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24 travel agencies to pull out from NATAS travel fair and organise their own

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Image from NATAS

24 travel agencies have come together and will be organising a travel fair on 27 to 29 March next year which will clash with the dates of the travel fair which National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) will be having.

The 24 travel agencies which are also NATAS members said that the decision to pull out from the NATAS's travel fair has not been easy said the travel agencies but is a “worthy in pursuit of a right cause”.

Agencies which have pulled out from NATAS's travel fair include “Big Four” – Chan Brothers Travel, CTC Travel, Dynasty Travel and SA Tours – as well as other major players like Nam Ho Travel, Farmosa Holidays, MISA Travel, Apple Holidays and New Shan Travel.

The separate travel fair by the 24 travel agencies will be held at Marina Bay Sands, Level B2 at Exhibition Halls D, E and F, and will span 17,000 sqm, about 70 per cent the size of the NATAS fair.

The separate travel fair is said to have lower booth costs for exhibitors, with savings of up to 30 per cent as compared to the travel fair organised by NATAS and its central location.  While NATAS fair charges a S$4 entrance fee, admission to the trade show organised by the travel agencies is free.

The cost savings by the exhibitors and free admission is said to benefit the consumers.

The group said that the move is not meant to challenge NATAS but was a result of NATAS not addressing the issues which they had about the travel fair organised by the association.

Their issues, which were raised in a petition to NATAS in October this year, included a request for lower rental fees for booths and lower admission fees for the public. They also wanted the association to forbid overseas operators brought in by tourism boards to conduct sales, and called for greater transparency as well as the setting up of a travel fair organising committee comprising the outbound agencies.

Travel agencies on Tuesday (Nov 25) blasted at the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) for its lack of transparency over the usage of proceeds from its mega travel fairs and, among other things, its refusal to open the books, at a press conference attended by representatives of 24 tour agencies.

The agencies also said that the association was exploiting its members by not reducing rental rates for the NATAS fair.  A travel agency would need to pay between S$100,000 and S$200,000 to participate in the fair despite declining sales over the years that they attributed partly to the poor publicity for the twice-yearly event.

However, the group of 24 travel agencies said that they would be happy to discuss with the association on participating in the NATAS fair again if it addresses their concerns.

Mr Anthony Chan, group managing director of Chan Brothers Travel, said: “We are all very busy ... we don’t want to spend effort organising travel fairs.”

Responding to complaints of the travel agencies which are pulling out of the travel fair, a NATAS spokesman said that although the cost of renting exhibition halls has steadily risen over the past three years, the association which has been holding its travel fairs at Singapore Expo, has not passed on the increases to the exhibitors.

He said NATAS has been in discussion with members and exhibitors about their grievances. “But we have to accept that NATAS may be unable to satisfy all its members given the diversity of our membership ... Everyone may have a different opinion on how the fair ought to be run,” he said, adding that NATAS members include travel agents, tourism organisations, cruise lines and accommodation providers.

They said their dissatisfaction began in 2010. Despite raising the issues repeatedly, NATAS turned a deaf ear. They also submitted a petition last month, but the requests were not met, which was the last straw, they said.

They added that with customers increasingly making bookings via the Internet, holding a fair that charges an admission fee would further deter prospective customers.

Former NATAS group chief executive Robert Khoo, who stepped down last year, dismissed the agencies’ claims. “Customers are (getting fewer) simply because ... everybody is doing their own fair. So they have already stolen a big chunk of the business before the NATAS fair even starts,” he said.

Mr Khoo said the admission fee – raised from S$3 in 2010 – was in place for crowd control and the members of the travel association had “fully supported (the) rationale” when NATAS explained it to them many years ago. It is said that the income earned from the fair is ploughed back into events for members, who can attend them for free. These include NATAS’ annual dinner and dance, football and golf tournaments, and seminars.

The spokesman said NATAS has a membership base of more than 340 travel agents. After the pulling out of the 24 agencies, the association will revamp its fairs and try to draw in new exhibitors. NATAS will meet its members on Wednesday in view of the current situation.