SINGAPORE'S most well-known travel fair opened to a smaller crowd than usual yesterday, after four major agencies pulled out to hold their own renegade event.
The exhibition area of the twice-yearly National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair was also smaller, taking up one hall instead of the usual two.
"It's smaller and there are fewer people, but it's good otherwise I have no strength to walk from one end to the other," said housewife Michelle Chen, 64.
The three-day fair at the Singapore Expo has been capturing the headlines for the wrong reasons in recent months after the "Big Four" agencies - Chan Brothers Travel, CTC Travel, Dynasty Travel and SA Tours - pulled out.
They were upset over issues such as admission charges for the public and unsatisfactory publicity for the event, and decided to hold their own event later this month.
More than 90 exhibitors remain, including airlines, banks and tour agencies, with ASA Holidays taking up the largest space. Smaller players welcomed the change, saying it gives them a chance to shine.
"It's better this way," said Universal Travel Corporation managing director Khoo Boo Liat. "Previously, the fair was crowded, but the crowd did not come to us. Today's crowd is not so good, but those who come are genuine buyers."
ASA Holidays increased its booth size to 882 sq m, from about 600 sq m at the last fair. Booth rentals have gone down by 35 per cent, said its general manager Lin Zheng Wei. "Natas' branding has been good and we hope it can bring the crowd back here," he added.
Besides offering travel deals, the fair features lucky draws, performances and a new food and beverage section with international cuisine. Admission is free.
Beneath the carnival atmosphere, tensions were obvious. At the opening ceremony, Natas president Devinder Ohri stressed the need for the industry to be united.
"In our field of work, no organisation is an island," he told an audience of more than 200 foreign dignitaries and travel industry players.
"Our connections, partnerships and business relationships are what drive the industry forward."
He later told reporters that after both fairs have taken place, Natas will hold dialogues with the breakaway agencies.
Housewife Tan Lay Hua, 63, who was looking for cheap packages to Genting Highlands at the Natas fair yesterday, said she will visit the other fair when it takes place from March 27 to 29.
"I like to travel and have been to many countries," she said.
Associate engineer Kumar Soogomaran, 36, hoped to book a tour package to Japan or Taiwan for himself and his wife.
"The choices (at the Natas fair) are a bit limited, but I'm planning to go on vacation around April 4, my wedding anniversary, so I can't wait for the other fair," he said.
This article was first published on March 07, 2015.
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