SINGAPORE, August 14 — After a two-year hiatus, the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair returned and was held at the Singapore Expo on Friday (Aug 12), welcoming crowds hungry for "revenge travel".
Tour operators at the convention and exhibition venue in Changi said that the turnout was better than expected, though they observed that some travel preferences have changed. For instance, they were seeing a trend of younger people turning to agencies and signing up for tours.
Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager from Chan Brothers Travel, said: "Customers who are used to travelling 'free and easy' are coming to us to book tours as well, especially those who are taking their parents along."
Ms Michell Devina Ngan, marketing manager at the Travel Corporation, said that her company has received sign-ups from young couples as well, possibly due to the need to navigate travel restrictions with ease. Mr Shawn Patrick, 20, said that this was the first time he had gone to the travel fair. He normally travels free and easy. “I am planning a trip for my parents,” he said. In spite of rising costs, travellers are now more keen to take up single-destination packages.
Retired businessman Steven Oh, 61, who had recently returned from Thailand, said that he was planning to go on a package tour to either Australia or New Zealand around the end of this year.
Having browsed through several packages at the Natas fair, he is not too bothered about the rise in package tour costs, which travel operators said have jumped by up to 20 per cent, mainly fuelled by an increase in air travel costs.
“I think it's a good time to revisit countries and have a good time... Even at a higher cost, I would rather have the travel agency make all the arrangements for me and my wife, so that we can focus on relaxing,” Mr Oh added.
He was among several customers interviewed by TODAY who expressed their desire to travel, despite the higher costs.
Private-hire car driver Tan Whye Ngee, 60, who booked a tour to Europe during the fair, said: “I believe that the prices are value for money and I did not want to waste time.” A former journalist who wanted to be known only as Madam Xu, 62, said that she did not wish to postpone travelling any more. “You can walk, you can see, you must go,” she quipped. She said that she was looking to book a trip to Hokkaido, Japan, preferring to go to a place that is less crowded due to Covid-19 concerns. At the moment, China and Taiwan are closed for consumer leisure travel. Hong Kong has mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals, while South Korea recently introduced polymerase chain reaction tests for travellers entering the country.
Some other people at the Natas fair would like to have more travel options, especially to Southeast Asian countries.
Preschool teacher Sarmiah Safrinah, 49, who is looking to travel this December, remarked that she did not see much offerings for Thailand, Vietnam and Bali in Indonesia, adding that destinations such as South Korea and Japan were promoted "more aggressively".
Retired aircraft engineer Vincent Toh, 56, also said that the options were "limited and uninteresting", wishing for more free-and-easy travel.
Travellers’ needs have changed, agencies say
A total of 21 travel agencies are participating in the fair, which runs until Sunday.
Most of the agencies who spoke with TODAY said that the turnout and number of deals closed were around or above expectations.
Ms Kelly Toh, head of the marketing department at Commonwealth Travel Services, noted a post-pandemic preference for exotic destinations and single-destination trips.
“Travellers are looking for relatively unusual places such as Morocco and Turkey, as compared to other more conventional destinations,” she said.
Mr Zane Neo, public relations coordinator for LGE travel, noticed that many people turned up at the fair knowing exactly where they wish to go, confirming travel arrangements in “as fast as five minutes”. Despite the travel agency generally being a sunset industry, Mr Neo said that his company tries to meet customer needs by “doing customised tours with itineraries being more flexible to accommodate destinations preferred by customers”.
A search for YouGov Global Travel Profiles dated March 11 this year showed that 46 per cent of Singapore residents planned to take holidays, business, or other overseas trips in the next 12 months, compared to 41 per cent who said the same last year. The proportion of residents who did not plan to travel during this period was 40 per cent, compared to 42 per cent in 2021. — TODAY