S'pore travel sector faces uncertain future amid Covid-19

Crowds at the Natas 2019 travel fair. It is different this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with one industry executive saying: "Travelling now is too uncertain and for most, not essential."
Crowds at the Natas 2019 travel fair. It is different this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with one industry executive saying: "Travelling now is too uncertain and for most, not essential."PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Just like many Singaporeans' travel arrangements, plans for the country's biggest biannual travel fairs are also up in the air.

The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore's (Natas) event was postponed from February to this month and eventually cancelled, with no updates on any upcoming edition, while Travel Revolution - organised by the Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa) - will not be held this year, or even next year.

Sotaa president Kay Swee Pin, who is also managing director of SA Tours, predicts travel may recover only by next April.

She told The New Paper: "Travelling now is too uncertain and for most, not essential. The facts make it impossible to plan for a trip any time soon, as international border restrictions and lockdown measures are so unpredictable.

"Year-end is typically the peak of the travel season, but unfortunately, for destinations popular for group tours, it is also winter when a second wave of the virus could erupt."

South-east Asia may see an early boom in travel as the warm climate is constant, but the rest of Asia and Europe may not see a surge in visitors, Ms Kay said.

"We normally have hundreds of groups going to China, Japan, South Korea and Europe in December, but I will be lucky to see even 10 this year."

A Natas spokesman said: "Recovery plans will be launched gradually, depending on the governments' directives and global travel advisories."

Travel fairs can make up 20 per cent of travel agencies' annual revenue, but those TNP spoke to hold a positive outlook.

Mr Ong Hanjie, managing director of EU Asia Holidays, feels that travel will pick up from December, starting with China, New Zealand and South Korea as his agency has received more inquiries about these countries

Ms Alicia Seah, public relations director of Dynasty Travels, said: "There will be pent-up demand to travel by January, but what is important is how airlines and cruise lines set their onboard mitigation and prevention strategies. People will be confident to travel again, but with caution."

GRADUAL RECOVERY PLANS

Recovery plans will be launched gradually, depending on the governments' directives and global travel advisories.

A NATAS SPOKESMAN

Costa Cruises, which has suspended all its cruises until next month, said its industry may take longer to recover, but that it still has many bookings for next year.

Royal Caribbean and Genting Cruise Lines have also suspended their cruises until next month. For now, they are focused on safety enhancements.

 
 
 

Mr Chew Kian Beng, course chair for the diploma in hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business, said that while business and domestic tourism will recover fast, leisure travellers may remain selective. "Many (people) have been financially hit. They would need time to recover financially before they can spend discretionary income on leisure travel."

Mr Ng Yeow Hoe, 32, a public servant, said his planned trips to Seoul, Bali and Taiwan this year have been postponed and he is cautious about rescheduling them. "I hope to travel at the end of the year", but it will depend on whether there are new infections there and if managing Covid-19 is still that market's priority.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore travel sector faces uncertain future amid Covid-19'. Print Edition | Subscribe