Empty beaches, balmy weather and romantic meals at bargain prices – it’s the winter-sun holiday of dreams. This year, however, it may also be a viable reality. The Post Office’s Travel Money Long Haul Holiday Report has found that, thanks to the strength of sterling against local currencies, prices are down in some of the world’s most alluring holiday hotspots, with the Far East offering particularly good value.
Using a “barometer basket” of meals and drinks in bars and restaurants, as well as supermarket essentials including sun cream and insect repellent, the Post Office has revealed that prices have fallen since 2022 in 88 per cent of the destinations it surveyed (in both years) and that Hoi An in Vietnam was cheapest of all. Five other Far Eastern destinations also made the top 10, including Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand.
It’s not just in the Far East’s supermarkets and restaurants where bargains are to be found though. The region’s tourist industry has been slow to bounce back post-Covid and is now doing everything it can to attract holidaymakers.
“Tourism in the Far East has faced several challenges on its path to recovery post-pandemic,” says Sadudee Sangnil, director of the London office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). “One significant factor is flight capacity and cost”.
Lingering pandemic restrictions also hindered recovery in 2022. However, interest from holidaymakers is now surging and one tour operator told Telegraph Travel that this has allowed it to negotiate better rates from suppliers and pass lower prices on to its customers.
Empty beaches in Thailand
Despite this, tourism levels in Thailand remain lower than pre-pandemic. “Thailand’s tourism recovery is lagging for three main reasons; firstly, they had a very confusing stop/start reopening post Covid; secondly Covid restrictions finished there a long time after most of the world had returned to normal; and thirdly, Thai tourism infrastructure took a real hit,” explains Sam Clark of Experience Travel Group.
The country’s operators and hotels are offering particularly good deals to entice travellers back. “We don’t believe that anywhere comes close to Thailand’s small luxury hotels in terms of the quality and value for money,” Clark adds.
Sidestepping the crowds starts with picking the right resort according to Parveen Jackson, Luxtripper’s Head of Product. “Koh Samui has struggled to bring in tourism since the pandemic, partly due to the direct flight from London not resuming. However, it’s incredibly easy to spend a few days in Bangkok and then hop over, something we include in our packages and which our clients love,” she says.
The company is currently offering 35 per cent off an 11-night, five-star B&B break to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. Staying in Anantara resorts, it costs from £2,799pp. Elsewhere, Kenwood Travel has savings of up to 45 per cent on one week’s B&B at the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, which costs from £887pp including flights via Dubai.
Vietnam’s tourism boom
Vietnam, meanwhile, is having a moment. New and favourable visa rules and a burgeoning luxury travel industry mean visitor numbers are steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels. However, Post Office research found that prices in the country have fallen by 27.9 per cent since 2019, with sterling 13.3 per cent stronger against the Vietnamese dong compared with September 2022.
“Post-pandemic, Vietnam has focused on developing as a luxury tourist destination and this has meant a big push in new luxury hotels, improved offerings from existing providers, and also a focus on local infrastructure,” says Jackson. “As the focus on luxury tourism is still growing, the price point for a Vietnam package is still very reasonable, but without compromising on service or quality”.
Plan your departure carefully and you’ll reap rewards. “There is a trick to getting Vietnam right, which is to go at the right time – not as simple as it sounds,” said one of the experts at TravelLocal. “The locals in Hue, to take one example, find it amusing that international travel companies push the winter months as being a good time to go. It’s pouring with rain for most of October – January. If you ask a local, they will say that Hue is pretty magical from around February to May. Due to central Vietnam in particular being mis-sold in this way, if you do go in, say, March, you will find the crowds are gone and you can enjoy one of the most beautiful towns in the country, as well as the excellent nearby coast”.
The company has an 18-day ‘Being a Local’ customisable tour from £1,595pp excluding both internal and external flights (expect to pay upwards of £675 return for the London to Vietnam leg). Meanwhile, Llama Travel is offering more than £200 off its 12-day Vietnam South to North tour, with prices starting from £1,979pp including international flights.
Bargains in Bali
Bali is another destination that’s bounced back after the pandemic, thanks in part to an influx of Australian and American tourists. Nevertheless, competitive airfares and cheap local prices (on a par with 2019 according to the Post Office) make it a good choice for a winter getaway: return flights from the UK with one stop cost as little as £563pp in January 2024 according to Skyscanner, significantly less than direct flights to Thailand or Vietnam.
On the ground, the key to keeping your holiday both affordable and crowd-free is to avoid the tourist hotspots and venture slightly off the beaten track. “Travellers can keep costs down by staying in locally-owned accommodation and shopping and eating locally,” says Intrepid’s UK and Ireland General Manager, Hazel McGuire.
One of Intrepid’s trips, Beautiful Bali, includes a homestay in Sibetan Village on the slopes of the Mount Agung volcano, as well as time in the sleepy seaside town of Lovina with its empty beaches. “It’s great for snorkelling and remains off most travellers’ radar,” says McGuire. The eight-night trip costs from £693pp including activities and some meals but excluding flights. Elsewhere, Holiday Pirates has 30 per cent off an 11-night Jungle to Beach multi-centre trip, which costs from £1,649pp B&B including international flights, four and five star accommodation and some activities.