Hot offers at Natas fair but demand cools

SINGAPORE - The bargains were hotter but demand was cooler at last weekend's Natas travel fair, with both the number of visitors and the business they brought down from last year.

But travel firms saw a trend: Singaporeans were willing to spend on destinations and itineraries which are out of the ordinary.

The three-day fair organised by the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) at Singapore Expo drew 62,744 visitors, a drop of nearly 5 per cent from the 65,822 last year. Bookings slipped more than 9 per cent to an estimated $98 million, from last year's $108 million.

Natas attributed the fall to well-travelled Singaporeans keen on new experiences. Many may be choosing smaller travel groups instead of mass tours, said Natas chief operating officer Anita Tan, adding that people think the fair sells packages for only big groups.

"But agents are now adapting," she said. While the five most popular destinations at the fair - which started last Friday - were Europe, Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, travel firms saw interest in exotic locations like Peru, Iran and South Africa.

"Singaporeans are starting to look beyond the tried-and-tested destinations for something to excite them," said Ms Tan.

This year's fair was smaller, with 1,125 booths sold to 160 exhibitors, down from last year's 1,147 booths and 171 exhibitors. Natas will hold its next fair next February or March.

ASA Holiday head of marketing and communications Eileen Oh said its sales fell by about 5 per cent despite discounts of up to 70 per cent.

"People are still travelling, but our better-selling destinations were mid-haul (like Japan and China) this time," she said, adding that prices were slashed by up to 50 per cent last year. "We are also seeing more people opting to go to interesting places like India, Tibet and Bhutan."

Agencies with innovative offerings and focusing on far-flung locations seem to have fared better.

CTC Travel launched new trips to places like South America, and self-drive itineraries to South Korea's Jeju island. Sales rose 25 per cent from last year, said spokesman Alicia Seah. "Visitors are willing to spend if they know they'll get a whole new experience."

Training consultant C.P. Xing, 63, who booked a self-drive trip to South Korea with his wife for $4,500, said: "Normal tours are sometimes very rushed... We wanted to try something new."

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