Natas fair to move from bargain centre to focus on experience
Natas brushes off rivalry between it and breakaway group
The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) is planning a cultural experience with food and shows from countries all over the world for their travel fair next weekend at Singapore Expo.
But the fact that Natas and its newly minted chief executive, Mr Steven Lek, were calling a press conference just two days before a rival breakaway group's travel fair at Marina Bay Sands was not lost among the assembled media who peppered Mr Lek with questions comparing the fairs.
Last year, about 25 travel agencies split from the pack and formed the Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa).
These include bigger players like CTC Travel, Chan Brothers Travel, Dynasty Travel and SA Tours. In their first fair, Travel Revolution, in April this year, the group garnered a healthy 76,000 visitors.
Natas, which held its March fair just weeks earlier, drew 55,000 people.
Yesterday, Mr Lek compared the tension between both groups to a "family dispute".
NOT BARGAIN CENTRE
He took pains to distance Natas from being a "bargain centre".
"Natas is focusing on the experience with cultural shows and entertainment," said Mr Lek, who took up his post in mid-June and previously spent 30 years with Singapore Airlines.
Mr Lek suggested that there could have been more visitors to the Natas fair "as the staff recording visitors numbers may not have been paying attention".
He also suggested there were gaps in the crowd at the rival fair, saying that he was told that during "some hours of the day, there was some ballroom space available."
When contacted, Sotaa interim president and SA Tours' managing director, Ms Kay Swee Pin, said they stood by their numbers.
She declined comment on Mr Lek's other statements as she said they were "irrelevant".
At the Natas fair next weekend, there will be 83 exhibitors, 22 of which are travel agencies.
The rest include airlines, hotels and other travel-related businesses and first-time exhibitor Tan Tock Seng Hospital which will be raising awareness for travel-related health matters and vaccinations.
Natas aims to attract 55,000 visitors over the three-day fair.
It is also not charging for its travel fairs this year - the first time since 1988. Usually it costs $4 to enter.
This is to celebrate Singapore's 50th anniversary, said Mr Lek.
Sotaa did not charge for its first fair and will not be charging entry to its upcoming one this weekend.
At the end of the press conference, Mr Lek said he is aiming for long-term reconciliation with the breakaway group as he feels external factors, such as online travel portals, pose a greater threat.
"The fight should not be within the industry but without."
'LIMIT TO WHAT NATAS CAN DO'
About two months ago, popular tour agency and Natas member Asia-Euro Holidays suddenly closed down, leaving about 500 customers in the lurch.
When asked about new measures taken to prevent such occurrences, Natas' new executive director Stephen Lek said this was being looked into by a committee but did not provide more details.
He said the Singapore Tourism Board is ultimately the party to prevent such situations.
Said Mr Lek: "There is a limit to what we can do because we are not a travel regulating agency. Members who join Natas are approved by the Singapore Tourism Board."
At the end of the day, the decision is made by buyers.
"Due diligence is on the consumers - too cheap cannot be true, then don't buy," he said.