Travel industry plans to tap demand for trips between Germany and Singapore

Singapore on Aug 19 announced the first quarantine-free leisure travel arrangement in almost 18 months. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Travel agents are putting together itineraries for Germany after receiving inquiries on tour packages for the European nation.

It comes after Singapore on Thursday (Aug 19) announced the first quarantine-free leisure travel arrangement in almost 18 months since the Covid-19 pandemic.

While those in the industry say the demand is not as high as that of the now-scrapped Hong Kong air bubble, they are cautiously optimistic that the new Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement can take off as planned on Sept 8.

For a start, the scheme will allow fully vaccinated travellers, including tourists, to fly into Singapore from Germany and Brunei, without quarantine.

They will instead take several Covid-19 tests and fly on designated flights, among other precautions.

In turn, Singapore has also updated its travel advisory to allow for travel to these countries.

Brunei has remained shut off to leisure travel due to the pandemic, but Germany had earlier unilaterally opened its borders to Singapore.

This means that fully vaccinated Singapore residents will be able to travel to Germany on any flight, and return on designated VTL flights from Sept 8, to enjoy leisure travel without quarantine.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel, said the agency has received several inquiries since the VTL scheme was announced on Thursday evening.

"In the beginning, we expect most leisure travellers will carefully weigh their decisions to travel based on considerations such as aversion to perceived risk, health and safety concerns, and any additional costs involved, among others," he said.

"Some leisure travellers may adopt a more measured wait-and-see approach as more information about attractions and public health and safe travel protocols of the destination in question becomes clearer and more available."

Mr Wong said Chan Brothers Travel is working with its partners and suppliers in Germany to enhance its tour packages there.

He said the firm's offerings in Germany include tourist hot spots such as Bavaria and the Rhine River, as well as seasonal specials such as the country's Christmas markets.

Mr Alan Ang, managing director of EU Holidays and EU Asia Holidays, said although EU Holidays has received multiple inquiries about tour packages to Germany since the announcement, it is still in discussions with suppliers to set up itineraries.

He said the decision to start quarantine-free leisure travel with just one country would enable tour agencies to gain experience in handling tours and prepare for unexpected scenarios amid the pandemic.

On whether there are any concerns that the potential for leisure travel to Germany could prove to be a false dawn as with the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble, Mr Ang said: "It may or may not be so. But we cannot focus on the negative.

"We have to grab the chance and strive forward."

Travel agents are confident that they can tap pent-up travel demand.

Online travel company Expedia revealed that searches for destinations in Germany were 10 times higher after the announcement compared with the seven days prior.

Singapore Airlines, which is operating the designated vaccinated travel lane flights, said it has seen an increase in bookings, "but it is too early to see if there is any spike in demand".

But Mr Aaron Wong, founder of frequent flier website MileLion, said that travellers have not snapped up tickets with the same fervour as they did for flights on the scrapped Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble.

"Within 24 hours of the Hong Kong air travel bubble being announced, fares had doubled because all the cheaper ticket classes were sold out, but now I am still seeing plenty of tickets in the cheapest ticket class for the VTL flights from Germany," said Mr Wong.

But he said the lower demand for trips to Germany was not surprising.

This was due to several factors. Tickets to Germany are pricier, fewer Singaporeans have relatives there, and the country is further than Hong Kong.

Pubs along the Spree River in Berlin. Germany had earlier unilaterally opened its borders to Singapore. PHOTO: AFP

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said it is unlikely that the VTL will lead to a significant influx of tourists to Singapore, given that Brunei's borders remain largely closed and the difficulty in attracting leisure visitors from Germany.

"When they come to Singapore, they will have to go through multiple Covid-19 tests, adhere to onerous regulations, face higher fares because of limited flights and also not be able to go anywhere else in South-east Asia," he said.

"If you are a German citizen, there are a lot of other places that you can go that are fully open without any restrictions and with a lot more options for flights."

But he added that there will still be business visitors as well as those who are visiting friends and relatives.

Travellers under the VTL must have remained in Germany and/or Singapore for the last 21 consecutive days prior to departure for Singapore.

Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, president of Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), which represents 160 hotels, said that based on data before the pandemic, Germany contributes about 2 per cent of visitor arrivals and Brunei contributes 0.4 per cent.

"We hope that more VTLs will be established after we learn from this initial implementation, so that we can make informed decisions on welcoming international tourists back to Singapore in a safe and responsible manner," said Ms Kwee.

"It is too early to assess the impact of these VTLs. However, SHA is optimistic that these VTLs will boost global confidence in Singapore as the preferred travel destination in Asia."

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