Top travel destinations among Singaporeans in 2018
2018 was a busy year for S'porean travellers. The New Paper finds out which destinations were popular and where Singaporeans plan to explore in 2019
On June 3, 2017, Ms Rachel Ang, 22, left Paris for London.
She had just learnt eight people had been killed when three terrorists drove a van into pedestrians on the London Bridge.
But that did not stop her from revisiting London.
Ms Ang said: "London is amazing. It gives you a mix of culture, entertainment and the food is incredible."
Australia, parts of Europe, Japan, Malaysia and Turkey were among the top destinations last year for Singaporeans, said travel agents.
Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, told The New Paper Australia was popular with Singaporeans due to the favourable exchange rates.
The country attracted 400,000 Singaporeans in 2017, reported The Straits Times.
In October last year, the Australian dollar took a dive against the Singdollar, at 97.5 Singapore cents against A$1 - where it remains.
This is the lowest it has been since Feb 11, 2016, reported Channel NewsAsia.
Ms Seah said: "Favourable foreign exchange rates, nature and its culinary offerings are some of the many things Australia offers, that other countries can't."
Ms Justine Koh, 26, senior marketing communications executive at Chan Brothers Travel, added: "This is definitely a boon for travel. We have also seen a 10 per cent to 25 per cent year-on-year growth in demand for travel to Australia since 2013."
Ms Koh said Singaporeans travelling to parts of South-east Asia prefer free and easy itineraries as they are more familiar with neighbouring countries such as Thailand.
Hence, they are more confident in exploring these destinations on their own.
She said: "Free and easy holidays cater to specific interests and needs at your own time and pace."
For unfamiliar territories, Chan Brothers Travel noticed Singaporeans prefer a package tour where the groundwork of flights, accommodation, sightseeing and meals are taken care of.
The weakening euro and pound against the Singdollar helped lure Singaporeans to Europe, said Dynasty Travel and Chan Brothers Travel.
The Straits Times reported the pound sank 0.9 per cent to hit $1.7263 on Dec 10, before clawing back to $1.73 - where it remains.
This was due largely to Britain's political and economic instability of a no-deal Brexit.
Should the pound continue to slide, Ms Koh from Chan Brothers Travel expects the demand for Britain and other European cities to increase steadily.
The land of the rising sun was popular with Singaporeans last year. Expedia, an online platform that facilitates flight and hotel bookings, ranked Japan sixth in popularity among Singaporeans.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be held between July 24, 2020, and Aug 9, 2020.
And the country is spending millions to become more visitor-friendly. These include having standardised translation for street signs in English, reported The Japan Times.
The change is set to be completed this year, reported The Straits Times, with halal food and drinks becoming more widely available.
Ms Seah also told TNP that Japan's popularity among Singaporeans could also be due to increased flight connectivity.
The Straits Times had reported that from Dec 28, last year, Singapore Airlines was to add its fourth daily flight from Changi International Airport to Tokyo's Haneda Airport.
Hokkaido is popular among Singaporeans for skiing and snowboarding.
Mr Ko Shu, 25, a student, who has been to Japan five times in the last five years to ski and snowboard, said: "I have gone skiing in a number of places, but Hokkaido takes the cake."
Crowned the most popular vacation destination on Expedia, Kuala Lumpur is best known for its bustling street bazaars, the iconic Petronas Towers and its shopping.
Mr Evin Tay, 23, a student, said: "Malaysia is always a great weekend getaway. I try to visit Malaysia once every four months.
"With current exchange rates, my friends and I love going for foot massages and durian."
With Singaporeans becoming more affluent and having an appetite to find new destinations to explore, Ms Seah said countries like Jordan, Morocco and Egypt will become more popular with them.
She added that Turkey, with its rich culture and heritage, was one of the most popular destinations among Singaporeans last year.
Turkish city Cappadocia, for example, is known for its hot air balloon rides, fairy chimneys and sunsets.
Mr Nathan Ng, 24, a student, was there recently and said: "The scenery is to die for. Turkey has one of the best sunrise and sunset views, especially in Cappadocia.
"The Turkish people are always smiling, so polite and very humble. They make you feel so welcomed in the country."
Penang the top cruise destination for Singaporeans
Last year saw a strong demand among Singaporeans for cruises to Penang and Phuket, said Royal Caribbean's managing director for Asia-Pacific, Ms Angie Stephen.
"Penang is well known for its variety of cultural and gastronomic attractions, including the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. Phuket, which our ships visit regularly as well, has pristine beaches and famous food and spa offerings, makes it a popular destination," she said.
Princess Cruises also said Penang was its No. 1 destination for Singaporeans.
Ms Stephen told The New Paper that their close proximity to Singapore was one reason Penang and Phuket were popular with Singaporeans.
Citing figures from the Cruise Lines International Association, Princess Cruises told TNP that the average age of the Singaporean traveller on cruises is 45.
Princess Cruises' South-east Asia director Farriek Tawfik said cruise travel is becoming popular with millennials.
He said: "We see an increase in the number of millennials who wish to travel to bucket list destinations such as Alaska.
"For international cruises that sail out of Singapore, Singaporeans comprise up to 60 per cent of the passenger manifest."
Destinations to look out for in 2019
Here are two less frequented destinations that travel agents expect more Singaporeans to explore this year.
Chan Brothers Travel's senior marketing communications executive Justine Koh said that Bhutan is a destination that is worth looking at.
This landlocked country between India and China is famous for being the "Happiest Place on Earth", but little else is known about the charming mountainous kingdom 50 times the size of Singapore.
It is popular with trekkers though and worth a look at for those who want to see a pristine country that has (by choice) avoided most of the trappings of modern life - television was introduced only in 1999, the same year that plastic bags were banned in the country.
The Paro Taktsang, or the Tiger's Nest Monastery, a sacred Buddhist site nestled in the side of a cliff is one of Bhutan's most visited and iconic attractions.
Last year's Trump-Kim summit held here has piqued the interest of Singaporeans about the reclusive country, said travel agents.
As diplomatic relations are beginning to thaw between the two countries, travel agents foresee a rise in unconventional vacation plans to North Korea.
Ms Koh said: "With the assurance of a tour leader, Singaporeans now have the confidence to travel to North Korea, a destination they have previously thought of as inaccessible."
Tips to drive safely overseas
Not only are more Singaporeans travelling overseas, they are choosing the free-and-easy option. With that comes an increase in people choosing self-drive holidays, especially in Australia and New Zealand.
However, driving overseas requires a different mindset to ensure safety. The New Paper asked experts for their advice on driving foreign roads:
Know where you're driving
Mr Tay Chay Sim, senior technical consultant and trainer at the Automobile Association of Singapore Academy, said: "Drivers should familiarise themselves with the country's road signs, be aware of weather conditions and possible animals on roads."
He advised travellers to learn the routes beforehand.
Mr Jeremy Chua, associate editor of Torque magazine, advised: "It is better to take breaks throughout a long journey to make it easier to manage. Remember that your passengers' lives are in your hands."
Mr Tay explained that many Singaporeans are not used to driving long distances, emphasising the need for sufficient rest. This especially counts for those driving immediately after a flight.
"Studies have shown that the effects of fatigue are similar to drink driving," said Mr Tay.
Time to view
While it is natural to admire the vistas in a new country, Mr Tay emphasises the need to keep one's eyes on the road.
"Find a safe place to stop and see the scenery," he advised.
Make sure you store the emergency numbers of the host country, from police to roadside assistance. Both Mr Tay and Mr Chua strongly advise buying travel insurance.
New Zealand tips
When asked about driving in New Zealand, where icy conditions can make things dangerous, Mr Tay suggested to not drive if given a choice.
Otherwise, he suggested fitting snow chains to the tyres and driving slowly, as "the braking distance can be eight to 10 times normal ones on slippery roads".
While impressive to see, Australia's wildlife can be hazardous on the roads.
Both observers warned drivers to look out for animals like kangaroos suddenly crossing the road, and drivers should slow down if necessary.