When Diane Foong, 34, finally got to go on her Covid-delayed honeymoon to Bali last month, the flight was full and Singapore’s Changi Airport was teeming with travellers. So many people were on the move that Foong ran into two friends who happened to be on the same flight as her.
It was a pleasant surprise and not the only serendipitous encounter she had during her seven-day trip.
“My Australian colleague was also in Bali. Then on the flight back, I bumped into a customer,” said Foong, who works in the healthcare industry.
Now that borders have reopened – with most places dropping the need for onerous and expensive testing for Covid-19 and quarantine as long as travellers are vaccinated – those in Singapore are taking to the skies with a vengeance.
Booking.com data showed that the number of Singaporeans who travelled to Australia during the June school holidays was at pre-pandemic levels. Comparing this June to June last year, TripAdvisor saw a 13-fold increase in Singaporeans booking international travel.
Bjorn Courage, general manager at InterContinental Phuket Resort, said there had been so many guests from Singapore since January, that they were now among the top five international tourist groups to stay there.
Government data shows there were 132,771 outbound travellers in December during Singapore’s year-end school holidays, dipping to 85,117 in January before increasing to 208,609 when borders were fully reopened with Covid measures dropped. In May, the latest available data, 311,306 went abroad.
Demand is so high that national carrier Singapore Airlines and its budget subsidiary Scoot are adding more flight routes, including 21 weekly flights to Los Angeles, up from the current 17. The group said it was expecting capacity to reach 81 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by December.
In May, it said it carried 3.9 million passengers in the last financial year that ended on March 31, up six-fold from the year before. Operating profits have grown accordingly, hitting $10 million in the second half of the financial year compared to a $620 million operating loss in the first half.
The airline said Singapore’s now-defunct vaccinated travel lanes were a “game-changer”. From September last year, when most Asian borders were still tightly closed, the city-state began trying out vaccinated travel along with Covid-19 tests. It allowed those who were fully vaccinated to travel on designated flights to selected destinations deemed to have a similar coronavirus situation.
Operations manager Iris Tan, 34, was so starved for travel that she immediately bought tickets when Singapore added France to the travel lanes.
Since her snowboarding trip to the French Alps in January, Tan and her husband also visited Malaysia, just last week. Next month, they will head to Las Vegas in the United States.
Foong, meanwhile, expects to clock five holidays within less than a year.
While her trip to Bali was a honeymoon postponed from 2020 – and she and her husband now have a baby who travelled with them – she has travel plans almost every month.
The couple has another island holiday booked, to Thailand’s Phuket in August, then will go on a second, also postponed, honeymoon to Italy in September. October will see them heading to a wedding in Bali, and they are planning to visit relatives in Canada early next year.
Pre-pandemic, Foong would only take two or three trips a year. “Maybe just one long holiday to a further destination and a shorter trip in Asia,” she said.
Ready to spend, but still some caution
A survey on consumer sentiment carried out by Visa in September 2021 (before borders reopened) and released in late June found that more than half of the 500 Singaporeans polled are likely to travel for leisure in the next 12 months, higher than the Asia-Pacific average of 38 per cent.
A Booking.com survey reflected even higher enthusiasm, with three-quarters of Singaporeans polled in late April/early May this year – after borders reopened – saying they planned to travel in the next 12 months.
Almost four in 10 of Visa’s respondents cited a need to take a break from work, with 29 per cent saying they felt safe travelling since they are vaccinated.
The city-state of 5.45 million has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – 92 per cent have had two jabs while 78 per cent have received a third shot.
They are also ready to spend. Kunal Chatterjee, Visa country manager for Singapore and Brunei, said Singaporeans were “the most eager in the region” to spend on post-pandemic travel.
Some are opting to travel less frequently but skirt cheaper alternatives for a more luxurious holiday, according to Singapore’s largest bank DBS which polled 201 people in May.
Data from Skyscanner, the travel-booking service owned by China’s Trip.com, shows that Singaporeans are most keen on going to Bangkok followed by Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and London. Booking.com said the most popular destinations last month (which it did not list in order of popularity) were Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and Indonesia.
Almost seven in 10 of those searching for July trips on Skyscanner planned to travel for less than a week, while searches for August were split between trips under a week and trips between one and two weeks.
Booking.com said 69 per cent of Singaporeans plan to travel closer to home, with flights of up to eight hours, just in case there are sudden travel restrictions.
Inflationary pressures are also a deterrent. Singapore’s economy is not spared from global inflation, with core inflation hitting a 13-year high of 3.6 per cent in May.
Laura Houldsworth, Asia-Pacific managing director at Booking.com, said cost was among the top considerations for travellers from Singapore.
Foong, who has not yet booked her October trip to Bali, said she might forgo the trip if the price of a return economy ticket rose above $400.
Wong King Yin, a tourism expert at Nanyang Technological University, said the demand for travel will remain even if inflation worsens, but travellers would find ways to cut costs.
“Maybe in the past, they would spend more and go to Europe, (but) if inflation pressures increase, maybe they will choose destinations that are closer or more affordable.”