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Make way for travel agents as Singapore opens up

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As Singapore launches quarantine-free travel with Germany and Brunei from 8 September, travel agents have a critical role to play to help travellers with smooth and safe travel. Pictured: Singapore Changi Airport
As Singapore launches quarantine-free travel with Germany and Brunei from 8 September, travel agents have a critical role to play to help travellers with smooth and safe travel. Pictured: Singapore Changi Airport Photo Credit: Unsplash/Shashivarman Kolandaveloo

The series of border easing measures that Singapore has unveiled are boosting hopes that recovery is finally in sight for the battered travel industry.

"Travel agents play a critical role to help customers focus on a safe itinerary, travel overseas safely and come back safely. This will help to reopen more markets."– Steven Ler, UOB Travel Planners

Singapore will soon launch vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) with Germany and Brunei from 8 September, allowing fully vaccinated passengers from Singapore to travel to both countries. Visitors from these countries can also enter the city-state without quarantine, provided they undergo several Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

The VTL move is seen as a significant milestone, as it marks the first restriction-free travel between Europe and Asia since international borders closed in March 2020.

It is also a significant departure from the earlier Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble, a much-anticipated but conditions-rife plan which is now scrapped due to the differing Covid-19 approaches between both cities.

The IATA Travel Pass, which has been accepted for travel through Singapore's Changi Airport since May, will also now accept the EU Digital Covid Certificate and UK NHS Covid Pass — just in time for Singapore's announcement.

Critical role of agents in safe travel restart

Travel agents are now more hopeful that Singapore's latest VTL scheme, which is not unlike pre-pandemic travel besides the Covid-19 testing requirements, will finally usher the beginning of the return of outbound travel.

"It is indeed a game changer," said The Travel Corporation Asia CEO Nick Lim, "now that we are able to actively get business back on track and take travellers to their dream destinations again — or at least on a good authentic German holiday to begin with."

"On the B2B front, we have also started to see active engagements from our trade partners since the VTL was announced on Thursday," Lim shared. 

Within hours of the VTL announcement, customers were already making enquiries about travel to Germany, according to Steven Ler, Executive Director, Head of Travel at UOB Travel Planners. 

And with the surge in travel interest also comes a golden opportunity for travel agents to put their advisory finesse to good use, said Ler, who is also President of National Association of Travel Agents Singapore. "Customers have a lot of questions about travel during a pandemic," he added.

Areas where travel agents' expertise can come into play includes assisting travellers with insurance cover, visa documents and Covid-19 testing requirements, among others, amid constantly changing rules and restrictions that travellers must navigate.

As well, Ler said that travel agents should suggest itineraries that are safe and easy to follow for their clients, and pre-arrange routes that would facilitate isolation if needed.

"Travel agents play a critical role to help customers focus on a safe itinerary, travel overseas safely and come back safely. This will help to reopen more markets."

With the VTL launching in weeks, Ler expects stronger interest in Germany than Brunei as a travel destination for Singapore, owing to the strong business links between Singapore and Germany as well as the latter's strong appeal as a leisure destination in Europe.

Travel to Germany will likely comprise both corporate and leisure traffic, or blended bleisure travel, said Ler.

Lim added, "Enquiries and bookings for Europe have started to pick up significantly in the last three months and I am confident that this news will further fuel the comeback."



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