Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) how is STB supporting travel agencies to expand their local tour offerings; (b) whether hostels that are licensed under the Hotel Licensing Board qualify as partners for use of the SingapoRediscovers vouchers; and (c) whether STB will extend the period beyond 31 December 2020 for the 90% reduction of the minimum financial requirement for travel agents to keep their licences.
Written Answer by Minister for Trade & Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing
1. I will first answer your first and third question. Since global travel restrictions were in place in the first quarter of 2020, STB has been working closely with the National Association of Travel Agents, also known as NATAS, as well as the travel agent community, to help companies tide over the lull by tapping on domestic demand and using this time to upskill their staff to prepare for recovery when international travel returns.
2. When Phase Two reopening began in July, travel agents and tourist guides were permitted to resume tour operations gradually, with appropriate safe management measures in place. Since then, over 200 applications with close to 500 tour itineraries have been approved.
3. To promote these tour offerings, we have featured innovative tour packages and experiences on STB’s SingapoRediscovers campaign site. We have also provided various forms of marketing support, for instance, through STB’s Marketing Partnership Programme, where travel agents can apply for a grant to offset their marketing costs. Furthermore, STB has facilitated discussions between travel agents, attractions and hotels to offer combined packages for Singaporeans to enjoy.
4. The minimum financial requirement is imposed to ensure that travel agents have the financial means to fulfil their commitments to customers. In view of the sharp drop in customer business and financial stress on our travel agents, we decided to reduce the minimum financial requirement for travel agents holding a general or niche licence by 90% until the end of this year. We are closely monitoring the situation and are prepared to extend this if needed.
5. On your second question regarding hostels’ qualification as partners for the use of the SingapoRediscovers vouchers, our primary focus is safeguarding the health and safety of Singaporeans. As backpacker hostels are largely made up of close-living quarters with communal facilities like bathrooms, there is a higher risk of virus transmission associated with the physical setting. We are reviewing if hostels with non-communal facilities can be made safe for staycations, and if so, we will look to include them in the SingapoRediscovers vouchers programme.