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Touts offering tourists discounted tickets to attractions

A NEW breed of touts is offering tourists discounted tickets to Singapore attractions, to the chagrin of the tourism industry.

Over the past week, The Straits Times observed them touting for customers at Mustafa Centre and Merlion Park. Some offer to sell the discounted tickets alone. Others sell them only together with flat-rate mini-van rides.

According to members of the NTUC Tourist Guide Chapter, these touts have also been seen operating outside attractions such as the Songs of the Sea in Sentosa and the Singapore Flyer.

Visits to several travel agencies in Landmark Village Hotel and Chinatown also found that tickets were sold at up to 50 per cent off.

For instance, adult tickets to Universal Studios Singapore were sold at $62, down from $74. Singapore Flyer tickets were also available for $16, instead of the usual $33, and tickets for a visit to the Night Safari, which usually cost $35, were being offered for $24.

Such sales are breaking the rules, say those who run the attractions.

Tickets are sold in bulk to authorised travel agencies at a discount. "The more tickets agents buy, the better deal they get," said Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam.

But these agents are not allowed to offer them to third parties, for instance the touts, for resale. "Travel agents are allowed to use their tickets only for inbound or foreign arrivals. These terms are stated in our agreements," said a Resorts World Sentosa spokesman, who described the act as an "illegal activity".

A Singapore Flyer spokesman also said agents are contracted to sell tickets only at the list price.

That has not stopped the problem from worsening recently, due to the rise in the number of tourists, and a lack of enforcement, according to the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore.

Its chairman of inbound travel Judy Lum believes some travel agents offload tickets, which typically expire after a certain date, to outside parties when they fail to sell them to their usual clients.

"If this practice gets out of hand, customers will prefer to look to such touts to purchase cheaper tickets instead," she said.

"Then, attractions may choose not to sell tickets in bulk to travel agents as they will be making a loss. This will ultimately affect the overall attractiveness of travel packages on offer to tourists."

The issue, said Mr M. Loganathan, 53, an NTUC Tourist Guide Chapter member, has been brought up to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in dialogue sessions. "These touts steal business from us. Why should they have access to discounted tickets? Then what is the point of being a licensed guide?"

The problems "can also create a lot of unhappiness among tourists who expect prices to be the same. It soils the industry's image", added Mr Chiam.

When told about the discounted tickets, Singaporean Michelle Low, 32, said: "I feel cheated." The engineer recently spent about $100 riding the Singapore Flyer with her parents-in-law with tickets she bought at the attraction.

The STB said pricing and business partnerships were "market driven, and made by the attractions themselves". But its director of attractions, dining and retail Ranita Sundramoorthy added that touting is illegal, and reminded tourists and locals to buy tickets directly from the attraction or from authorised businesses.

Vietnamese tourist David Ngo, 50, who was approached by a tout last Tuesday at Mustafa Centre, rejected the offer. "What if they drop me off at some place else?" he asked. "I'm surprised. I didn't think Singapore had touts."

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