SINGAPORE, Oct 23 — More than 50,000 people packed the three-day Travel Malaysia fair at Suntec City last weekend, snapping up travel and holiday deals worth more than S$5 million (RM12 million).

The record turnout and sales, about 30 per cent higher than last year, gave a welcome boost to the Express Bus Agencies Association (EBAA) which organised the event jointly with Tourism Malaysia.

Companies operating cross-border express coach services have seen their business slashed by as much as 30 per cent since low-cost carriers like AirAsia and Jetstar Asia started flying between Singapore and Malaysia in February last year.

From just one route and 56 to-and-fro services a week, low-cost carriers now operate more than 450 flights between Singapore and destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Langkawi, Penang, Ipoh, and Kuala Terengganu.

Just this week, the two governments announced the all-clear for air routes between Singapore and Labuan and Sibu islands, as well as the towns of Alor Star, Kota Baru, Kerteh and Bintulu.

Sebastian Yap, executive director of Transtar express coach company and chairman of the sub-committee that oversees events promotion and terminal operations at the EBAA, said the overwhelming response to the travel fair was a shot in the arm for land-based travel services.

The company, which launched its Transtar Classic service at the fair, offered 9,900 one-way Singapore-Kuala Lumpur tickets at S$9 each, and has already sold 85 per cent of the seats, Yap said.

Unlike its high-end buses that come with just 18 reclining seats and individual entertainment screens, Transtar Classic, which takes to the roads next month, has 61 seats and eight shared screens.

One-way bus tickets usually cost anything from about S$20 to more than S$60 each, depending on the level of services on board. All-inclusive air tickets, when on offer, can cost about the same.

Despite the competition, coach operators are not worried about being squeezed out of the market.

While flying to Kuala Lumpur, for example, may take just 45 minutes compared with about five hours by bus, some travellers like Richard Ee, 57, a regional manager in a construction company, still prefers taking a coach. That is because there is no waiting at the airport and buses take people straight to their hotels in the city, said Ee, who has experienced several delays on budget airlines.

The economic slowdown, which has made Malaysia a more popular destination for Singapore travellers keeping an eye on their wallets, has also increased the pie for all, said a spokesman for the Tourism Malaysia office here.

In September, Malaysia saw more than 1.1 million visitors from Singapore — a 35.5 per cent leap over the same month last year. This comes to about 9.4 million visitors from Singapore in the first nine months of the year — about 16 per cent higher than the arrivals last year.

To cash in on the traffic, more than 100 companies from Malaysia, including hotels and travel agents, took part in the travel fair. — Straits Times



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