Chinese cancelling visits to Singapore as well after MH370 incident

Tourists from China visiting the Merlion in February. Travel agents association Natas says current bookings for packages which include Singapore as a stopover have fallen by more than 50 per cent at some agencies. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Tourists from China visiting the Merlion in February. Travel agents association Natas says current bookings for packages which include Singapore as a stopover have fallen by more than 50 per cent at some agencies. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Bookings decline by over 50% at some agencies after MH370 incident

Travel agencies in Singapore have been getting fewer bookings from Chinese tourists in the aftermath of Flight MH370's disappearance.

Chinese nationals, angry over the Malaysian government's handling of the incident, have been cancelling travel plans to Malaysia and its neighbours, including Singapore, according to the agencies.

The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) said current bookings for packages which include Singapore as a stopover have fallen by more than 50 per cent at some agencies.

Ms Anita Tan, chief operating officer of Natas, which represents more than 300 firms, added that the industry is hopeful that bookings will recover by the July school holidays, which is a peak period for Chinese travellers.

Of the 239 people on board the Malaysia Airlines flight bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, which disappeared on March 8, 153 were from China.

Contradictory statements from the Malaysian authorities briefing affected families when the hunt for the plane began led to many Chinese citizens accusing the Malaysian government of hiding information.

A street protest was held at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing on March 16.

It is not just the region that is affected by the fallout, said Mr Edward Chew, regional director for Greater China at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

"We have received feedback from our travel partners in China that there is a drop in overall travel inquiries and bookings."

STB's partners in China are marketing alternative packages which focus on Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand to continue to attract visitors to the region, he added.

"We will continue to work closely with our trade partners to develop and promote quality tour products and itineraries, focusing on mono-Singapore packages wherever possible."

China has consistently been Singapore's second-largest visitor market.

There were 1.24 million Chinese visitors in the first half of last year, a hefty 27 per cent rise over the same period in 2012.

They also spent $1.52 billion in the first six months of last year, making them the top spenders.

One of the more badly hit agencies, Bestlink Travel, said 60 per cent of its Chinese customers had cancelled their trips scheduled for March and April.

It usually brings in about 1,000 tourists from China every month.

A spokesman said it has also received fewer bookings for next month compared to last May.

Another agency, Chan Brothers, said that while it had no cancellations, a few of its Chinese customers had asked to postpone business trips scheduled for this month and next month.

The postponements were not tied to changes in business requirements, and there is a likelihood that they could be due to Flight MH370, according to a spokesman.

Dynasty Travel received only half of the 30 inquiries it usually gets from Chinese travellers for the March and April period.

Spokesman Alicia Seah said the fall is a result of lingering uncertainty over what happened to the missing plane.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg