Travel bookings strong despite slow economy

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, illuminating the night sky in Vaesternorrland county, Sweden, in August. The spike in demand for bookings to the Nordic countries follows reports that this is the last year to catch the Northern Lights for a w
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, illuminating the night sky in Vaesternorrland county, Sweden, in August. The spike in demand for bookings to the Nordic countries follows reports that this is the last year to catch the Northern Lights for a while. The next peak of solar activity is not expected until 2025.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Weaker currencies and elusive Northern Lights spurring travel bug

The economy may not be flying, but Singaporeans certainly are.

Weaker currencies in some attractive destinations and the lure of catching an amazing spectacle before it fades away have prompted people here to pack their bags and head overseas for a holiday.

As the year draws to a close, travel agencies have reported strong demand for bookings to popular destinations such as Japan, South Korea, Europe and China.

More travellers are also opting for trips to the Nordic countries to catch the elusive Northern Lights.

Chan Brothers Travel has seen more than double the bookings to Scandinavia and Iceland this year, while Finland packages are a bestseller at SA Tours.

A spokesman for SA Tours said the spike in demand follows reports that this is the last year to catch the Northern Lights for a while. The next peak of solar activity is not expected until 2025.

The weakened British pound has also driven demand for packages in Britain, said agencies. The Singapore dollar hovered at around 1.76 to the pound yesterday, compared with 2.17 a year ago.

But demand for travel to Western Europe has taken a hit after terror attacks in France and Belgium, with more travellers opting for destinations in Northern and Eastern Europe instead, said Dynasty Travel's director of marketing communications Alicia Seah.

Some agencies said there has been a slowdown in bookings, with more customers going for pocket-friendly options.

SA Tours said bookings have fallen 5 per cent to 10 per cent for the year-end period.

Ms Shannon Hee, a spokesman for ASA Holidays, said more of its customers are "looking for budget- friendly travel packages that will allow them to experience a cool climate and get away from the rainy season in Singapore".

But Zuji Singapore said that despite the slowing economy, the online travel agency has seen a 15 per cent increase in the number of travellers in the first 10 months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Chief executive Chua Hui Wan said that while Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and Taipei are the top five destinations, Singaporeans are also booking trips to less mainstream destinations.

These include Reykjavik in Iceland, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia and Hamburg in Germany.

Madam Lee Choo Shia, 52, a secretary who is going on a tour to Eastern Europe next month, said she had taken advantage of an early-bird promotion to save on fares.

She booked her 10-day trip - which includes stops in Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia - for $1,900 in March.

It would have cost more than $2,000 otherwise.

"I tend to book early because the packages are cheaper then. The economy may not be doing well, but I will still travel. At most, I will cut back on buying branded bags," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Travel bookings strong despite slow economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe