Agencies expect travel surge for long weekends in 2014

They plan to block book hotel rooms, airplane seats, coaches from this July

Travel agencies plan to pull out all the stops to meet an expected surge in demand during the eight potential long weekends next year.

Those interviewed by The Straits Times said that from this July, they will begin block booking airplane seats, coaches and hotel rooms for travel during those periods.

This comes after the Manpower Ministry on Wednesday released public holiday dates for next year, revealing that eight long weekends can be enjoyed with just four days of leave.

Agents predict an overall spike in demand for overseas travel next year because some Singaporeans are thinking about postponing their holidays this year due to worries about the spread of bird flu in China and tensions in the Korean peninsula.

The industry expects the long weekends to draw the most holiday-makers.

These breaks will give them the chance to either make short trips within the region without taking any leave or go on longer-haul trips to further destinations such as Europe while taking fewer days off work.

Hong Thai Travel's marketing manager Stella Chow said: "We will book 20 to 30 seats for the flights about six to nine months in advance for the long weekends and pay deposits to ensure that we get those seats."

CTC Travel is going one step further. It is planning to charter flights over several of the long weekends to popular destinations that carriers do not fly to directly - such as Okinawa and Hokkaido in Japan and Guizhou in China.

From 2010, the company has been chartering planes, holding around 200 passengers, to Japan, China and Taiwan. It plans to charter more flights over the long weekends next year.

Its senior vice-president of marketing and public relations Alicia Seah added: "We will work with airlines, overseas tourism boards and our hotel partners to make the bookings as early as we can. We do not want to turn any customers away."

The agents also observed that more Singaporeans now prefer "free and easy" holidays instead of group package tours when they go on short breaks.

Banking on this interest, CTC Travel will work with resort company Club Med to charter coaches to Club Med Cherating Beach in Malaysia - allowing holiday-makers to travel in bigger groups of friends than if they travel by car, said Ms Seah. Its five-day, four- night Club Med trip will cost about $900 per person.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam does not expect agents to increase prices significantly over the long-weekend holidays.

"Travellers can go online to book flights and hotel rooms easily so the agencies face a lot of competition," he said.

Bank executive Tricia Lim, 27, who is planning to travel to Vietnam and Hong Kong over the long weekends, said airfares should be higher then but she will choose cheaper accommodation to keep the trip affordable.

Civil servant Dylan Wang, 29, said: "I plan to use the long weekends to travel around the region to places like Bangkok and Phuket. I will save my leave for a long trip to New York in November."

ameltan@sph.com.sg

limjess@sph.com.sg