More tour guides return to work, travel agencies upbeat about prospects in 2022

Tour guide Rabil Lian (holding flag) during a guided trip to the Arctic on Dec 7, 2021. PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL

SINGAPORE - A trip to the Arctic last December marked the end of a two-year hiatus brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic for tour guide Rabil Lian, who led a group of around 20 tourists to see the Northern Lights.

Since then, Mr Lian has led at least three other groups to parts of Europe - a sign that the worst may be over for the travel industry.

The 51-year-old has returned to work as a tour guide after two years as a safe distancing ambassador and a travel content creator, stitching together videos for audiences who likewise longed to venture overseas.

Mr Lian, who has been working as a guide with travel agency Chan Brothers Travel for 10 years, told The Straits Times recently: "Things are looking brighter. With more VTL (vaccinated travel lane) destinations and higher vaccination rates in most places, I think people feel more confident about travelling now."

The first VTLs - quarantine-free destinations between two countries - were launched here in September to Germany and Brunei. Since then, they have been extended to 30 countries and regions.

Chan Brothers Travel has received 30 times more bookings compared with the same period a year ago, said marketing communications manager Jeremiah Wong.

Around 35 per cent of the agency's pool of some 100 tour staff are back leading tours, with more guides expected to return, said Mr Wong.

"With the removal of most Covid-19 restrictions in European countries... and more borders reopening around the world, we are expecting consumer sentiment on leisure travel to continue rising in the year ahead," he said.

Mr Rabil Lian has been working as a guide with travel agency Chan Brothers Travel for 10 years. PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL

The Netherlands, for instance, allowed restaurants and nightclubs to return to pre-pandemic operating hours in February, and Britain lifted its mask mandate in most settings in January.

Booking.com South Asia-Pacific regional director Nuno Guerreiro said the agency has seen an uptick in bookings, especially to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Seoul and some European destinations.

Almost four in five Singaporeans were up for a vacation if budget permits, according to Booking.com's travel predictions research, said Mr Guerreiro.

In addition, with new VTLs such as agreements with Greece, Vietnam and Penang announced on Friday (March 4), he expects 2022 to be a "year of recovery" for the travel industry.

A spokesman for Dynasty Travel said it is doubling efforts to unveil new tour packages, specifically to more remote parts of the world, such as the Arctic, Antarctica and Galapogos.

The spokesman said the agency is optimistic that the Omicron wave will subside by the second quarter of the year, allowing travellers to make plans more confidently.

For tour guides like Mr Lian, the fluid nature of Covid-19 means planning trips is more complicated than before.

Countries could make changes to social distancing measures and quarantine rules, and there is also a need to factor in the possibility of backup hotels in case anyone in the travel group needs to be isolated.

He said: "You need to be ready for the unexpected and adapt quickly when travelling today.

"It's a leap of faith, and many just hope for the best. It has been so long and they want to travel overseas."

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