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Travel agents, airlines getting more inquiries after VTL scheme expanded to a total of 11 countries

Travel agents, airlines getting more inquiries after VTL scheme expanded to a total of 11 countries

A woman walks across a link bridge to a terminal at Changi Airport in Singapore on Sep 8, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: On Friday (Oct 8), Ms Sim Peck had decided that she would book a trip to France with her friends in December, and was prepared to serve a seven-day stay-home notice at home.

When it was announced on Saturday that France was one of the countries in expanded vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangements, the product manager at a multinational company wasted no time securing her ticket as it meant that she would not need to serve the stay-home notice upon returning.

Although the surge in interest for travelling led to some difficulty accessing the Singapore Airlines website, she managed to book a seven-day trip to France by Sunday.

“I am really missing the great outdoors, I am really missing experiencing a different culture, being able to eat a different cuisine in that country, that sort of simple thing we took for granted,” said Ms Sim, 50.

“It was all very serendipitous … I’ve learned in the past year that you can’t really plan things. You just have to do it.”

Other travellers CNA spoke to have plans to visit New York, Germany and South Korea.

On Saturday, Transport Minister S Iswaran said that from Oct 19, fully vaccinated travellers from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States will be able to enter Singapore without quarantine.

This came a day after the announcement that Singapore and South Korea agreed to launch vaccinated travel lanes from Nov 15.

Together with Germany and Brunei, the first two countries in a VTL pilot announced earlier, Singapore residents will soon be able to travel to 11 countries with far fewer restrictions. 

Travellers will still have to take COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests within 48 hours of departing for Singapore and on arrival, but there are no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no controlled itinerary.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore also said on Monday that unvaccinated children aged 12 and below will be allowed to travel into Singapore from countries under the VTL scheme from Oct 19.

Saturday's announcement sparked a surge in travel demand that temporarily crashed the Singapore Airlines website and had travel agencies working at full tilt over the weekend.

SIA said there is strong demand for its VTL flights, but declined to reveal any figures due to commercial sensitivity.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel, said that the travel agency saw a more than five times surge in inquiries on their website.

Customers also contacted the agency through messaging apps, email, phone and social media.

He said that the inquiries have become “more direct” and people are “ready to book flights”, compared to before when interest had been more tentative.

“This announcement is opportune as the year-end period is when Singaporeans are looking to travel,” said Mr Wong.

Chan Brothers is rolling out itineraries for South Korea, which is a popular destination with Singaporeans, and Mr Wong thinks that Europe will also be more attractive now that travellers can choose to visit a few destinations there.

The agency has also received many queries from potential travellers about safety protocols and the COVID-19 situation in the countries they are interested in visiting.

TRAVEL INTEREST TO SOUTH KOREA, SOME EUROPEAN COUNTRIES

Ms Lim En Yu, 45, has already booked a trip with her husband and teenage children to South Korea in December. 

While they had planned to go to Japan over Christmas if the country opened up, they switched the destination to Korea after the VTL announcement.

The family of four will be visiting Seoul and a ski resort on their first family trip in two years.

“The kids wanted to ski in Korea again for nostalgic reasons as it's where they first learnt to ski seven years ago. We also have some Korean friends and intend to catch up with them in Seoul,” said the marketing director at a property firm.

At Nam Ho Travel, a spokesperson told CNA that the agency is seeing more demand for travel to South Korea than European countries.

More people have been asking for private, small-group tours and there is a preference for more relaxed itineraries rather than those that try to cover as many destinations as possible – a norm in the past.

“I think right now some customers … just don’t like to mix with other people anymore,” she said. 

Ms Stella Chow, senior marketing manager at Hong Thai Travel, said that the agency is getting more enquiries for South Korea and European countries like Italy, France, Netherlands and UK.

“These destinations have always been popular pre-COVID,” said Ms Chow.

“Customers are showing a lot of interest in our packages, but they are still more cautious about making bookings, taking time to consider.”

Ms Chow said that group sizes will be smaller, with about 20 or fewer travellers per tour. She expects tour costs to be higher due to the smaller group size and the need for PCR tests.

Some sightseeing places and performances may also be affected by the local restrictions, so there will be some changes to itineraries, she added.

Online travel agent Booking.com said it has seen an increase in searches by Singapore residents for accommodation in London, Seoul, Paris, Munich, New York and Barcelona.

“While this is an exciting announcement signalling the gradual reopening of Singapore’s borders, we expect that Singaporeans will likely remain cautious and prioritise travelling safely even as restrictions ease,” said Mr Nuno Guerreiro, Booking.com’s regional director for South Asia Pacific.

On Monday’s announcement that unvaccinated children can travel on the VTL scheme, Chan Brothers’ Mr Wong said that it did get enquiries from travellers asking if their children would be allowed to travel and they were initially disappointed.

“These travellers will be thrilled to now know they have the opportunity to bring their little ones on an overseas holiday,” he said.

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Source: CNA/hm(cy)

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