Penang International Food Festival, which have become the latest tourist attractions,” he added.

Suleiman said in the 1980s, there were many beach-related activities and carnivals held along the coastline of Batu Feringghi.

“For now, almost all programmes are being held in the city centre.

“Perhaps in the future, some programmes can be conducted in Batu Ferringhi to bring back its glory, something creative that can attract the tourists,” he added.

Azran Hassan, 45, from Kuala Lumpur, said he would still prefer to seek accommodations at the beachfront although these resorts are pricier.

“Even the hawker food here is expensive, so those who want to spend their holiday at the beach must be prepared to fork out extra money.

“More programmes should be held in this tourism belt to bring back the crowds,” he said.

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