Why Has It Become So Dense?
You are excited. You’re planning your annual holiday trip to Asia anticipating all the fun you will find in the bars and from the apps. Your only decision? Where to go and how to get there.
Well, not quite, unfortunately for there are a lot of pitfalls long before you get to your exotic destinations! The most obvious one is your travel arrangements.
Let’s assume that you want to fly first (no dears, not first class – first sectors!) from Edinburgh to Singapore at the back of the plane in steerage. After a few days shopping, lying by a pool to get over jet-lag, cruising the often great eye candy along Orchard Road or even spending some more energetic time in a gay sauna and elbow-bending in a gay bar, it’s time to move on.
You decide on the regular bus service up to Kuala Lumpur, far easier and only a fraction longer than taking a flight. Those hot Malay and Chinese guys are all over the apps these days. So you won’t even need to wander far from your hotel!
You then continue on to Thailand for the main part of your trip – much more (!) rest, recreation and your fill of nightlife. Nearly exhausted, you move to Taipei. Perhaps, if it’s the end of October, you want to take in the annual Gay Pride Parade which last year attracted around 125,000 marchers, mostly from around Taiwan and other parts of Asia, and almost all slim-fit and wonderfully cute!
Not a complicated itinerary by any means. And in theory it should not be difficult to plan, but you want to ensure every penny is well spent. You will find plenty of competition on the long international flights, although for your routing you have to factor in at least one plane change. This is a good time to take a look at Qatar Airlines. For many months this tiny Gulf state has been the target of economic and political sanctions by several neighbouring countries, including Saudi Arabia with whom it shares its land borders. These countries have banned Qatar from their air space. Flying east, that’s not a problem for the airline, as it will fly over the Gulf. Fly in any other direction, though, and detours become essential. The airline’s costs and load factors have clearly been affected. For travellers this has been a boon as there have been special fare sales at least once a month. The biggest discounts have been in their excellent business class. In one recent sale, the cost of that Edinburgh to Singapore ticket dropped by around 40%!
In the bad old days, finding one-way tickets was a real pain. They tended to be far more expensive than half the cost of a return. Now many carriers happily offer one-way tickets. So that “open-jaw” as it’s called in the business (arriving at one destination and departing from a different one) is now much easier.
Once you have locked in the intercontinental flights, you know there are budget carriers from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok and Bangkok to Taipei. So that only leaves hotels. If you have no friends who can give advice, you probably know roughly where you’ll want to stay. Definitely near a subway, probably close to one of the gays areas, and certainly within the budget you can afford. If you are still not confident, you’ve heard about TripAdvisor where travellers give their own impressions of the hotels they stay in (for more information on TripAdvisor, please check back to our earlier article here). That will give you some sort of guide. An evening searching the Internet should then have provided you with most of the information you need. Right?
Well, that again is the theory. Sadly, in practice, unless you are pretty well clued-in on the intricacies of the search engines you consult, you will definitely end up wasting a great deal of your precious time and perhaps even some of your hard-earned cash.
In the dim and distant past, a meeting with your High Street travel consultant would be the extent of your worries. You would eventually be given a suggested itinerary with flights and hotels, along with an option or two. As the travel business has increasingly migrated to the internet, though, your options have multiplied manyfold. It’s not just the number and routing of flights or the cost of rooms in different hotels. You quickly realise that if you postpone your trip by just a day or two, that long outward flight can be significantly cheaper. Great! Well, not so great! Because you then find the return intercontinental flight now is a bit more expensive, and you’ll have to search more hotels in Taipei as the one you had set your heart on is full for the new dates!
In other words, the world of intercontinental travel on the internet has become a minefield.
Let’s start with hotels. We’ve all heard about Expedia. Should we start there? Maybe since you’re in the UK you can look at what you know is a newish biggie search engine – trivago – or even the smaller venere. Checking each of those sites you are surprised that there is little difference in the prices being offered. So you try Orbitz. Shit! A bit cheaper but it doesn’t offer breakfast in the quoted rate! How about hotels.com? Now this is more interesting because it offers one free night for every ten nights you book. Can you make this work? Well, only if you pay a higher basic nightly rate. After all, someone has to pay for those free rooms you might end up with. The end result is that after a couple of hours, you are so frustrated because you have absolutely no idea which site to use – or if there might be cheaper ones you have missed.
All this is perfectly understandable. Yet there is another more pertinent reason behind your frustration. Unless you are a regular traveller, you are probably unaware that every search engine I have listed so far is part of one giant company, Expedia. The one not part of Expedia is TripAdvisor, but only because Expedia hived it off as a separate company in 2011.
There are of course other ways to book hotels. One is to call direct and find out if they can offer a cheaper rate. Not the ideal solution as you will have to make several international calls, perhaps being passed from department to department.
If you happen to be a more regular traveller and a member of the loyalty groups of one of the large International chains, almost certainly you will find the cheapest rate for the hotels on the group’s own sites, and you might even get a freebie or two, including complimentary internet or guaranteed upgrades.
If your travel is more or less limited to one long annual vacation, then you’ll have to find another way. My first piece of advice is: take what you read on TripAdvisor with a hefty dose of salt. It is well known throughout the travel business that some hotels get better star ratings as a result of fake reviews. And it’s not just an occasional review. Some get their staff, the staff in their PR companies and their suppliers to contribute 2- or 3-line reviews that are total nonsense. I’m not saying TripAdvisor is a dead loss. It can provide interesting information. Best, though, to leave aside the best and the worst reviews and concentrate on those by reviewers who have contributed at least 30 to 40 other reviews and which provide much more detail than “Fantastic hotel!”
Some travellers give much more credence to the reviews on each individual search engine, if only because these can only be provided by those who actually stayed in the hotels. Even so, I don’t agree. The real problem is that all travellers have different backgrounds, different travel experiences and different expectations. A young hitchhiker splashing out on a decent hotel for the last night of a trip will almost certainly provide a much more favourable review than a seasoned business traveller forced by his company to downgrade his accommodations. That salt comes in handy again!
Some years ago, I gave up using individual search engines in favour of an independent site, Hotels Combined. The beauty of this is that it gets rid of the need to check each search engine individually. Throughout Asia it will offer a dozen or more search engine prices, most for all the types of room each hotel has available. Occasionally it offers a hotel’s own prices where these are lower than those offered by the search engines. Try it! At the very least it saves you a ton of time.
Part 2 of this article will appear in a few weeks.
Read More: Part 1 – Part 2