More Singaporeans heading overseas for CNY with bookings almost back to pre-pandemic levels

Royal Caribbean said its CNY cruises are almost sold out, with cruises on Jan 12, 16 and 20 in high demand. PHOTO: ROYAL CARRIBEAN

SINGAPORE – Many Singaporeans will be celebrating Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan 22 in 2023, away from home. 

With international borders reopened, Covid-19 curbs eased and a long weekend during the festive season, several travel agencies have reported a spike in overseas travel bookings, with some saying the demand is comparable with pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager of Chan Brothers Travel, said that compared with Chinese New Year in 2022, the agency has seen a sevenfold rise in bookings in 2023.

The number of customers travelling overseas during CNY has reached 85 per cent of pre-pandemic days, he added.

He said the top three destinations are Europe, Japan and South Korea, with the average travel duration being about eight days.

As this year’s CNY falls on a Sunday, travellers can enjoy a long weekend, with Monday and Tuesday being public holidays.

Mr Wong said: ”We noticed that more families are choosing travel as a way to bond with one another, and are more willing to spend a longer time abroad to make up for the hiatus in travel during the pandemic.

“There are also more travellers who wish to experience unique Spring Festival vibes overseas.”

The agency has curated festive itineraries such as local versions of the reunion dinner on its Taiwan and South Korea CNY tours, and cherry blossom viewing in Taiwan.

One of the travellers is housewife Sarang Lee, 51, who will be heading to Taiwan for eight days from next Thursday with a friend.

“I usually get away during CNY to enjoy the holidays, except for the past two years because of the pandemic,” she said. “It is also my first time flying post-Covid-19.”

Online travel platforms also reported a similar trend.

Tripadvisor spokesman Skye Ferguson said the number of Singaporeans heading abroad for CNY has increased almost seven times compared with 2022, putting the figure on a par with pre-pandemic levels. Nine in 10 travellers are planning international trips, compared with about five in 10 in 2022.

Traveloka president Caesar Indra said demand for CNY travel has returned to pre-Covid-19 levels, with destinations like Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur popular among people jetting off for durations of eight to 13 days.

“To make the most of the CNY holiday, travellers will start departing from Singapore between Jan 17 and 21,” he said. “One reason these three destinations feature high on people’s lists is that they are major cities located near Singapore, making them a good port of call for those planning to explore the region.”

The huge demand is bolstered by the extended weekend for CNY this year, he said. Travellers are also ready to spend on travelling, having saved a fair amount over the last couple of years when travel was limited.

Expedia spokesman Lavinia Rajaram said CNY has always been a popular period for overseas travel among Asians, including Singaporeans. The top destinations for CNY travel among Singaporeans on its platform are cities in Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, with most going for three- or four-day trips.  

Cruise companies have also reported brisk sales. Royal Caribbean said its CNY cruises are almost sold out, with cruises on Jan 12, 16 and 20 in high demand. These are three- to five-night itineraries from Singapore to Penang and Phuket, and most travellers are multi-generational families.

A Resorts World Cruises spokesman said cruises departing between Jan 20 and 25 were sold out in November. Its two- and three-night cruises to KL and Penang during the CNY break are popular, especially among families. The company has curated some CNY activities, like talks on Chinese zodiac forecasts, on board the cruises.

Some agencies said the demand for CNY travel would have been even better if the festival had come at a later date.

Ms Kay Swee Pin, chief executive of SA Tours, said that due to “revenge travel” in the last three months of 2022, some who have already made recent trips may choose not to travel during CNY. 

Mr Jeffrey Choo, marketing communications officer of ASA Holidays, concurred, saying most Singaporeans have already travelled in the past few months after borders opened. 

Nam Ho Travel’s marketing director Mandy Ooi said: “CNY is too early this year, too close to the year-end holidays in 2022. Most Singaporeans will not choose to travel for two consecutive months.”

Meanwhile, some travel agencies are expecting the return of China travellers as China’s inbound quarantine rules are eased. Travel booking company Trip.com Group listed Singapore as one of the top 10 destinations outside the mainland, with the fastest-growing search volume among China travellers.

Siam Express has received four or five inquiries, with the earliest arrival date being on Jan 20. It is waiting for confirmation on travel regulations and visa requirements from China. 

Ms Xia Jingwen, its digital business development manager, said the agency has been preparing for the Chinese market since December, including updating its packages, translating itineraries into Chinese and training Chinese-speaking tour guides.

But the bulk of the Chinese tourists will likely return only in March or later, she added.

Traveloka’s Mr Indra said: “Since the removal of its mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for overseas arrivals from Jan 8, we are seeing a steady increase in inbound travel from China to Singapore, including during the CNY period.”

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