Most cases of business closures by travel agents are orderly and do not cause losses to customers ("Call to regulate travel agencies"; Tuesday, and "Have travel agents set up escrow account" by the General Insurance Association of Singapore and "STB should seek feedback from small players too" by Mr Glen Yang, both published yesterday).
In the past four years, about 420 licensed travel agents closed down but only eight did so abruptly, causing some consumers to lose their deposits.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) conducts regular compliance checks on licensed travel agents, including audits of their financial statements. Travel agents that fail to meet the requirements can lose their licence. Such checks cannot prevent the unexpected closure of travel agents given the dynamic nature of the business.
The STB has taken regulatory measures to protect consumers' interests. One example is the new licensing condition requiring travel agents to explicitly seek consumers' decisions on the purchase of travel insurance.
The STB is constantly monitoring market developments and will implement further measures if needed in consultation with travel agents and associations such as the Consumers Association of Singapore, the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, the Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association and the General Insurance Association of Singapore.
The large majority of travel agents are bona fide operators who serve their customers professionally and responsibly.
In considering any additional regulatory measures, the additional protection afforded to consumers must be carefully weighed against the higher costs imposed on big and small travel agents and, ultimately, the consumers.
The STB will continue to work with the industry to enhance the quality of the products and services rendered to consumers.
Ong Ling Lee (Ms)
Travel Agents and Tourist Guides
Singapore Tourism Board