DEMAND for travel is flying high this Chinese New Year (CNY), thanks to the long weekend and a muscular Singapore dollar, with some travellers seizing the opportunity to take an extended vacation.
At Changi Airport, airlines have also been mounting additional services leading up to the Chinese New Year holidays, with nearly half of those bound for China.
Top choices for travel this festive season include Japan, Europe, Australia, China as well as regional cruises, travel agents said, citing the stronger Singapore dollar against these currencies as a pull factor.
At Chan Brothers Travel, bookings are 10 per cent higher this year, while bookings at Dynasty Travel are up 20 per cent year- on-year.
"Our Chinese New Year cruises have always been very popular, traditionally selling out," said Chin Ying Duan, corporate communications manager for Royal Caribbean Cruises. "Bookings for this year started coming in as early as nine months in advance."
Travellers are also capitalising on the four-day weekend this year to take longer trips of 7-11 days, travel agents said.
"With a bit of planning, travellers can enjoy a nine-day vacation with just three days of leave," pointed out Jane Chang, head of marketing communications for Chan Brothers.
Cruises and travel/tour packages are also incorporating Chinese New Year festivities - such as the reunion dinner - for those looking for a novel way to spend the holidays overseas with their family.
A four-night cruise to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, which set sail on Feb 5, was fully snapped up two months in advance, surpassing last year's sales. Another five-night cruise to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket departs on Feb 9. The cruise package (starting at S$949 per head) covers accommodation, meals and entertainment.
Ms Chin added: "Chinese New Year cruises like ours combine traditional festive elements with an international cruising experience."
To get passengers in the festive mood, Royal Caribbean has included traditional dishes such as yu sheng and nian gao on the menu, while CNY decor, programmes and activities are also on the cards. For instance, the "God of Fortune" will be onboard to give red packets to children.
Meanwhile, a Beijing travel/tour programme by Chan Brothers departing ahead of Chinese New Year Eve is throwing in a reunion dinner.
"Singaporeans will continue to travel despite the economic slowdown," reckons Dynasty Travel's director (communications) Alicia Seah. "They may opt for a (shorter) travel programme or destinations where they have stronger buying power such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe."
Popular destinations closer to home this year include China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam. Airfares to some short-haul destinations such as Bangkok and Hong Kong have roughly doubled in price, thanks to robust demand, Ms Seah said.
Over at Changi Airport, there are an extra 180 flights for the week starting Feb 7, representing 3 per cent of the airport's total flight movements, according to figures from airport operator Changi Airport Group (CAG).
The number of flights between Singapore and China are up 12 per cent during the festive period, especially to cities such as Xiamen, Fuzhou, Guangzhou and Chengdu, driven by carriers such as Xiamen Airlines.
The populous country is Changi Airport's fifth biggest passenger market, representing nearly a tenth of total traffic.
Separately, Changi Airport, which is linked to 32 cities in China, has been working to boost tourism from secondary Chinese cities to Singapore through advertising and publicity as well as by tying up with key travel agents.
"Working with partners such as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Chinese travel agents, CAG has been increasing efforts to reach out to Chinese passengers in China's secondary cities to promote Singapore as a standalone destination," said CAG spokesman Ivan Tan.
Arrivals from China took a sharp plunge in 2014 following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and tighter laws surrounding the sale of "zero-dollar" tour packages, but arrivals have started to pick up since. Preliminary estimates from STB show that arrivals from China rose 21 per cent year-on- year to 1.94 million from January to November 2015.
CAG is also striving to grow transfer traffic from China to destinations across the region by leveraging on Changi Airport as a hub. This helps the airport maintain its edge as a leading air hub in the region, especially as competition from other airports intensifies.
"Looking ahead, CAG is working with trade partners to explore new tourist segments, such as the overseas student travel market, leveraging on Singapore's attractiveness as a destination for education-related purposes," added Mr Tan.