To protect the interests of the consumers from errant travel agents, proposals have been made by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Singapore Tourism Board to boost their investigative and enforcement powers. Feedback from the people has also been invited till July 12.
The proposals seek amendments in the Travel Agents Act to strengthen the regulatory framework governing the travel industry.
In a statement, Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry said, “The majority of our travel agents are professional and conduct their businesses responsibly. But as the travel industry transforms and consumer expectations evolve, we need to update the regulatory framework to safeguard the interests of consumers, and also ensure that the business environment allows travel agents to innovate and grow.”
Several new proposals have been added to empower the investigative power of the STB. Now, while investigating travel agents and individuals suspected of errant behaviour, STB will be empowered to gather evidence from third parties and take photographs, and audio and video recordings.
In the proposal, the maximum fine for unlicensed activities will be raised to SGD25,000 from SGD10,000, while the maximum composition sum for compoundable offences will be raised to SGD5,000, or half the maximum fine prescribed, whichever is the lower. In addition, an administrative financial penalty (up to SGD2,000) will be introduced, as a stronger deterrent.
The proposal also talked about travel agents to record the decisions of consumers to purchase travel insurance that covers insolvency, which will ensure that consumers are aware of the precautions they can take to safeguard their prepayments against sudden closures.
Safeguards will also be expanded for changes to tours, inaccurate and erroneous advertisements, dispute settlement and booking cancellations — beyond sightseeing and shopping tours.
People in Singapore had to face problems due to the sudden closure of tour agencies. Last month, local tour agency Misa Travel’s sudden closure left hundreds of travellers stranded just before the peak travel season during the mid-year school holidays. Other closures reported in past months include GC Nanda and Sons, Sky Travel and Tours and South Korea specialist tour operator S Travel.
The Travel Agent Act and Travel Agent Regulations were last amended in 1993 and 2007 respectively. Since then, there have been major changes to the travel industry and changes in consumer travel habits in addition to new business operating models, said MTI and STB in a joint statement.
The public consultation will run until July 12.