Travellers told to be prepared for changes to year-end holiday plans as more Omicron cases surface

Analyst Brendan Sobie said the emergence of the Omicron variant is a major setback in the recovery of international travel. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant around the world may scupper year-end holiday plans for some people in Singapore, with industry players warning travellers to be prepared for the situation to change quickly.

On Wednesday (Dec 1), the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced that quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers would be suspended for two weeks from Friday.

But on Thursday, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Singapore said the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangement between the two countries would proceed without change at the moment.

Two travel agencies told The Straits Times that some customers, spooked by South Korea's announcement on Wednesday, had been calling them up. This was before the embassy's assurance.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, a senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers, said the travel agency also received inquiries from customers heading to Europe.

He said customers can either postpone their tour, transfer their booking to another VTL destination, or seek a full refund if they are affected by tightened restrictions in VTL countries.

Meanwhile, CTC Travel has advised customers to consider postponing or cancelling their trips, a spokesman told ST.

Independent analyst Brendan Sobie, of Sobie Aviation, said the emergence of the Omicron variant is a major setback in the recovery of international travel. It is destroying passenger confidence and creating a very uncertain environment for travel.

"There's been a lack of consensus and uniformity in the response so far by governments as countries have quickly implemented a wide variety of measures," he said.

He noted that these varied from banning all non-resident arrivals or those from selected countries, to reimposing quarantine for travellers from selected countries or for everyone.

"Some of the responses do not make sense and seem arbitrary, rather than based on facts or science."

Chan Brothers' Mr Wong said that since Wednesday's announcement by South Korea, there have been no cancellations so far for VTL trips to that country and Europe, with tours to Germany, Switzerland and Finland proceeding as planned.

He added that some travellers, typically those eager to go abroad again after a long hiatus and have taken leave from work for their trip, want to proceed despite the changes in border measures.

For instance, Mr Wong said, close to 30 people in different groups will go ahead with holidays to Sydney and Melbourne in the first half of December despite needing to self-isolate for three days on arrival.

"Different individuals have different levels of risk aversion with respect to travelling in this new climate," he added.

CTC Travel's spokesman said some customers due to travel to South Korea later in December are taking a wait-and-see approach.

And the agency has seen the number of inquiries for travel to VTL countries shrink by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent, said its spokesman.

She added: "People can take this period of time to slow down a little bit... see (what happens) after that. But meanwhile, read up more on the country (you want to visit) before making a decision."

Wolmi Cultural Street in Incheon, South Korea. CTC Travel said some customers due to travel to South Korea later in December are taking a wait-and-see approach. PHOTO: GRACE MA

Mr Jameson Wong, Asia-Pacific vice-president of clients and partnerships at ForwardKeys , a global air travel analytics company, agreed that those whose trips are not imminent should "reassess and readjust as things unfold".

He also advised those who will be flying soon to ensure that the travel products they have bought have the necessary flexibility and support, particularly in high-risk countries.

He said data compiled by his company indicates that the ratio of flight cancellations against bookings has spiked with news of the Omicron variant.

"On Nov 30, 49 per cent of all outbound Singapore air bookings, for travel any time in the future, were cancelled; while 38 per cent of all inbound Singapore air bookings were cancelled."

The ratio had been hovering around 27 per cent for outbound trips and 28 per cent for inbound trips since Aug 19, when Singapore's first VTL, with Germany, was announced.

The numbers mean travellers heading out feel more uncertain than those coming in, he said.

Mr Jameson Wong said Australia, South Korea, India and the Philippines are among countries that have seen the most outbound trips from Singapore cancelled.

"Australia, the UK and Indonesia are the top source countries cancelling inbound trips to Singapore," he added.

Meanwhile, Chan Brothers and CTC Travel said itineraries for upcoming VTL destinations like Cambodia and Thailand are in the works, and they are monitoring how the new variant will affect these VTLs.

ST has contacted SA Tours, Dynasty Travel and ASA Holidays for comment as well.

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