Experts have suggested that flights included in VTL are too expensive and that take-up was low before the emergence of Omicron.
However, the scheme has its limitations, and the take-up of the scheme has not been as high as the tourism industry had hoped. In light of the emergence of the Omicron strand of COVID-19, Singapore's Ministry of Health said it would freeze all new VTLs and any plans to ease restrictions in Singapore.
Reports from Bloomberg and other publications have suggested that the VTLs were unpopular before the announcement of the new variant. A report from the Japanese Times states that: “Some 20,510 travelers received approval to enter Singapore since the first travel lanes kicked off in early September through Nov. 26 — just 12.5% of the around 164,500 people theoretically allowed in under the nation’s daily quotas.”
The Japan Times highlighted that OAG, the leading data travel provider, revealed that the number of seats offered was 22 percent of the levels seen before COVID-19 for the week of November 22. Singapore Airlines said this is forty-three percent of the levels seen before the pandemic by the end of the year.
While there is no confirmed data on why demand may have dropped- and this would not be possible to confirm without extensive market research involving the consumers themselves- commentators have suggested that the expense of traveling via the scheme has made VTLs unaffordable for many. In a blog for Skift, Dan Lyn of Zuzu Hospitality notes that VTL is only available on certain flights and certain airlines. This, he says, increases prices through a surge in demand, and makes quarantine-free travel the “preserve of the rich.”
The Japan Times also reports that Hannah Pearson, Kuala Lumpur-based director of tourism consultancy Pear Anderson, said that on top of expensive flights, travelers arriving in Singapore can expect to pay $117 for a PCR test on arrival.
Meanwhile, Channel News Asia reported that while VTL had been welcomed by Malaysian workers who had been unable to travel back from Singapore to their homes due to border restrictions, costs were acting as a significant barrier.
It is not possible to pinpoint the driving force behind the low takeup of VTL. However, reports suggest that costs associated with both the available flights and the attached costs of testing may act as a deterrent and that VTL experienced slow pick-up before the emergence of Omicron. Given these reports, it is unlikely that increasing quotas would make a difference.
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