Bonanza week for businesses as Malaysians return to hometowns for Hari Raya

A group of men breaking their fast at the side of a highway in Gombak, Malaysia, on April 29, 2022. Malaysians were able to cross state lines freely for Hari Raya following the easing of restrictions from May 1. PHOTO: REUTERS
Hospitality operators and petrol stations reported brisk sales as millions of Malaysians returned to their hometowns. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - In the first week of Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations, Mr Razwan Nik Aziz made more than RM10,000 (S$3,160) in passive income as all five of his homestay units in northern state Perlis were fully rented.

"I was really shocked to get so many calls from people asking about my homestays. I feel bad that I had to turn them down," he told The Straits Times.

His single-storey terrace houses are priced from RM250 a night, based on the size and amenities.

Similarly, manager Siti Hajar Azlan said the 40-room budget hotel she works at in Negeri Sembilan is also fully booked till next week, reflecting a 40 to 50 per cent increase in sales.

"I think people really went all out this year. It felt like everyone was looking for a room, maybe to rest or for a short getaway," she said.

Hospitality operators and petrol stations have reported brisk sales in what they call a bonanza week, as millions of Malaysians returned to their hometowns for Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations that began on May 2.

Unlike in the past two years, everyone can now cross state lines freely and "balik kampung" following the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Malaysia from May 1.

According to Malaysian Association of Hotels president N. Subramaniam, many hotels in the east coast were fully booked during the festive season.

"East coast hotels and those in Melaka, Johor and Penang were running at full occupancy for the festive season as, unlike in the past two years, people have been able to return to their hometowns or just go on a holiday," Datuk Subramaniam was quoted as saying by local newspaper Sun Daily last week.

Heavy traffic was also reported, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The exodus also saw many vehicles stranded along roads and at petrol stations as kiosks in many parts of Malaysia ran dry of petrol on May 7 due to the demand surge.

According to social media users, the most affected service stations appeared to be in the peninsular east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, as well as parts of northern states Perak, Kedah and Perlis.

For petrol station owner Mohd Nazim Elias, Hari Raya "came early" for him.

Sales at his station along the North-South Expressway had been quite low in the past three years. "I'm elated to see a 200 per cent jump during the Raya season compared to previous months," he said.

"Even though there was a fuel shortage, it didn't take long for our supplier to top up our supply. We lost a bit of sales because of this, yes, but our income this Raya surpassed our past performance so there isn't really anything to complain about. Except that it was sad to see motorists stranded by the roadside," he said.

For Malaysians facing traffic logjams and refuelling woes, the journey back was "unbearable", with many lamenting on social media about hours-long delays in reaching their respective destinations.

Some other holidaymakers, however, chose to turn the forced pit stop into an impromptu staycation before resuming their journeys.

"We are camping enthusiasts, so we always have our tent and other necessities with us in the car," said engineer Ismail Ahmad, 34, who was headed to Shah Alam, Selangor, with his wife and two children, aged eight and 10.

"After being stuck in traffic for hours, we decided to exit the highway along Perak and headed for a camping site in Gopeng, where we spent two nights there before making a move back home. It was fun," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.