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Tour packages to see Northern Lights, European Christmas markets hot tickets as Natas fair returns

The Natas travel fair is back and so are the crowds, snapping up tour packages to destinations like Hokkaido in Japan, Finland for the Northern Lights, and Christmas markets in Europe.

The three-day National Association of Travel Agents Singapore fair, last held in August 2019, kicked off on Friday (Aug 12) at the Singapore Expo Hall 5 with more than 40 exhibitors. They include travel agencies, national tourist organisations and travel insurance providers.

The organisers are expecting 80,000 to 100,000 visitors this year, on a par with pre-pandemic attendance figures.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan noted at the fair's opening ceremony that outbound travel has picked up pace, with more than 311,000 departures in May this year, a tenfold increase from the previous year.

Natas president Steven Ler said: "Thanks to the pent-up demand over the last two years, we're expecting the surge of holidaymakers to gain momentum as we go through the rest of the year."

Travel agencies The Straits Times spoke to said they are expecting strong demand at the fair this year after the three-year hiatus.

"After Covid-19, people are willing to spend more on travel... For many, seeing the Northern Lights is a bucket list item," said EU Holidays director Ong Han Jie.

The Northern Lights are typically visible only from November to March.

Besides European destinations like Switzerland and Italy, Japan is also highly sought-after, despite the country allowing only package tours for now.

"From now until December, we have 60 groups departing for Japan, but we're going to add 10 to 20 more," said Mr Ong.

Chan Brothers Travel has also seen a "red hot" take-up rate for similar destinations, according to its senior marketing communications manager Jeremiah Wong.

Turkey has also been popular with its customers.

New travel trends have also emerged, with more customers willing to take tour packages instead of making travel arrangements on their own.

"Besides repeat and new customers, there has been a substantial shift this time round, where people who might not have considered taking group tours in the past have switched over from free-and-easy travel," he noted.

"Many of them are younger customers who are travelling with their parents, and who want peace of mind about (country-specific) pandemic restrictions."

Another major player, Trafalgar, is seeing plenty of interest in trips to see the Northern Lights, as well as multi-city trips to see the Christmas markets around Europe.

    The Northern Lights are typically visible only from November to March. PHOTO: PEXELS

     

    "People have been saving up, so they don't mind spending more now... They are also looking for longer and more meaningful trips," said Ms Celest Quek, marketing communications director for Asia at The Travel Corporation, whose brands include Trafalgar and Uniworld River Cruises.

    Among travellers who were scouting for deals at the Natas fair on Friday was university student Alan Tan.

    The 21-year-old is planning to head for Finland in December for about two weeks to see the Northern Lights with his family.

    His family's budget for the trip is up to $10,000 for everything, including the tour package, airfare and food.

    "I haven't been on any trips since Covid-19 hit, so I'm really looking forward to this one," said Mr Tan, who was specifically looking for packages that included a visit to the Santa Claus Village in Lapland, and to see huskies.

    Others like Mr Yeo Jia Wei, 26, who works in logistics, is looking at a destination closer to home - a week-long trip to South Korea with his friends.

    It is his first holiday overseas in more than 2½ years, and he said he was willing to spend $1,500 on it, which is $500 more than what he used to spend on trips pre-pandemic.

    "Plane ticket prices increased a lot when countries opened up their borders, but even though travelling is more expensive now, I believe it is well worth splurging on," said Mr Yeo, who is planning to head to the fair this weekend.

    • Additional reporting by Soon En-Rei
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