Thursday, 20 April 2017

SINGAPORE: Travel Agencies Say Singaporeans Skipping US As A Holiday Destination

Some Singaporeans are bypassing the United States as a destination during the June holiday period.

For the first time in 38 years, Sino-America (SA) Tours has had no confirmed group booking for all three of its US tour packages.

Its spokesman said: "It was shocking that recently customers were no longer inquiring about our US tour packages, but interest has been gradually declining over the past two years."

She said there had been a 50 per cent drop in bookings in 2015, followed by an 80 per cent drop last year.

Most US tour packages for June are usually booked by February, and SA Tours has stopped advertising them. The spokesman said Europe has become a more affordable alternative.

SA Tours was among four of five travel agencies that said they had seen a fall in demand for US tour packages.

Dynasty Travel's public relations and communications director, Ms Alicia Seah, said there had been a 30 per cent decrease in bookings for US tour packages compared with the same period last year.

She cited the uncertainty caused by US President Donald Trump's travel ban on citizens of several Muslim-majority countries as one of the factors for the decline. Though the travel ban did not affect any Asia-Pacific country, it suggested hostility to the rest of the world, she added.

Two other agencies, ASA Holidays and CS Travel, cited similar factors for their 20 to 30 per drop in bookings to the US.

CS Travel's general manager, Ms Alice Lai, said: "The currency and change of government in the States have played a part in the fall, but we believe once stability is restored, Singaporeans will want to travel there again."

But Chan Brothers Travel's marketing communications executive, Ms Justine Koh, said the US remains as a top 10 destination for its customers, and its US bookings have not been affected.

"As long as the package price is attractive, Singaporeans will continue to make the US one of their go-to holiday destinations," she added.

Search volumes on travel search engine Kayak.sg from March to mid-April showed searches for flights to the US had dropped 23 per cent from last year. Flight bookings to the US in June also dropped by 10 per cent, while flight prices decreased by 8 per cent.

Mr Imbert Fung, director of Kayak South-east Asia and India,said: "A contributing factor may be the recent uncertainties surrounding the US, and additionally, a recent survey we conducted found that Singaporeans are most concerned with safety and security when they travel."

A spokesman for web travel site Expedia said that airfares from Singapore to North America and Europe have dipped by 5 per cent to 10 per cent since last year.

Citing examples such as the travel ban and ban on electronic gadgets on certain flights, Dr Michael Chiam, senior lecturer in tourism, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said the Trump administration and its policies have been a factor in the falling demand for travel to the US.

Mr Gevin Png, course manager for hospitality and tourism management, Temasek Polytechnic, said: "Perception plays a big role in tourism and when something negative happens, the region will be affected.

"People will still travel to the US for business and studies, but those travelling for leisure may prefer going elsewhere."

US Embassy spokesman Camille Dawson said: "The US government is committed to facilitating legitimate travel for international visitors. The US Embassy in Singapore continues to welcome and encourage Singaporeans' travel and study in the US."

She added that the embassy had 750 attendees during its February EducationUSA fair, an increase from the 600 last year.

But Miss Nadira Rafeek, a 22-year-old Muslim who has worn the hijab since 2015, said: "After I started wearing the hijab, I became more cautious about going to Western countries because it makes me recognisable as a Muslim.

"I won't be travelling to the US any time soon."

Travel agencies say that Singaporeans are skipping the US as a holiday destination because of such factors as:

TRAVEL BAN: US President Donald Trump has tried twice to deny entry to the US to all refugees for 120 days and halted for 90 days the granting of visas to nationals from several Muslim-majority countries. Though federal judges have blocked his directives, immigration checks have been tightened.

LAPTOP AND TABLET BAN: Last month, the US and UK imposed restrictions on carry-on electronic devices on planes coming from certain airports in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa in response to unspecified security threats.

STRONG US DOLLAR
The greenback has appreciated more than 6 per cent against a basket of six major currencies in the last year, making the US a more costly destination for tourists.