Tour agency CTC Travel ventures into e-commerce to tide over bad times amid Covid-19

Chief executive Chen Bin of CTC Travel says that diversification will reduce the risks the business faces in the long run.
Chief executive Chen Bin of CTC Travel says that diversification will reduce the risks the business faces in the long run.ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - Tour agency CTC Travel had about 100 full-time staff and was serving about 45,000 to 50,000 customers.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, 90 per cent of its staff have resigned or been put on no-pay leave. The agency also relocated its office from Chinatown Point to One Commonwealth as a cost-cutting measure.

Mr Chen Bin, 53, CTC Travel's chief executive, told The Sunday Times that these measures were inevitable for the 31-year-old agency.

He said: "This Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented and caught all of us by surprise. Nobody could have prepared for it.

"For manufacturing or food and beverage businesses, their business has been impacted but they can still operate. For tourism, it's different. Governments are not allowing their citizens to travel and nobody is buying overseas packages."

Since last August, Mr Chen had felt that the pandemic would not end quickly.

Even after Singapore exited last year's circuit breaker, outbreaks and second waves of infections continued to occur in Europe and the United States.

He said: "In December, when Singapore gave its residents the $100 SingapoRediscovers Vouchers (SRV), we knew it would be a while before we could travel overseas."

To adapt, CTC Travel has designed SRV-eligible tours that are available for booking on Klook.

One such tour is nature-themed and includes visits to the Hay Dairies goat farm and Jurong Frog Farm in Lim Chu Kang. The tours range from $100 to $168.

CTC Travel is also authorised to sell tickets for cruises to nowhere that are operated by Royal Caribbean International and Genting Cruise Lines.

These cruises, which depart from Singapore, offer round trips with no ports of call.

Chinatown Point mall was where CTC Travel used to be located, but the tour agency has moved to One Commonwealth as a cost-cutting measure. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

The emergence this year of variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 also forced Mr Chen to venture into the e-commerce space. CTC Travel will be hosting its first Facebook live stream at 8pm on Monday night (June 28).

It will sell products from some of its most popular travel destinations, such as skincare products from Japan.

One day, the agency may even sell its tour packages during Facebook live streams. Mr Chen said: "You can't put all your eggs in one basket. By diversifying, this will reduce the risks our business faces in the long run."

He remains confident that the tourism industry will recover, especially with the global vaccination drive under way. Singapore has also accelerated its national vaccination programme, aiming to administer up to 80,000 doses a day.

Mr Chen said: "The Covid-19 pandemic will definitely end. It's only a matter of time. People love to travel and they won't be able to stay home forever."