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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.
Skift Stories and More Expert Insights
New Unique Tours Draw Americans to Singapore But Creators Face Cost Issues: A new generation of entrepreneurs is creating unique tours for visitors to Singapore. But fighting legacy tour players and online travel giants only makes it harder to do business.
Stricter Guidelines on Elephant Tourism Put Thai Travel Agents in Quandary: The Association of British Travel Agents is recommending an ideal that does not exist yet. Only two camps out of 250 in Thailand are observation-only with many still offering elephant rides and bathing with elephants. What’s an inbound travel agency to do? Where should the elephants go if everyone follows this suggestion, well-meaning as it is? The debate continues.
The Complicated Business of Saving Elephant Tourism: A Skift Deep Dive: Given the complexity of Asian elephant tourism, it’s natural for rifts to form. A lot of people want to do the right thing, but there are many issues that are still up in the air — and a lot of business is at stake.
Hong Kong’s High-Spending Outbound Travel Market Stays Firm: Hong Kong residents are still traveling despite protests that have been going on for six months — or perhaps because of them.
Qantas, Expedia and Others Eye This Australian Luxury Online Travel Agency: Here’s Why: Luxury Escapes, which is expanding next into the U.S. and China, is drawing not just more affluent travelers but potential investors, with Qantas Airways being tipped to be making an offer.
New Zealand Tourist Deaths Expose Liability Risks for Adventure Tourism: If tourists increasingly seek adventure when they travel, whose job is it to ensure they are adequately informed of the risks associated with doing so? It’s a tough question to answer.
Thomas Cook Collapsed Owing at Least $12 Billion: Yes, you read that number correctly. Thomas Cook’s directors have rightly come in for plenty of criticism, but others — including the UK government — need to have their record examined as well.
What the UK Election Result Means for Travel and Tourism: Boris Johnson wants to get Brexit done, but in reality, leaving the European Union will be a long and arduous process — and ultimately leave the country poorer. It’s going to be a rocky few years for the UK’s travel and tourism industry.
The Way Forward for Expedia May Include Selling Off Businesses: The strategy and vision for the next stage in Expedia Group’s life should include sharp departures from the status quo, but rest assured that the company line for the time being will be stability to keep the peace.
Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [firstname.lastname@example.org] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.