Popularity is no guarantee of longevity. The abrupt closure of Misa Travels, one of the most familiar names in the industry here, has highlighted once again the unsuspected frailty of some travel agencies. Customers' cherished holiday plans can go awry rudely when agencies fold up without warning. In the case of Misa, which had begun operating in 1994, hapless customers were left with about $28,000 worth of unfulfilled packages. Its demise followed the closure of once-established agencies, such as Five Stars Tours in 2014, Asia-Euro Holidays in 2015, and Sky Travel and Tours recently. Such unexpected developments could not but have dented consumers' trust in travel agencies.
Such a loss of confidence bodes ill for the industry. Hence the urgency of proposed changes to the Travel Agents Act and Regulations that seek to put in place a stronger regulatory framework for travel agencies. Importantly, travel agents will no longer have the option of providing a banker's guarantee in place of meeting a $100,000 net worth requirement in order to be licensed. While closures are not entirely preventable, customers should have a better chance than now of recovering their money, given that a banker's guarantee does not provide any direct recourse in the event that an agency goes bust. Making it mandatory for agencies to inform travellers about travel insurance options would strengthen a practice that should be habitual in any case.
At the same time, the new framework should make it easier for companies to provide Singapore tours that offer walking or cycling. Start-ups should take advantage of this possible opening to give travellers a taste of the country that does not involve onerous transport arrangements. Encouraging innovation and reducing costs for imaginative players is one of the ways of keeping inbound tourism alive in difficult times.