Trade greets Singapore’s expansion of vaccinated travel lane scheme with open arms

Singapore to expand its vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme following success of the VTL for Brunei and Germany; Changi Airport pictured

Singapore will extend its vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme to eight more countries, allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated travellers to the city-state.

From October 19, fully vaccinated travellers from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US will be able to enter Singapore under the VTL scheme, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced on Saturday (October 9).

Singapore to expand its vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme following success of the VTL for Brunei and Germany; Changi Airport pictured

This comes a day after Singapore announced that it will launch another vaccinated travel lane with South Korea from November 15.

CAAS said that the extension of the VTL scheme comes as close to 85 per cent of Singapore’s population have been fully vaccinated, as well as the “successful implementation” of the VTL for Brunei and Germany.

It added that the extension is being done “in a cautious and step-by-step manner” in order to “reclaim and rebuild (Singapore’s) status as an international aviation hub with global connectivity”.

According to the aviation authority, between September 8 and November 12, a total of 179 travellers from Brunei and 4,497 travellers from Germany have been issued vaccinated travel passes (VTPs) for travel to Singapore.

As as October 8, 1,926 VTP holders from Brunei and Germany have entered Singapore. Of these, there have only been two Covid-19 cases, both of whom were detected at the point of arrival through their PCR tests.

Under the VTL, fully vaccinated travellers from these countries may enter Singapore without quarantine and just need to undergo Covid-19 PCR testing. The number of PCR tests will be reduced from four to two for VTL travellers entering Singapore on or after October 19.

They must also obtain a negative test result 48 hours prior to departure for Singapore, and take another test upon arrival at Changi Airport. They will no longer need to undergo further tests on Day 3 and Day 7.

All VTL travellers will be allowed to present their vaccination certificates issued in any countries under the VTL scheme or Singapore, regardless of which country under the travel lane they depart from.

They must travel into Singapore on designated VTL flights, and may transit via another VTL country to take a designated VTL flight into Singapore. Travellers who are transferring or transiting through Singapore will also be allowed to travel on the designated VTL flights.

Short-term visitors and long-term pass holders will need to apply for a VTP to enter Singapore under the VTL, but Singapore citizens and permanent residents will not be required to.

CAAS said there will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel under the VTL arrangement and no requirement for a controlled itinerary or sponsor.

Application for the VTPs for travel to Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US will open on October 12, 10.00 (Singapore time); and on November 8, 10.00 (Singapore time) for South Korea.

Meanwhile, short-term visitors who require a visa for travel to Singapore are advised to apply for their visa only after receiving their VTP approval and before departing for Singapore.

They must also purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of S$30,000 (US$22,146) for Covid-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs, prior to travel to Singapore. These visitors must also use the TraceTogether app in Singapore to facilitate contact tracing.

Following the announcement, Singapore’s national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its budget arm Scoot have said they will launch more flights under the VTL scheme.

SIA will expand its VTL network to nine more cities. From October 19, the airline will operate VTL services from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Paris, and Rome. Meanwhile, SIA’s VTL services from Seoul will begin on November 16.

The airline currently operates VTL services from Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, as well as from Frankfurt and Munich in Germany.

SIA said multi-city itineraries within VTL countries are allowed if customers meet the 14-day travel history requirement, which includes transit countries. For example, a traveller may fly from Singapore to Paris, and then Paris to Amsterdam, and still be eligible for the VTL flight from Amsterdam to Singapore.

Lee Lik Hsin, executive vice president commercial, SIA, said: “Singapore’s expansion of the VTL arrangements to 11 countries is great news for our customers, who can now reunite with their loved ones more easily or finally go on that overseas holiday.

‚ÄúThe SIA Group supports all measures to reopen Singapore to quarantine-free international travel. This will enable the safe and gradual recovery of Changi Airport as a major air hub, backed by rising vaccination rates and confidence in the robust health and safety measures across the end-to-end customer journey.‚ÄĚ

Meanwhile, Scoot will resume thrice-weekly non-stop flights between Singapore and Berlin from October 19.

The airline will also increase the frequency of its non-VTL Singapore-Athens-Berlin return flights to four-times-weekly, with effect from October 17. Consequently, from October 19, Scoot will operate daily between Singapore and Berlin.

The airline said it is also preparing to operate VTL flights to Seoul, South Korea, with the commencement date to be announced “in due course” .

Singapore’s announcement of the expansion of its VTL scheme has been met with open arms by industry stakeholders.

Philip Goh, IATA‚Äôs regional vice president for Asia Pacific, called the move “a positive and promising development for the aviation and travel sector”.

He added: “The easing of the testing regime for vaccinated travellers on vaccinated travel lanes from four to two PCR tests will reduce travel costs. That‚Äôs an equally important and positive factor. These data-based decisions to open up borders progressively will certainly boost air travel recovery.”

Goh said the association looks forward to more of such progressive and positive developments that will help to restart air travel.

“From experience, we have seen in other parts of the world, including Europe and the US, relaxation of travel restrictions have led to improvements in the travel market and is good for airlines and travel businesses,” he said.

“We recognise that the Asia-Pacific region has a different risk appetite, partly owing to lower vaccination rates in many parts of the region, but we hope this further easing of measures and expansion of Singapore‚Äôs border reopening will spur other markets to similarly navigate their pathways towards restarting air travel.”

Calling Singapore’s announcement “very encouraging” and “a step in the right direction”, Goh expressed hope that this will give other Asia-Pacific states confidence to hasten the reopening of their borders.

He noted that while the aviation sector faces a long journey to recovery, with international passenger demand forecast to reach only about 44 per cent of pre-Covid levels in 2022, “positive strides forward in the restart will bring further confidence‚ÄĚ.

Meanwhile, Bertrand Saillet, managing director at FCM Travel Asia, commented: “After the announcement of the Germany Vaccinated Travel Lane, we saw an uplift of 89 per cent in bookings to Germany; considering that pre-Covid FCM saw a higher volume of travel to South Korea than Germany, we are expecting an even greater increase in bookings to South Korea.”

Saillet indicated that FCM also “expects a greater proportion of (business) trips to incorporate personal travel once the VTL agreement with South Korea is in place”, as South Korea is a popular leisure destination for Singaporeans. South Korea is also the first bilateral trade corridor open within Asia.

“Before the pandemic, less than five per cent of trips booked by FCM
have been leisure or bleisure trips. In September 15 per cent of trips booked to Germany had been for leisure or business combined with leisure,” added Saillet.

The Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), which represents 160 member hotels in Singapore, has also welcomed the expansion of the VTL scheme.

Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the SHA, said: “This announcement sends a strong signal about Singapore‚Äôs readiness for tourism recovery in the months ahead. Following the smooth pilot of the VTL with Germany and Brunei in September 2021, we are confident that the gradual increase in number of VTLs will strengthen the move to reopen Singapore‚Äôs border in a controlled and responsible manner.

“Over the past 19 months, our industry has been working hard to reimagine the new hotel experience through digital transformation, job redesign and upgrading of our facilities. All our members are now in a strong position to welcome the arrival of more international guests through the 11 VTLs.”

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