Golden jubilee countdown: 4 days to National Day

Travel firm catered to locals from the get-go

Chan Brothers group managing director Anthony Chan (centre, in white shirt) and his tour consultants. Among them is Mr Vincent Tham (second from left), who was one of the firm's first tour managers.
Chan Brothers group managing director Anthony Chan (centre, in white shirt) and his tour consultants. Among them is Mr Vincent Tham (second from left), who was one of the firm's first tour managers.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Most travel agencies in Singapore in the 1960s were colonial firms catering to expatriates.

Enter Chan Brothers Travel, set up by the late Mr Chan Liang Choy, his relative, Mr Chan Hian Chiang, and a friend in 1965. The outfit operated out of a cramped Cecil Street shop with a huge telephone switchboard, selling air and train tickets to destinations in Asia to cater to locals.

"We plugged the gaps in the market by offering trips to neighbouring places such as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taiwan," said Mr Chan Hian Chiang, 72.

He recalled cycling with Mr Chan Liang Choy to Old Immigration House every week to help travellers apply for international passports, and to embassies to apply for visas.

"Agents had to manually calculate mileage based on a guidebook with flight details and cross-check it with an internationally standardised fare book," he said.

He remains a director at the company, which now has some 400 staff regionally serving more than 100,000 customers each year.

It was in the 1980s that the firm began helping Singaporeans experience European road trips and tours to Australia and New Zealand when now group managing director Anthony Chan, 58, took up an invitation by his father, Mr Chan Liang Choy, to join the company.

One employee who experienced the change is Mr Vincent Tham, 52, one of the firm's first tour managers when it introduced package tours.

Customers are well-travelled now, but the tour guide's job is far from over, Mr Tham said.

"We still advise them on things like the shortest route to get somewhere or whether it's the season for a particular gift or souvenir."

Jubilee celebrations at the company began near the end of last year.

It has been running social outreach initiatives for the elderly and will hold a staff dinner at the end of this year.

The occasion is bittersweet for Mr Anthony Chan as his father passed away in January this year. "I wish he was here with us," he said.

"But we're proud that we have 50 years of heritage and we wish we'll have many more 50-year celebrations to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Travel firm catered to locals from the get-go'. Print Edition | Subscribe