Airlines add flights, travel agency bookings spike as Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan ease border restrictions
The three destinations all relaxed COVID-19 measures in the past week, prompting increased demand for flights and tour packages.
SINGAPORE: Airlines are adding more flights to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan and travel agencies are receiving more bookings for holidays in these popular destinations, with revived tourist demand sparked by the easing of border restrictions.
From November, budget airline Scoot will fly to Osaka every day, up from five times a week now.
It will also introduce seasonal non-stop flights between Singapore and Sapporo in Hokkaido from November to February 2023, a spokesperson told CNA.
The frequency of Scoot's flights to Tokyo - via Taipei - will be increased to daily services from the end of October, and the airline will reinstate thrice weekly flights to Sapporo - also with a stopover in Taipei - from November.
With these, Scoot will be operating a total of 18 flights to Taipei every week, said its spokesperson.
Scoot expects travel demand to “remain buoyant” with the year-end holiday season approaching and countries further relaxing travel restrictions.
“Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan are much loved destinations among our customers and we continue to see encouraging demand for flights to these countries,” said its spokesperson.
On Sep 22, Japan announced it would lift COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists from Oct 11, reopening its borders after two-and-a-half years.
Taiwan said a week later that it would end mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for visitors from Oct 13.
Hong Kong has also moved to end mandatory hotel quarantine from Sep 26, ending tough travel curbs that lasted throughout the pandemic.
All international arrivals will be able to return home or to accommodation of their choice, but will have to self-monitor for three days after entering the city.
They will not be allowed to enter bars or restaurants during this period, under a system dubbed "0+3".
ADDING FLIGHTS AS "QUICKLY" AS POSSIBLE
At Cathay Pacific Airways, flight bookings from Singapore to Hong Kong increased “multiple times over” after the city's relaxation of quarantine requirements.
The airline's regional general manager of Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific Dominic Perret told CNA: “As more regional destinations continue to adjust their inbound travel policies, we will continue to monitor demand and adjust our passenger flight capacity accordingly.”
Cathay Pacific has added more than 200 pairs of passenger flights in October from Hong Kong, mostly to regional destinations like Osaka, Incheon Airport in South Korea, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Manila; as well as long-haul destinations like Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne.
With Japan’s relaxation of travel restrictions, Cathay Pacific will also resume daily flights to Tokyo from Nov 1, and flights to Sapporo four times a week from Dec 1, said Mr Perret.
“We will also increase flight frequencies to Tokyo (Narita) to 43 pairs and Osaka to 50 pairs in October,” he added.
Mr Perret said Cathay Pacific would continue to add back more flights "as quickly as is feasible to strengthen the network connectivity of the Hong Kong aviation hub, including to Singapore”.
“We look forward to adding more flights to our Singapore schedule in the coming months so that more Hong Kong people can travel to the city-state and so that we can welcome more Singaporeans on board, whether they are travelling to Hong Kong or beyond.”
Singapore Airlines (SIA) said they were unable to disclose specific figures due to "commercial sensitivities”, but confirmed “strong" demand for air travel across all markets.
“This is for both leisure and business traffic and across all cabin classes … SIA will continue to closely monitor travel demand and adjust our capacity accordingly,” its spokesperson said.
NEW TOUR PACKAGES ON OFFER
Travel agencies have also recorded, across the board, spikes in sales of tour packages to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
With demand for travel to these three locations expected to continue rising, the agencies have launched - or are planning to launch - new tour packages.
Chan Brothers Travel has seen an increase in enquiries regarding all three destinations - in particular Japan, said senior marketing communications manager Jeremiah Wong.
Japan is topping searches on its website, with a 30 per cent surge after the announcement of relaxed travel regulations.
Chan Brothers will continue to expand its group tours to Japan to include destinations like the Mie and Niigata prefectures, said Mr Wong.
This week, Chan Brothers also launched more free-and-easy travel packages to popular Japanese areas like Tokyo, Karuizawa, Kyoto and Osaka.
“For Japan, we are already seeing great demand with over 100 group tours departing till this year end. With Chinese New Year and cherry blossom season coming up in 2023, we expect demand to continue to rise,” said Mr Wong.
His agency is also looking to launch a six-day tour to Hong Kong catering to families during the school holidays.
But Mr Wong noted that bookings to the region are currently limited to visiting friends and relatives or business travellers - as the continued requirement for multiple tests on arrival remains a "dampener" for tourists.
For Taiwan, Chan Brothers launched group tours at the end of July, in expectation of a reopening. They received “positive traction” and demand and bookings are surging now with the easing of restrictions, said Mr Wong.
At CTC Travel agency, overall demand for tours to Japan, Hong Kong and China have increased by 100 per cent compared to a month ago.
“We have been working very closely with our counterparts, NTOs (national tourism organisations) and airlines for the latest updates for developing and launching new itineraries for our customers,” head of marketing Kelly Toh told CNA.
Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan are top destinations among Singaporeans, especially during the year-end holidays, she added.
“Although air-tickets may be limited especially for year-end holidays, we will be providing alternative options and working with various airlines,” said Ms Toh.
MORE DEMAND TO COME
Growing demand for tour packages to Japan has been further driven by the low Japanese yen, said Hong Thai Travel's senior marketing manager Stella Chow.
The yen has depreciated nearly 20 per cent this year. On Sep 22, Japan intervened in the currency market for the first time since 1998 in a bid to shore up the battered yen, in the wake of the central bank's decision to maintain ultra-low interest rates that have been driving down the currency.
Booking platform Klook has registered a tenfold increase in searches for Japan since its reopening announcement, with travellers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore driving this demand, it said in a press release on Wednesday (Sep 28).
Searches for Japan on the Expedia platform also surged immediately after the country's announcement, it said in a press release.
Searches from Hong Kong for hotels in Japan saw an 11-fold increase, while searches for flights grew by 12 times.
Searches for hotels and flights to Japan from Singapore and Taiwan also tripled, the booking platform said in a press release.
The Hong Thai agency has recorded a 30 per cent increase in enquiries about tour packages to Japan and a more than 50 per cent increase in enquiries about Hong Kong and Taiwan.
It has “a few new tours” to Taiwan that are ready to be rolled out, but is waiting for more updates on entry regulations there, said Ms Chow.
For Hong Kong, the agency is planning for tours to include surrounding islands like Cheung Chau and Tai O.
“However, the current regulations require PCR (polymerase chain reaction) or ART (antigen rapid test) testing and doesn’t allow for dine-in on first three nights upon arrival, which isn’t really suitable for leisure travellers," said Ms Chow.
"Demand will probably pick up when there is further easing of regulations.”