With such a record turn out, it’s hard to convince anyone looking at the figures that Singaporeans are indeed suffering from a high inflation this year. A record 65,000 people spent almost $40 million on packages going to places like Europe and US last weekend at the NATAS fair – a rise of 14% from last year’s 58,000. Anyone may be skeptical if Singaporeans are indeed going through a hard time. I am not sure about the others, but I sure know that I am beginning to be be digging at the linings of my pockets.

Natas bags record sales as travel bug spreads

Record 65,000 spend $40million, with Europe, US among top spots

By Lim Wei Chean

THE bite of the travel bug is tough to resist. Even a slowing economy and rising costs were not enough to keep bargain hunters from setting new records at a weekend travel fair.

More than 65,000 people headed to Singapore Expo to check out the best holiday deals at the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) travel fair – a rise of some 14per cent from last year’s more than 58,000.

Queues to enter the exhibition area at Halls4 and 5 stretched as far back as the exit of the MRT station at Hall6, keeping retiree Tan Lye Teck, 62, in line for two hours just to get in.

The strong turnout pleased Natas chief executive officer Robert Khoo, who had been worried that inflation woes would curtail people’s wanderlust.

By 6pm yesterday, the show had set a new record – and not just for visitors.

Mr Khoo estimated that travel agents had sold $40million worth of holiday packages over the three days, another 14per cent increase over last year’s performance.

He expected the final tally to be even higher as more deals will be closed in the weeks following the fair.

Chan Brothers spokesman Ivy Tan said that despite the downturn and credit crunch, long-haul destinations such as Europe and the United States were still immensely popular.

Her company saw a 50per cent increase in bookings to the US compared with the same period last year.

It expects to collect around $13million in sales, an 8per cent increase on last year’s bumper sales of $12million.

ASA Holidays spokesman Eileen Oh said it had enjoyed $13million worth of sales, some $3million more than its initial target of $10million – last year’s total.

It was a similar story at CTC Holidays, which chalked up 35per cent more sales compared with last year.

The US and Europe were among the top destinations, along with Japan and South Korea.

China, a previously popular destination, seemed to have fallen into disfavour – possibly due to a recent spate of natural disasters as well as hassle over visa requirements ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing, travel agents said.

Besides the trend of booking early to prevent last year’s airline seat crunch, travel agents said that people were booking more short trips to take advantage of long weekends.

Next year will see Singaporeans enjoying eight long weekends, double this year’s four.

But holidaymakers were not entirely immune to inflation.

Some, such as teacher Harbachan Singh, 45, have decided to take one instead of two annual holidays.

Mrs Singh said she had given up an annual trip to India in June so she could make a December trip to Canada with her four children.

‘Otherwise, it would have been too expensive,’ she said.

Yet others did not seem to be feeling the pinch, and aimed to stick to their regular travel plans of at least one long trip and several shorter regional hops.

In 2006, Singapore residents made more than 5.5million trips out of the country by air and sea. Last year also saw Singaporeans making 10.4million trips by air, land and sea to Malaysia.

weichean@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_264297.html?sunwMethod=GET

Article extracted on 5th August 2008



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