Travel fairs packed despite poor economy

The crowd at the Travel Revolution fair on Aug 21, 2016.
The crowd at the Travel Revolution fair on Aug 21, 2016. ST PHOTO: TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY

Despite consumer confidence hitting its lowest point in seven years amid worsening economic conditions, Singaporeans are still keen on travelling, going by the crowds at two recent fairs.

The Travel Revolution fair, organised by the Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa), saw a record 111,000 visitors over three days at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre last weekend.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) Travel Fair drew 53,563 attendees from Aug 12 to 14 at the Singapore Expo, up from 50,840 at last year's fair.

A survey by market research firm Nielsen earlier this month found that Singaporeans placed third in a ranking of top 10 countries where consumers are allocating their spare cash to holidays. This is even as consumer confidence in Singapore is at its lowest since 2009, according to consumer confidence indexes released by Nielsen and MasterCard this month as well. Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said Singaporeans love to travel and will continue to do so despite the downturn, though they may make adjustments, such as seeking better deals.

Sotaa president Kay Swee Pin attributed the rise in visitorship at Travel Revolution in part to more money being spent on marketing the fair. In fact, some travel agencies reported an increase in transactions at the fairs this year compared to last year.

Guided travel company Trafalgar saw a 7 per cent increase in sales at both fairs, while there was double-digit growth in sales for both short and long cruises for cruise operator Royal Caribbean at Natas.

Chan Brothers Travel meanwhile reported stable sales, achieving its target of $12 million.

Free entry to both fairs could have played a role in attracting visitors. Sotaa was formed in May last year by 25 travel agencies that pulled out of Natas' twice-yearly fairs to organise their own events. Natas then waived the $4 entrance fee for its fairs last year, the first time since 1988, to mark SG50. When asked why free entry was extended and whether future fairs would reinstate the admission fee, Natas declined to comment.

While favourites like Japan and South Korea remained top destinations at both fairs, trips to Australia and New Zealand saw a 20 per cent jump in bookings, said Dynasty Travel's public relations and communications director Alicia Seah. This resurgence was due to a favourable exchange rate, according to travel agents.

Sales for Nordic countries such as Finland and Norway jumped by 30 per cent, said Ms Seah, as this is said to be the last year to see the Northern Lights before they diminish for a decade. Terror concerns have driven down demand for countries in the Middle East and Western Europe, though some Singaporeans are heading to Britain to take advantage of the weakening pound, said travel firms.

Sales assistant Irene Lee visited Travel Revolution, her first travel fair, on Sunday to shop for deals for a year-end getaway with her family.

Said Ms Lee, 51: "We've already been to places like Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and want somewhere with good weather. I think Europe now is not so safe, so we're looking at New Zealand."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Travel fairs packed despite poor economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe