Skift Take

New players create unique tours such as an inside look at the disappearing trades of Singapore. If they aren’t encouraged and supported, the city’s inbound travel agencies could disappear.

In a country like Singapore — small and compact, easy to get around because public transportation works like a dream, multilingual including widely spoken English and Mandarin — one can argue that inbound travel agencies are a sunset industry.

Visitors don’t need them to get to Chinatown, Little India, or the Malay village of Kampung Glam; to shopping havens such as Marina Bay Sands or Orchard Road; to the myriad attractions on Sentosa Island or Wildlife Reserves Singapore. A Grab, Gojek, or mass rapid transit will do, and in-destination tours and activities platforms such as Klook allow for booking a ticket on demand and without fuss.

New players that can create unique tours are key to ensuring the survival of inbound travel agencies, a crucial tourism sector. They also help keep Singapore interesting and fascinating without the country having to physically build new tourism attractions. Already Singapore’s product development is thinning with limited land being a factor. Besides, we’ve heard how visitors today desire more immersive journeys.

As the story below by Singapore-based Skift contributor Yixin Ng shows, new player Tribe has handcrafted tours such as About Mr. Lee, which tells the story of modern Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew. You couldn’t find a bust or monument in Singapore dedicated to Lee, because he would loathe such a thing. An About Mr. Lee tour is a fitting tribute from the tourism industry.

But such a tour is a daring feat in a country that is still seen as a police state where everything is scrutinized. Just imagine the research and time needed to ensure the accuracy, sensibilities, and sensitivities of such a tour.

Crafting great tours is an expensive and arduous proposition. And while these new players can beat traditional tour operators at their own game, they have to think about what to do with the Airbnbs, the Klooks, the Booking.coms, and others that have entered the tours and activities space.

The Singapore Tourism Board does help with grants to create tours. But it is both generous and stingy. Grants are prorated, dished out only if tours perform. To encourage new players, it should rethink the role it plays and lend even more support.

It’s Christmas.

— Raini Hamdi, Skift Asia Editor,, @RainiHamdi

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Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

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Tags: abta, adventure travel, elephant tourism, expedia, luxury escapes, new zealand, singapore, skift asia weekly, thomas cook

Photo credit: A Singapore neighborhood. New players go deeper into a place. Runako Godfrey / Flickr

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