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Travel & Holiday

Tours to Japan back to pre-crisis levels

The Natas travel fair had more booths and exhibitors but the number of visitors was down.
The Straits Times - August 27, 2012
By: Eunice Quek
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Tours to Japan back to pre-crisis levels The higher Japan tour prices did not deter visitors to Natas. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM, NG SOR LUAN

The days of cheap travel deals to Japan are over.

Travel agents and consumers say that prices are back to their pre-crisis days, before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year.

In May last year, tour agencies slashed prices to Japan by almost 50 per cent. Now, concerns over safety there have eased and prices are steadily increasing.

According to Ms Alicia Seah, senior vice-president of marketing and public relations for CTC Travel, airfare right after the tsunami was as low as $150. Prices are now double at $300 for the cheapest tickets.

She said: "In recent months, prices have increased by about 15 to 20 per cent for airfare to central Japan."

In spite of this, many still bought trips to Japan at the three-day biannual National Association for Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair which ended yesterday.

Held at the Singapore Expo in Changi, the travel fair saw a record number of 1,147 booths and 171 exhibitors. However, by 3pm yesterday, 49,795 visitors had attended the event, a significant decrease from 63,000 visitors at the February fair.

Director and chief operating officer of Natas Anita Tan noted that Japan remains among the top five travel destinations for Singaporeans while Europe recorded an estimated 20 per cent increase in bookings compared to last year's fair.

Engineer Esther Ong, 38, booked a seven-day package tour for two to Hokkaido in October from Five Stars Tours. It cost her $2,244.

She said: "It's fairly expensive but if I don't book now, I'm sure the prices will continue to increase. I'm a little worried about the radiation scare, but I have been saving up for a long time to go to Japan."

Other popular travel deals at the fair included tours to Korea and China targeted specifically at the Muslim community.

Besides providing Muslim meals, the tours also include mosque visits and prayer time wherever possible.

CTC Travel's Ms Seah said: "We have been targeting the Muslim community for three years and the market is growing annually at about 15 per cent. They are definitely travelling a lot more now and we see many travelling in big groups."

Banking executive Nora N., 37, who booked a nine-day trip to Korea for her family of four in December, said: "There are not many agencies which offer a wide selection of Muslim tours that suit our schedule. I hope that more agencies will start this service to more countries. It is not easy for us to find suitable food options if we travel on our own."

As for Chan Brothers Travel, a key selling point at this year's fair was to offer new modes of travel, such as a campervan self-drive journey in New Zealand and city-hopping by private jet in the United States, known as aircruising.

Ms Jane Chang, marketing communications manager for Chan Brothers Travel, said: "With aircruise, you don't have to spend up to eight hours travelling by coach in the US. You travel for about an hour or so on a private jet through private airports. There's no need for check-in either."

Prices start at $4,288 a person for a 12-day trip to six cities within the United States.

And while Taiwan and Europe remain popular travel destinations, other holidays in demand include trips to exotic areas such as Persia, as well as the Arctic Circle, which includes Finland and Iceland.

For operations executive Krystle Kwek, 25, such travel fairs are a good time for her to decide where to travel to next.

She said: "I came to the fair to buy travel insurance for a trip to Korea. I also came to recce for a trip for next year. It's a good time to get ideas for new and more unusual places to visit."

“I’m a little worried about the radiation scare, but I have been saving up for a long time to go to Japan.” - Engineer Esther Ong

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