Saturday, June 14, 2008

Travel: G’Day mate, happy shopping

Hmmm need to do this on another trip down under.

Travel: G’Day mate, happy shopping
By : Hizreen Kamal

All types of bags and shoes at further discount for Shopping Spree Tour members.

A visit to Melbourne is not complete without a Shopping Spree Tour, writes HIZREEN KAMAL.

Spoilt for choice when it comes to clothes and bags.

Have your pick of bargains.
MALAYSIANS in general are known for their love of shopping.

What better to top that other than the opportunity to shop abroad for that elusive bargain, and Melbourne, Australia, which lays claim to be the country’s shopping capital, is just the right spot to enjoy retail therapy.

When I was there recently on a trip courtesy of Tourism Australia, I had a chance to do just that, but with limited time and budget, I did not know where to begin.

Of course, there were popular shopping haunts such Myer’s and David Jones but I was sure there was more to the city than these glossy department stores and high-end boutiques.

I have heard a lot from friends who have been to Melbourne about the city’s best-kept secrets — the many factory outlets and designers’ sample sales, with most located in the outskirts of the city.

Since many are not exactly on the city trams’ route, getting to these places would require one to either self-drive (looking for parking lots can be a hassle), or get into a taxi (which can be a little expensive), as not all the outlets are located in a particular shopping area.

Let’s not even go into the possibility of suffering from sore arms and feet from lugging your purchases, after a day of retail therapy.

But thanks to Tourism Australia, a day of shopping was planned for me. I went on a shopping spree tour, managed by a tour company, which not only operates in Melbourne, but also in Sydney, aptly called The Shopping Spree Tours Pte Ltd.

Founded in 1981, the company has been looking after visitors to Australia for over two decades, specialising in fully escorted tours of Melbourne’s and Sydney’s best factories and warehouses, riding on its larger-than-life hot pink-coloured buses.

The Shopping Spree Tours has won the Koala Award for tourism marketing in Asia, and is a triple Victorian Tourism Award winner.

With approximately 75 per cent of the manufacturing sector of Australia based in Melbourne, I was excited as the company claims that it gives shoppers the best value shopping in the country.

Priced at AU$74 (RM222) for adults, AU$35 for children under 11 years and free for children under the age of three years old, there are six pick-up points in Central City to wait for the bus or coach.

Since I stayed at Oaks Hotel on Market Street, the nearest pick-up location is the Hilton on the Park, which is about five blocks away. So, I made my way there before 8.20am.

I was looking everywhere for the coveted pink bus, but to no avail, until I was greeted by a woman who introduced herself as tour guide Tracie Payne, 50, from The Shopping Spree Tours. She ushered me on board a waiting white coach.

“You must be wondering where our pink bus is today. Well, since we have a small group, we are providing the coach, instead,” she said, as if reading my mind.

Some may think it a tad too small to store their purchases, but it has a storage container on wheels, attached to the back of the coach for convenience. How clever!

“There are three things that Melbourne people like... coffee, food and shopping.

“Since you are all new to Melbourne, the tour will bring you to places that are quite difficult to get to,” Payne addressed some 20 shoppers on the tour.

Since ours was a small group, Payne specially designed a shopping tour based on what we were interested in, and since the majority were female shoppers who wanted handbags, lingerie, sports gears, leather goods and clothes, it was all systems go! (The male shoppers, who numbered four, could not exactly state their preferences since their mere existence on the tour was to accompany their wives.)

On the number of outlets the tour would be covering, Payne who has been a tour guide for slightly more than a year, said: “Well, it all depends on how quick the shoppers are, but the most we have ever covered was 15. So, remember, the faster you shop, the more discoveries you will get!” she said, to the shoppers’ delight.

Also included in the tour is a delicious two-course Italian lunch, and city sightseeing with commentary by Payne.

The tour began at 8.20am and ended about 5.30pm, and within that period the tour managed to cover 14 outlets, which I think is quite a feat. They are leather goods warehouse Sirrico in South Yarra, Peter Sheppard Footwear warehouse, popular clothing outlet Jag, Le Von Lingerie Factory Outlet, jewellery outlet Melbourne Jewellery Warehouse and chocolate outlet Hillier’s all located in Richmond.

Others include Bolle Factory Outlet, lingerie store Brands United and Nike Factory Outlet all located in Collingwood, Handbag Factory Outlet, clothing warehouse Extreme Limits and footwear warehouse Diana Ferrari Clearance Centre in Fairfield, clothing warehouse Beaches in Brunswick and Reebok Factory Outlet in Carlton.

On our journey back to the city, Payne gave out several items she had received from some of the outlets that the tour had covered. Since we were a small group, everyone was delighted when we each received an item.

Back in the city, the shoppers were dropped off at their pick-up locations, and I was the last to get off.

“I hope you have enjoyed the tour, and hope that you will come back again. We would love to see repeaters,” said the friendly Payne, before bidding me goodbye.

Lugging my purchases up to my room, I felt satisfied. The tour was convenient and comfortable. Imagine being free from all the usual shopping problems — traffic, parking, heavy parcels and aching feet, and being driven to all these great outlets with just shopping on my mind, and having a tour guide point out the specials and best bargain buys. It is like having a personal driver and an assistant!

The concept of Shopping Spree Tours is interesting and fascinating, and it is all about power shopping with the experts.

Whether you want fashion, shoes, handbags, leather, knitwear, home ware, watches, toys, chocolates or even electrical appliances, there will be something for you to spend your hard-earned cash on!

The best part would have to be the chance to shop at some of the best factory outlets, warehouses and clearance centres which are only accessible to this tour participants only. Further discount was given to shoppers on this tour.

Apart from The Shopping Spree Tours, there are also other companies who conduct similar tours. However, only the former operates year round, while the other companies run their business from September to year-end, a period Aussies named the “bus season”.

Melbourne is a fantastic shopping destination and the tour makes it a more memorable experience. It is all about hassle free, fun and entertaining shopping with bargains galore.

You just need to get on and off the bus. If you are a newbie in Melbourne like me, all I can say is that no visit to Melbourne is complete without a Shopping Spree Tour. So, let your self be escorted to these hidden gems, and buy to your heart’s content.

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