Rival group to Natas formed: Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa)

Visitors at the Chan Brothers booth at the Natas 2012 travel fair held at the Singapore Expo. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Visitors at the Chan Brothers booth at the Natas 2012 travel fair held at the Singapore Expo. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Breakaway faction starts new association for outbound travel agencies

AN ONGOING spat among travel agencies has intensified, with one faction breaking away to form a new travel association - a move likely to be good news for the local traveller, said experts.

The new Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa) was registered last month with 25 members, a number its interim president, SA Tours' managing director Kay Swee Pin, hopes to grow to 50.

Members include major agencies Chan Brothers Travel, CTC Travel and Dynasty Travel, all of whom pulled out of the twice-yearly National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair in March to organise their own called Travel Revolution. They cited issues such as admission charges for the public and unsatisfactory publicity.

Sotaa told The Straits Times the association was formed "to present a united voice and lobby on issues on behalf of outbound travel agency members", and plans to engage the Singapore Tourism Boardon ways to protect consumers and the industry image when a travel agency folds.

The association is open only to licensed agencies with outbound travel making up at least 80 per cent of their business - about 50 to 60 out of the roughly 1,500 travel agencies here. Sotaa members are still Natas members and can remain so.

It plans to organise joint advertising campaigns as well as combine bookings across agencies, thus reducing the odds of a trip being cancelled because a single agency cannot get enough numbers for it, said Ms Kay, who was voted out by Natas members as chairman of Natas' outbound committee in October. "There was no representation of outbound agencies at Natas, no one to speak up for our concerns and issues," she said.

Inbound agencies, dealing with travel to Singapore, form a sizeable presence in Natas.

She also said it was better to form an association as it gives the agencies more credibility when dealing with vendors and national tourism organisations.

When contacted, Natas said it will be releasing a statement "very soon" to address Ms Kay's claims.

Natas will continue to operate as it always has, said a spokesman, adding: "Natas will continue to be an inclusive trade association representing agents both big and small. We will continue to cater to all segments of the travel community."

The winner in all of this, said industry experts, is likely to be the consumer. Admission to the most recent Natas Travel 2015 fair from March 6 to 8 was free for visitors for the first time since 1988, after the new fair decided not to charge.

Experts said that consumers can expect better deals as the competition heats up going forward.

But Dr Michael Chiam, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism, said having four major fairs a year may cause fatigue among consumers.

The next Natas fair will be held from July 31 to Aug 2 at Singapore Expo and the second Travel Revolution 2015 fair will be held a week earlier at Marina Bay Sands. It will be even bigger than the first.

Asked how the date was picked, Ms Kay admitted that it was after Natas had announced theirs.

"For the first fair, we felt that we were slightly disadvantaged because we had it later. So this time, 90 per cent of our members voted to have it before Natas' fair," she said.

Sales assistant Terrenz Ooi, 43, said she will attend two major fairs a year, at most.

She added: "I think it's too tiring to go to all four fairs, and I don't have the time."