Terror threats in Europe, but it’s still top travel spot for S’poreans: Travel agents

Terror threats in Europe, but it’s still top travel spot for S’poreans: Travel agents
Dynasty Travel booth at the NATAS Travel Fair held at Suntec City Convention Centre on August 11, 2017. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY
Published: 11:15 PM, August 11, 2017
Updated: 12:53 AM, August 12, 2017

SINGAPORE — Despite unrest and disasters overseas, Singaporeans love for travel remain unbated, travel agents say, with Europe still being the top spot for holidays.

Some 17,400 people thronged the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair in Suntec City on Friday (Aug 11) when it opened, and among the agents there who spoke to TODAY, only one said that an advance booking for the popular Juizhaigou tour in China has been cancelled in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake in Sichuan province. The rest are taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

Thousands of travellers have booked Sichuan tours with CTC Travel, EU Asia Holidays and Dynasty Travel in the upcoming months, and the agencies told TODAY that they would offer alternate arrangements for their clients if necessary.

At the three-day fair, there are about 80 agencies offering travel deals and packages. Those interviewed by TODAY said that the demand for Europe holidays is still strong even though there have been increased threats of terror attacks in places such as London, Paris, Brussels and Istanbul.

Ms Alicia Seah, 52, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said that life goes on as normal for many travellers. “We’re seeing a fast recovery nowadays. People are already going back to areas hit by terrorists two weeks after the attacks. There may be heightened security and lengthy checks (at customs), but these do not deter people,” she added.

Mr Wong Yew Hoong, 41, director of EU Holidays, said that such recurring events have made people feel that these attacks are “normal” and that they have learnt to trust the security at those locations.

His agency had tour groups overseas during the Paris attack two years ago and when the attack on the London Bridge happened earlier this year. The travellers were unperturbed, he said, and still recommended their friends to the places they visited.

Travel agents said that the continent’s appeal lies in the distinctive range of activities available from season to season, the rare natural phenomena that occur there such as the aurora borealis or northern lights, as well as “exotic” destinations that are not mainstream.

Ms Sylvia Tan, vice president of marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, noted that cities within central Europe, such as London and Paris, are popular with millennials, who are mostly making their way there for the first time.

Among the more seasoned travellers, particularly the middle-aged, there has been an increased demand for destinations off the beaten track, especially to Turkey and the Mediterranean. “Most of our travellers have been to central Europe at least once, and because of their growing knowledge and affluence, they want to go further towards northern and eastern Europe,” Ms Tan said, adding that customers are seeking places that are more “cultural” and “sensorial”, such as the Balkans.

EU Holidays has also seen a larger market for south-eastern Europe, especially Romania and Croatia, in recent years, and it will have 20 groups going to those parts in the next two months alone.

It is anticipating similarly large numbers for its arctic tours in November and December, covering areas such as Finland, Iceland and Norway. “We are expecting close to 2,000 people for the Northern Lights package this year, which is twice the number of people who went last year. It is expensive and costs about S$4,000 to S$5,000, but a lot of people are still going for it,” Mr Wong said.

Travel agents reported that Japan has continually been a top pick among Singaporeans, due to the direct flights available, the cuisine and culture, and seasonal activities such as skiing in Hokkaido.

Madam Sally Tay, 42, a homemaker, was visiting the Natas travel fair for the first time to scout for package deals to Japan or Taiwan. She used to go for the free-and-easy option when travelling, but now wants something that has “more value for money”. “For Japan, we like the culture and my kids loved it (the last time we were there). We’re looking at Hokkaido, because the food is nice, and the service is top-notch.”