Natas steals a march on rivals

Faced with a rival fair by about 24 disgruntled travel agencies, the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) is bringing forward the dates of its travel fair in a tit-for-tat response.

It will be holding its fair over the March 6 to 8 weekend at the Singapore Expo, three weeks earlier than previously announced.

A Natas spokesman yesterday confirmed the change, which was announced to its members in a circular on Monday.

It is the latest move in a spat that erupted two weeks ago when some big boys in the industry, including SA Tours, CTC Travel and Chan Brothers Travel, decided to boycott the Natas fair over issues such as admission charges for the public and unsatisfactory publicity for the event.

Despite subsequent concessions from Natas, the breakaway group is sticking to its plan to hold its Outbound Travel Fair from March 27 to 29, the initial dates of the Natas fair. It will take place at The Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Natas said in its circular that it believes its new dates would suit exhibitors and consumers.

"It will take place immediately after the 15th day of Chinese New Year and on the weekend just before the March school holidays. This opens the window for last-minute school holiday tour bookings." The circular also noted that the rival fair is going ahead despite Natas' "significant adjustments".

Last Thursday, Natas said both its travel fairs next year will have free admission, lower rent for the booths and better publicity.

These concessions came two days after representatives of the 24 breakaway agencies said they are boycotting the March fair because of the booth rent, admission fee, "lacklustre" publicity and lack of transparency.

Yesterday, their fair's working committee said the issues had been simmering for a few years.

"Only in recent weeks did (Natas) make a few baby steps and it only did so under the pressure of the Outbound Travel Fair, so its sincerity in the long run is in doubt," said the committee's spokesman, Dynasty Travel's director of marketing communications Alicia Seah.

The committee, she added, held a forum on Monday with 60 stakeholders, including airlines and national tourism groups.

The fair's participants will be announced by the middle of this month.

The Natas fair, held twice a year, is the biggest in Singapore. The last fair attracted more than 50,000 visitors and generated millions of dollars in sales. The question now is whether Natas' new dates will affect the participation and turnout at the rival fair.

ASA Holidays' marketing and communications senior executive Edward Teh called it a "strategic move" as his agency has yet to decide which fair to take part in. "Natas' initial dates were too late for us to get bookings for the March school holidays," he said.

But the change of dates may not matter as consumers will flock to the travel agency that offers the best deals, said Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam.

"If Chan Brothers or SA Tours advertises its deals early, people will still go to the non-Natas fair," Mr Chiam said.

"Singaporeans are, to some extent, price- sensitive and discerning travellers."


This article was first published on Dec 3, 2014.
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