With warm weather, beaches, competitive accommodation rates and relatively close proximity to Australia, Bali and Thailand have long stood out as holiday destinations for Australians.
As of October, Thailand has finally joined Indonesia in dropping its remaining entry restrictions for foreign visitors, as well as increasing its maximum period of stay from 30 days to 45.
The tourism favourite is playing catch-up with Bali, as the Indonesian government strengthens its proposition by allowing foreign visitors to live as digital nomads for up to six months on an existing B211A visa – without paying tax. The enhanced visa was announced in September, in place of the government’s original proposal for a longer-term digital nomad visa.
Sydneysider Simone Wilkins is heading to Bali next Friday for her second trip since borders reopened, spending the week with family members who are flying in from Brisbane.
Get the latest news and updates emailed straight to your inbox.
The group booked a luxury four-bedroom holiday rental in Canggu, Villa Panblas, for a little more than $700 a night.
“This is inclusive of cleaning, any support services, breakfast cooked in the villa each morning, and an incredible looking pool,” she said.
But how does Thailand’s holiday offerings compare, as Australians begin to trickle back to the south-east Asian favourite?
Adam Schwab, chief executive and co-founder of travel deals specialist Luxury Escapes, said Bali bookings have been surging since March, but now it’s Thailand’s turn.
“Thailand was a bit slower to recover but now it’s flying,” he said.
The combination of dropped foreign visitor restrictions and competitive holiday offers has seen the company’s Thailand sales more than double pre-COVID levels, with Australians planning ahead to 2023.
“Flight costs aren’t super high, unlike North America. It’s been incredible how quickly Thailand has bounced back, and savvy travellers are booking up holidays for 2023 and grabbing the best deals.”
The sales spike has come in the wake of a resort-building boom in Asia of the last few years, according to Schwab.
“The boom has meant that new and existing hotels are offering incredible deals because there’s so much more supply on the market,” Schwab said.
He said “grand opening” specials offer the best bang for buck, as resorts try to attract new clientele.
“It’s absolutely a great idea to look out for grand opening specials, which mean not only you get amazing prices, but also you get to stay in a brand new hotel,” he said.
Booking.com Australia manager Melissa Ellison said the pandemic and current cost of living have helped fuel demand for these destinations, just a direct flight away.
“The breadth of choice, flexibility and price in these destinations are a huge draw, with travellers being able to experience luxury without a hefty price tag,” said Ellison.
On Booking.com, travellers can book a spacious balcony or terrace room in the five-star U Sathorn Bangkok for less than $200 a night, while in Bali, stays at Ubud’s Wana Shanti Villa by Madhava, an apartment-style property, start from just $51 a night.
Ellison also noted a strong pandemic-led shift towards Australians like Wilkins, seeking out self-contained accommodation, citing research that showed more than a third of Australians said preferences have changed due to the pandemic.
“Of those, a quarter now favour staying in alternative accommodation such as homes and private villas, which both Bali and Thailand have in abundance,” said Ellison.
“Whole villas with a private pool and 35-square-metres of luxury, start from as little as $75 a night,” she said.
Despite the Australian dollar dipping against the Thai baht and Indonesian rupiah, the relative affordability of on-the-ground costs still make the two countries a cheaper alternative to countries like Japan and the UK, where the Australian dollar is performing comparatively well.
Bali is still leading the charge in the air. Both Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin have all resumed flights to Denpasar. Jetstar has recommenced non-stop services to Phuket from Sydney and Melbourne, while Thai Airways and AirAsia continue to service a number of Australian cities.
Since the Indonesian government relaxed border controls for vaccinated travellers on May 18, visitor numbers have soared. Indonesia has remained Australia’s second-most visited overseas destination since June, with from 87,770 trips in August, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data. This is second only to New Zealand (88,950 trips).
Thailand vs Bali: Which destination offers the best value for an affordable luxe escape? – Traveller