First flight under expanded Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme to touch down at Changi Airport on Wednesday

Travellers at Changi Airport on Oct 18, 2021. The first flight under the expanded quarantine-free travel scheme will touch down in Singapore on Oct 20, 2021.
Travellers at Changi Airport on Oct 18, 2021. The first flight under the expanded quarantine-free travel scheme will touch down in Singapore on Oct 20, 2021.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The first flight under the expanded quarantine-free travel scheme for travellers vaccinated against Covid-19 will touch down in Singapore on Wednesday morning (Oct 20), in the next step of Singapore's border reopening.

SQ329, which is operated by Singapore Airlines (SIA), is expected to touch down at Changi Airport at 5.55am on Wednesday. It will depart from Amsterdam in the Netherlands at 11.15am local time (5.15pm Singapore time) on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the first Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flight from the United States, SQ23, is expected to depart from New York at Tuesday night local time, and land in Singapore at 5.20am on Thursday.

The Netherlands and the United States are among eight countries that the Republic will open up Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) to from Tuesday. The other countries are Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and Britain.

Singapore had earlier opened up VTLs to Germany and Brunei on Sept 8. It will jointly launch VTLs with South Korea on Nov 15.

The VTL scheme allows vaccinated travellers on designated flights to enter Singapore quarantine-free.

But they must take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before departure and when they land at Changi Airport.

There is currently no outbound VTL flights as the scheme is a unilateral move by Singapore, with the only exception being the upcoming arrangement with South Korea.

As the eight countries that Singapore will open up to from Tuesday had already unilaterally opened up to the Republic earlier, this means travellers from Singapore could already fly to these countries on any flight without having to serve quarantine there.

The launch of the eight new VTLs represents Singapore's biggest move to reopen its borders since the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been welcomed by the industry as a step forward in reviving the Republic's air hub and tourism sector.

Mr Toh Thiam Wei, founder of tour company Indie Singapore, has received "a handful" of bookings over the past two weeks from travellers from Germany and their families here.

There were six groups in total, comprising two to six customers each. Mr Toh has received inquiries, but no bookings from guests from other VTL countries.

Pre-pandemic, the company used to receive between 20 and 30 guests a day.

Mr Toh, who is also a tour guide, said the bookings for his firm's walking tours were unexpected but welcome.

"I did not think tours would be high on the priority list for people here to spend time with family," he said.

Hotels, too, have reported a rise in inquiries.

Mr Paul Er, vice-president of sales for Asia for Millennium Hotels and Resorts, said inquiries for the group's Orchard Hotel have doubled since the announcement of the new VTL countries, but he declined to reveal booking numbers.

The hotel last week launched a "Stay to eat free 100%" promotion, where guests will receive the full amount of their stay in dining credits.

Initially targeted at local staycationers, Mr Er said the package has been popular among VTL guests who can order in-room dining while waiting for the results of their on-arrival Covid-19 PCR test.

"We anticipate bookings to spike when similar VTLs are established with countries within our region, as the rise in leisure trips will outpace the recovery of business travel," he added.

But experts have cautioned that the VTLs will not be a silver bullet for the aviation and tourism sector.

They also noted that the cap of allowing just 3,000 travellers to come in under the VTLs daily will limit the impact of the scheme.

Aviation analyst from Endau Analytics Shukor Yusof said: "The VTL is a great morale booster for some in Singapore, and indeed for SIA, but I am not convinced it will help much in reducing the cash burn the flag carrier is facing.

"Moreover, these schemes will widen inequality as air travel becomes the privilege of the affluent and the fully vaccinated, which could result in an imbalance in mobility amongst the masses."