'Big Four' and 20 other travel agencies opt out of Natas fair

The upcoming National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) travel fair in March is in trouble.

A total of 24 travel agencies, which contributed 80 per cent of the overall sales at previous Natas fairs, have opted out of the event and are holding their own fair on the same dates.

They include the "Big Four" agencies - CTC Travel, Dynasty Travel, Chan Brothers Travel and SA Tours - and others such as Apple Holidays, Nam Ho Travel and Farmosa Holidays.

Running a fair on their own can save the agencies up to 30 per cent of the $100,000 to $200,000 they usually spend on a three-day Natas fair, representatives of the agencies said at a press conference yesterday.

They claimed Natas, which has over 340 members and has been organising the trade shows since 1987, has not been transparent about how proceeds from fairs are used. While Natas has said any surplus or proceeds are used to fund activities and initiatives for its general membership, it has not given any details.

The agencies were also unhappy with Natas' rental charges, the $4 admission fee that they say keeps some potential customers away, the lacklustre event publicity and lack of evident efforts by the association to counter falling visitorship and sales. The Natas Holidays travel fair in August attracted 56,189 visitors, 10 per cent fewer than last year.

On Oct 13, a petition by 17 agencies highlighting some of these points was sent to Natas, but the association did not respond constructively, they said.

Replying to media queries, a Natas spokesman said it was unrealistic to expect year-on-year growth from the biannual fairs when consumers' buying patterns have changed drastically.

"The solution to this is not to have more fairs, but rather to work towards making our fairs more appealing to more market segments," he said.

Despite the rising cost of hall rentals, Natas has not passed it on to exhibitors. He added that it would revamp the fair and draw in new exhibitors. Natas did not comment specifically on the other points raised by the agencies, but said it would hold a forum with members and a press conference tomorrow.

The Natas fair will be held from March 27 to 29 at the Singapore Expo. The admission fee has not been decided.

The other fair, tentatively called Outbound Travel Fair, will take place on the same dates at The Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Admission is free.

Its 17,000 sq m space is about 70 per cent the size of the Natas fair.

The agencies claimed these were the only weekend dates available in March for a large enough venue.

A visitor to August's Natas fair, Mr Joseph Chua, 54, a manager in a logistics company, is unsure which fair to go to next year. "The free entry might be a defining factor," he said.

Agencies said they were not going toe-to-toe with Natas. "All of us are still members of Natas," said Dynasty Travel chairman Perry Neo.

"It's good for us to run the fair once, so we know what the costs are. Then we can discuss with Natas again, and perhaps we can join them for the next fair."

This article was first published on November 26, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.