Singapore’s travel agencies, bus firms face driver shortage despite wage hike

Singapore’s travel agencies, bus firms face driver shortage despite wage hike

SINGAPORE – While the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) expects the republic’s tourism industry to fully recover from the pandemic by 2024, some local tour operators say they cannot speed up due to a shortage of tour bus drivers.

A spokesperson for WTS Travel told The Straits Times that at least 50 per cent of the tour operator’s coaches are currently unable to operate due to a “severe” shortage of drivers.

WTS Travel provides bus services to popular destinations in Malaysia such as Genting Highlands and Malacca and provides tour services here. It had to turn away potential customers due to shortages, the spokesman added.

“We were not utilizing our entire fleet and were unable to meet and complete all business needs,” he said.

The company did not disclose how many passenger cars it has in its fleet.

In January, STB said it expects 12 million to 14 million international tourists to visit Singapore in 2023, with a full tourism recovery expected by 2024.

Singapore will welcome a total of 6.3 million tourists in 2022, a fraction of the record 19.1 million in 2019.

But tour operators and bus companies say retirements of older drivers, a lack of new young drivers and a severe shortage of tour bus drivers due to factors including the Covid-19 pandemic are preventing them from taking advantage of the tourism boom.

A spokesman for the National Association of Travel Agents in Singapore (Natas) said irregular working hours and other jobs with more flexible hours are some potential reasons for the lack of fresh blood.

“Many locals who are passionate about driving as a career choose to become private taxi drivers, meal and package delivery riders,” the spokesperson said. “There are many benefits to being self-employed with flexible hours and working days. , especially for those under the age of 50.”

A spokesman for bus rental company ST Lee Transport noted that most foreign workers from China and Malaysia had already returned home when the pandemic started and were reluctant to return to work in Singapore after the outbreak. Only 60% of the company’s bus driver jobs have subsided during the pandemic, citing better job opportunities in their home countries.

ST Lee and bus rental company LongLim say it is difficult to recruit new staff, even though both companies have increased drivers’ base salaries by 40 per cent.

LongLim operations manager Ang Zi Wei said the company currently pays tour bus drivers a maximum of more than $5,000 a month after salary adjustments, taking into account factors such as overtime pay and peak season demand.

Both companies say they have had to forego as much as 40% of new business opportunities and hire subcontractors to complete existing projects — but at extra cost.

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