TMCs report uptick in SIN-KUL bookings, positive signs ahead

From left: Changi Airport; and Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Corporate travel management companies are seeing an increase in enquiries, searches, and bookings since the Singapore-Malaysia Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) was announced on November 8, 2021, signalling a strong desire to resume travel on what was once the busiest international travel route pre-pandemic.

A BCD Travel spokesperson shared that there has been “almost two-folds of enquires coming through from both Singapore and Malaysian travellers”, but noted that some clients remained “cautious”.

The VTL between Singapore’s Changi Airport (left), and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (right) will open on November 29

Joanne Taylor, senior director, FCM Consulting Asia, echoes the observation, saying that there is “an indication of interest and pent-up demand but many have yet to take the plunge to book”.

Taylor added that the FCM team has observed a projected spike in seat capacity – almost 40,000 seats – for the week of November 29 to December 5.

“Prior to this, total seat capacity on the Singapore-Malaysia route was low and almost flat for most of the last 18 months,” she said.

Issued flight tickets data is supporting the observations. According to Jameson Wong, ForwardKeys’ vice president strategic clients & partnerships Asia Pacific, a 28-fold increase in air tickets issued for flights from Changi Airport (SIN) to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) was recorded on the day of the VTL announcement.

“This is not surprising. Before the pandemic, the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur air route was among the busiest in the world; it was like a 24/7 sky shuttle in the neighbourhood. Its revival is symbolic – underscoring that normalcy is in sight,” commented Wong.

ForwardKeys’ Air Ticket Data further revealed that 80 per cent of the issued air tickets for SIN-KUL were return tickets and 20 per cent were one-way tickets.

On whom were the most keen to hop on the SIN-KUL VTL, Wong said: “A cocktail of Malaysian PMEBs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Businessmen) working in Singapore who are anxious to reunite with families and do not want to wait for the land borders to reopen; business travellers who are seizing the opportunity at bleisure, given Kuala Lumpur’s affordability in terms of travel time and budget; as well as pure leisure travellers who simply want to jump on a plane and fly out to the nearest city which they are familiar with.”

Taylor noted that Singapore’s recent VTL announcements have shown that business travel returns quickly once restrictions are lifted.

“If the momentum keeps up, seat capacity on the Singapore-Malaysia route could well return to pre-Covid levels by March 2022,” she said.

Pre-Covid, the combined business travel spend for the Singapore-Malaysia business travel industry was US$22.6 billion, but it has since contracted by 75 per cent, FCM Consulting Asia shared.

Hoteliers are also upbeat about the news, calling the VTL a positive sign and a step in the right direction for both countries.

Paul Hutton, area vice president, head of South-east Asia, for Hilton shared that his hotels have “received strong interest for meetings and events, both from Singapore and Malaysia, from late 2021 through to 1H2022”.

He added that Singapore was one of the “top source markets” for Hilton hotels in Malaysia before the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Desaru Coast integrated destination resort in south-eastern Johor of Malaysia expects the VTL to return a sense of normalcy to travel, and hopes that the VTL will be expanded to include land border arrangements to allow the tourist district to benefit from its close proximity to Singapore.

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