Natas still holds out hope of making peace

Natas still holds out hope of making peace
The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) holds out hope of a reconciliation with the group of travel agencies that broke away from the fold to organise a rival travel fair, though it is aware that making peace boils down to how reasonable the demands of the opposite camp are.

Singapore - The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) holds out hope of a reconciliation with the group of travel agencies that broke away from the fold to organise a rival travel fair, though it is aware that making peace boils down to how reasonable the demands of the opposite camp are.

The group that is planning the rival Outbound Travel Fair declined further comment on the dispute when approached on Tuesday; its spokeswoman said that preparations were now underway for the fair. 

Meanwhile, an indication of how deep the discontent is running among some Natas members came from an industry source, who told The Business Times on Tuesday that it was "too late" for a reconciliation.

Association president Devinder Ohri told reporters on Tuesday that he was "cautiously optimistic" that a patch-up was achievable, and that this would be to the mutual benefit of everyone involved.

During an hour-long media briefing, he sought to repudiate "wrongful depictions" of the association, saying that the breakaway group had "created an untrue image" of Natas.

On Nov 25, established names among travel agents such as Chan Brothers Travel, CTC Travel, Dynasty Travel and SA Tours announced that they were pulling out of the March 2015 Natas Fair and holding their own, citing reasons such as the sliding Natas fair visitorship, lack of transparency on the sponsorship and the financial reporting of the fair, among other things.

On the issue of financial reporting, Mr Ohri said that the financial statements are circulated to members before AGMs; as for sponsorship arrangements, the association is bound by a confidentiality agreement and so could not disclose them.

"I think, by saying that we were not transparent and open with our accounts, by saying that we were not transparent and open with sponsorship - it has tarnished somewhat the integrity of the discussion," he said.

The industry source who spoke to BT on Tuesday said that the unhappiness among some Natas members was rooted in the association's refusal to give a breakdown of the proceeds from its travel fairs.

Natas fairs, Singapore's biggest, have been held every March and August since 1987. The 2015 March edition will now be brought forward to March 6-8, as was announced in a Dec 1 circular to Natas members.

Organisers of the rival fair have said they will hold their fair on March 27-29, the original slot of the Natas fair.

On the decision to bring the Natas fair forward in March, Mr Ohri said that having two fairs on the same day served nobody's interest and inconvenienced stakeholders, partners, exhibitors and consumers. The alternative dates are the "most ideal", he said, as they follow the 15th day of the Chinese New Year and come just ahead of the school holidays.

"Booking at the start of the holiday season has many advantages. Inventories - be they airline seats, tours to popular destinations, preferred dates of departure - are all wide open, whereas by the end of the month, the chances for consumers to obtain their first choice may be reduced."

While consumers are wondering whether having rival fairs in the same month will trigger a price war, Natas expressed confidence that its two fairs next year would pull in as many visitors, "if not at least a 10 to 20 per cent increase".

Last August, Natas fair visitorship fell some 10 per cent year-on-year to 56,189, causing sales to take a hit. Still, it raked in millions of dollars in sales, despite rising cost pressures and an increasing number of travellers turning to the Internet to book their own vacation packages.


This article was first published on Dec 10, 2014.
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