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Travel companies see surge in enquiries, bookings following announcement on Singapore's border reopening

Travel companies see surge in enquiries, bookings following announcement on Singapore's border reopening

A Singapore Airlines plane is parked beside Scoot aircraft on the tarmac at Singapore's Changi Airport on Mar 15, 2021. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Bookings for flights out of Singapore, as well as overseas accommodation, more than doubled as of Friday (Mar 25), just a day after the country announced that it would reopen its borders to all fully vaccinated travellers

Among the slew of border measures announced - which take effect from 11.59pm on Mar 31 - all fully vaccinated travellers, as well as children aged 12 and below, will be able to enter Singapore with just a pre-departure COVID-19 test.

In addition, fully vaccinated travellers from Malaysia entering Singapore via private vehicles through the land borders are not required to do pre-departure or on-arrival tests. 

The new simplified framework will replace the existing vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) and unilateral opening arrangements and instead, classify countries and regions into either the general travel or the restricted category.

Data provided by regional online travel platform Traveloka showed a surge in demand for flights and hotels following the announcement, with a 152 per cent increase in average search volume and a 227 per cent in average booking volume.

Similarly, online travel giant Expedia said it had also seen a doubling of flight searches when compared to a day before the announcement was made.

It added that New York, Tokyo, Bangkok and London, were among the top most-searched destinations on its website.

SURGE IN DEMAND EXPECTED TO CONTINUE

With the relaxation of Singapore’s border measures, travel agencies told CNA that they are expecting a further surge in bookings, particularly for outbound travel, due to pent-up demand.

Luxury travel specialist Intriq Journey, which focuses on exotic destinations, said it received two confirmed bookings immediately after the announcement on Thursday.

However, prior to this, it had already observed a high demand for bespoke vacations to countries under Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme.

The company had started a recruitment drive for local talents earlier this year to cope with the increasing demand and volume of enquiries.

“We anticipate even greater demand and inquiries in the coming days,” said the company’s co-founder Jess Yap, adding that she expects that enquiries will “easily” double very soon.

Meanwhile, local firm Chan Brothers said there will be greater confidence to travel, with the Government's announcement that fully vaccinated travellers will not have to bear the costs of their COVID-19 medical bills or treatment if they test positive after returning to Singapore. 

The company - which has seen a 50 per cent surge in enquires since Thursday - said it is planning to increase the frequency of its tours and offer trips to more destinations.

"We will retain our smaller-group size at a maximum of 25 per group and (safe travelling) protocols to ensure that our customers can continue to travel fuss-free and safely with an absolute peace of mind," said the company's senior marketing communications manager Jeremiah Wong.

THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY

While the travel industry is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially with the recent announcement, challenges lay ahead as it claws its way back to a revival.

Founder and director of luxury travel agency Blue Sky Escapes Krystal Tan said she does not expect to see a massive surge in demand for travel, as this will depend on restrictions in other countries as well as their local COVID-19 situation.

"Singaporean travellers are genuinely more cautious and because some are afraid of catching the virus, we do sense that they're not really travelling to super remote places," she said, adding that 95 per cent of their sales were to VTL countries or places where the virus is under control.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine could also impact demand for trips to Europe, said Ms Tan. 

In addition, having gone through nearly two years of changing restrictions and border closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry has lost a lot of talent due to uncertainty and massive layoffs, said Mr Charles Tan, who is the secretary-general of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS).

“Now that we’re reopening, getting these people back will take a lot of convincing as some of them, having gone through SARS and COVID-19, may not want to take another risk by returning to the industry and may be comfortable in their new industry,” said Mr Tan.

“Companies will also have to figure out how many new people to recruit because what happens if restrictions come back into force and they have to right-size again?”

“We must be mindful that travel agencies have been burning for the last two years and so now, are we even able to afford the kind of salary that will make us competitive enough to attract talent?” he added.

To address the manpower shortage, NATAS is working with partners including NTUC and the Singapore Tourism Board to boost the industry's digital capabilities in hopes of attracting more young talent.

It is also planning to bring back its annual travel fair in August or September this year, after a two-year hiatus.

“We are hoping that everything goes well, and then we can resume the fair because that will bring business and a lot of agents back,” said Mr Tan.

Source: CNA/vl(ta)

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