SINGAPORE - After nearly two years of fretting over a pandemic that dried up bookings, travel agency EU Holidays staff had to put in overtime on Friday evening (Oct 8).
They were working on finalising a tour itinerary to South Korea by Saturday after news that border measures between Singapore and South Korea will be eased.
From Nov 15, travellers from Singapore and South Korea can embark on a return trip from either country without quarantine under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) initiative.
And EU Holidays is eager to meet the expected spike in demand from travellers.
Mr Ong Hanjie, a director at EU Holidays, said: "South Korea is the second-most popular destination in Asia after Japan for us... And this is the most significant reopening of borders, so far, for us. My staff are very happy because they finally have something to do."
Mr Ong and his staff are among the travel agencies and travellers cheered by the Singapore- South Korea VTL arrangement.
Vaccinated travellers will undergo several polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in place of quarantine.
Singapore last month unilaterally started VTLs with Brunei and Germany. While Brunei's borders have remain largely closed, Germany had unilaterally opened its borders to Singapore since October last year.
Mr Ong said his agency expects demand for trips to South Korea to be at least three times that of the demand for trips to Germany.
This is because South Korea is nearer and the cost of a flight is lower, he said.
But prices for tour packages will be higher compared with before the pandemic, he added. Tour group sizes will be smaller, which means costs will be split between fewer people.
Mr Bertrand Saillet, managing director of travel management firm FCM Travel Asia, said the firm is expecting bookings for South Korea trips to outstrip that of bookings to Germany, given that there was a higher volume of travel to South Korea before the pandemic.
He said: "One of the exciting aspects of the agreement with South Korea is that it is the first bilateral travel corridor open within Asia.
"This will boost regional trips which have been depressed in recent months due to restricted borders, allowing greater trade within the continent."
Actress Munah Bagharib, 33, said she is planning to travel to South Korea for a holiday in December or January if the Covid-19 situation in the country remains stable.
She said: "The issue with travelling during the last two years was always about how safe it was going to be, what the protocols are - there was just a lot to consider.
"So, this VTL with South Korea looks like a tiny glimmer of hope that things are moving somewhere for travel."
But Ms Crystal Sim, president and chief executive of Albatross World Travel and Tours, said the firm will wait before launching tours to South Korea because it remains pessimistic about the travel industry's immediate outlook.
More VTL schemes are expected in the future. Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday said one will be launched with the United States before the end of the year.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Singapore said plans to launch a VTL with the US soon is especially welcome, as it will let AmCham members reunite with their families for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
AmCham Singapore chief executive Lei Hsien-Hsien said concerns such as how Covid-19 vaccination credentials will be verified and the limited number of work pass holders allowed to enter Singapore will need to be addressed.
She said: "We are in frequent contact with American companies who have plans to open regional and local offices in Singapore but have not been able to do so because they are unable to enter the country.
"Business plans and events that have been postponed due to the pandemic and border restrictions can now be dusted off and reactivated."