Agencies roll out initiatives to cushion fall in outbound demand

Singapore’s travel agencies are scrambling to adapt to sliding demand, as industry titan Singapore Airlines (SIA) pulled a hefty roster of flights connecting to destinations such as Frankfurt, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo, Bangkok and Jakarta.

The temporary measure, which affects both SIA and SilkAir flights, is meant to cushion the blow from “weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak”, said the airline in a statement on February 18.

Singapore travel agencies muse initiatives to cushion the impact after Singapore Airlines cut flights across its network

This announcement has caused a ripple effect across Singapore’s outbound travel industry.

While the airlines will provide alternative flights to customers whose bookings are affected, Dynasty Travel will have to reshuffle some of its itineraries to accommodate the changes, explained Alicia Seah, the travel agency’s director, public relations & communications.

Meanwhile, boutique tour platform Seek Sophie is offering free date changes for booked trips, an easier cancellation process and automatic refunds.

“If such changes are outside the local businesses’ policy, Seek Sophie will cover the costs so that the local businesses don’t suffer even more losses,” said Jacinta Lim, the platform’s co-founder, which works with sustainable in-destination operators.

She added: “We definitely understand from a business perspective why SIA and SilkAir decided to thin their flights – but we hope that by doing so, this does not cause more uncertainty to travellers’ plans. We really hope that other travel companies will come up with their own initiatives to help travellers out during this tough time.”

These measures are expected to persist as the industry weathers a worsening storm.

At press time, Dynasty Travel reported a slowdown in sales by 40 to 50 per cent, while Seek Sophie registered a dip of 10 to 15 per cent in bookings, with a five per cent increase in rescheduling and cancellations. In addition, DMC Diethelm Travel (Singapore) stated that it has received more cancellations than rescheduling for longhaul trips to Singapore.

“As the travel demand is weak, we are bracing for a slowdown in the first quarter and probably into 2Q2020. The majority of customers who have not booked their holidays will adopt a ‘wait-and-watch’ approach until the current situation stabilises, which we hope will be by May or June 2020,” shared Seah.

In preparation for demand to eventually pick up again, agencies are exploring potential recovery measures. Seah revealed that Dynasty Travel is planning to launch collaborations “sometime in March” with destinations that have not been significantly affected by Covid-19, such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Dubai and Europe.

Diethelm Travel is also awaiting an “all clear” by the World Health Organisation to launch a recovery campaign, aimed at enticing clients to rebook travel to Singapore.

“We are also asking hotels to provide specials to agency staff, so we can invite them to Singapore and instil confidence in them to promote Singapore,” said Judy Lum, Diethelm’s general manager.

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