'Dying to travel': Holidaymakers willing to pay more for longer tours despite price increase
Crowds were back at the NATAS fair, which was last held in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SINGAPORE: Prices may have increased for some tour destinations but travellers are still willing to head abroad despite the cost.
The National Association of Travel Agents (NATAS) travel fair, last held in 2019, returned on Friday (Aug 12) for a three-day event at the Singapore Expo. It is billed as one of Singapore's largest consumer travel fairs.
More than 40 exhibitors including travel agents, airlines, cruise operators, hotels and national tourist organisations are involved in the event.
NATAS president Steven Ler said in response to CNA’s queries that the fair will “kickstart the season of safe travels" and pivot industry players back to near full operations.
“As more resources are being deployed, the entire supply chain is activated and businesses are revitalised,” he added.
About 80,000 to 100,000 visitors are expected over the three days, Mr Ler said, almost on par with pre-pandemic visitorship of about 108,000.
When CNA visited the fair around noon on Friday, the crowd was moderate but footfall started picking after 4pm.
Some visitors were even waiting for doors to open at the start of the event at 10am, said Chan Brothers Travel’s senior marketing communications manager Jeremiah Wong.
“As travel agents, we really feel like people are really dying to travel,” said Mr Wong.
Director of EU Holidays, Mr Wong Yew Hoong said the current travel demand was "even stronger" compared to pre-pandemic peak seasons such as school holidays.
While travel demand is strong, the supply has yet to catch up, he said, adding that airfares for popular destinations in December such as Japan’s Hokkaido have “tripled” compared to a few months ago.
"If they don’t travel this December, it will be next December. That will be four years (without travel) ... They do not want to wait again."
Air ticket prices have also gone up due to the increase in fuel prices worldwide, said Ms Lee Hwee Noi, senior manager of international product development at Hong Thai Travel.
"PRICE IS NOT A BIG PROBLEM"
Station manager Mr Meswan Satin, who attended the travel fair on Friday, said that he will still opt for tour packages even if they are expensive.
“We understand that the inflation rate has gone up because of the pandemic ... That (is) something that you got to live with,” said Mr Meswan who was looking at destinations such as Dubai and Turkey.
“We have no choice … because we enjoy travelling.”
Assistant general manager of leisure and travel at New Shan Travel, Ms Chris Tay said: “We have not been travelling for quite some time. So I believe during this period of time, they have saved enough so they don't mind (going) further.”
This observation was shared by the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), which provides travel information to tourists looking to visit Japan.
“Price is not a big problem,” said Ms Hatsume Nagai, JNTO’s executive director for Singapore, citing a survey conducted by the organisation.
She also noted that the travel demand for Japan is “higher than expected”.
Some travel agents told CNA that Japan was among the most popular destinations for the December holiday period.
This is despite the country allowing only visitors on package tours as part of its first phase of reopening which began on Jun 10.
In addition to seeing more people lean towards longer trips, many travel agencies also reported that more travellers were seeking tour packages that offer more included activities.
“Now when people are travelling overseas, they are more willing to pay for longer trips and better inclusion,” said EU Holidays’ Mr Wong.
Although travellers previously visited multiple countries during their holidays, Mr Wong noted that many now look for more in-depth tours.
Apart from Japan, trips to see the Northern Lights and Turkey were among the popular tour options.
FIRST TIMERS AND SHIFTING MINDSETS
With destinations like Japan allowing visitors on group tour basis, agencies such as Chan Brothers Travel have observed “great interest” for such tours from repeat customers as well as first timers.
“Because they miss Japan so much and they want to travel soon … We are seeing customers switching to group tours and coming to us,” said Mr Wong.
While travel hesitancy is not as strong as when the vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) began, some still have concerns about travelling.
This has led to many opting for group tours for the first time.
“They now have a chance to experience what a group tour is like in 2022 and maybe some of that mindset of what a group tour is like can be changed,” said Mr Wong.
“They might be converted for their future travels.”
This shift in mindset also applies to cruises which used to be seen as an activity for "old people", said New Shan Travel's Ms Tay. However, many younger travellers were "converted" after they opted for cruises during the pandemic.
She also noted an increase in travellers booking through agents.
“Before COVID-19, all these people just do it online and off they go. But now they will book from agent(s) although they know there is a service fee,” said Ms Tay.