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​The Travel Agents Act and Regulations (TAAR) have been amended to enhance consumer protection measures and better position the travel agent industry to grow and thrive in a rapidly evolving tourism landscape. The changes will take effect in phases from January 2018.

Enhancing consumer protection measures

2.         A key objective of the amendments is to better protect consumers against malpractice by a small minority of travel agents. With the amended TAAR, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will be able to investigate and take action more promptly and effectively against travel agents suspected of errant behaviour. For instance, STB will be able to:  

a)    Require relevant third parties to produce documentary evidence; and take photographs, audio and video recordings that may serve as evidence for offences and other contraventions.

b)    Publish information relating to the suspension or revocation of licensees, and require licensees facing suspension or revocation to disclose this fact to customers, to help consumers make more informed decisions.  

c)    Impose administrative financial penalties for minor contraventions, to allow for swifter and proportionate enforcement action against travel agents, instead of going through a lengthy prosecution process.  
3.         The penalty ceiling for unlicensed travel agent activities offences will be raised from $10,000 to $25,000 and the maximum fine for other offences doubled, to better deter travel agents from contravening the regulations.

Facilitating a pro-business environment for the travel agent industry 
4.         The amended TAAR also aims to facilitate a conducive business environment and foster a more vibrant tourism scene. This will be done by reducing regulatory costs and providing for the creation of different classes of licence for travel agents. Niche licensees[1] will require a lower minimum requirement of $50,000 in paid-up capital and net-worth, compared to $100,000 for general licensees.

5.         In addition, certain entities will be exempted from requiring a licence, such as operators of walking or bicycle tours. These entities pose a low risk to consumers as prepayment is typically low or not required. Collectively, the intent is to allow a select group of entities that pose lower consumer risk to enter the market more easily, so as to encourage the emergence of more differentiated and innovative offerings to tourists and locals.

6.         President of the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), Mr Lim Biow Chuan said, "CASE is supportive of the amendments to the Travel Agents (Amendment) Bill that will help strengthen consumer protection measures against errant travel agents. Publishing information relating to the suspension or revocation of licensees, as well as the new requirement for these licensees to disclose this fact to customers will allow consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions. CASE will continue to work with the relevant agencies on consumer education efforts to raise awareness on the importance of purchasing travel insurance."

7.         Acting President of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS), Mr Steven Ler said, "NATAS welcomes the amendments to the travel agents legislation. The changes will encourage travel agents to be more innovative amid the growing competition. The amended legislation will also hold travel agents to higher standards and weed out fly-by-night operators. This is important as it will help to raise the standing of the travel agent industry among consumers." 

[1] "Niche licence" tier is targeted at travel agents who sell or arrange local tours with passenger-carrying conveyance, but without accommodation. This refers to tours that bring travellers around Singapore with dedicated transport provided to ferry the tour group around, including coach tours or bum boat tours.​

7 November 2017