Capacity for tour group sizes increases, but operators in no hurry to take up to 20 people

A Monster Day Tours guide giving a private tour at Jewel Changi Airport on Oct 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - After three months of working with tour groups with a maximum of 10 participants, local tour operators were able to take groups of up to 20 from Sunday (Nov 1).

Tour operators said the increase in participant cap has given them much-needed flexibility and allows them to save on some costs.

Chairman of the Society of Tourist Guides Singapore Jean Wang said the change will give operators some flexibility in planning, and make them more cost-effective.

"In instances where clients wanted to add two of three more to a group of 10, we might have had to scramble to activate another guide to accommodate them, but we do not have to worry about that now," she said.

Mr Jason Loe, founder of Tribe Tours, said the increase of maximum group sizes could make some of the company's tours slightly more profitable.

"Prior to this, when tour sizes were restricted to 10, costs doubled for groups greater than that number. That means more resources had to be deployed, like two guides or two vehicles to accommodate the group," he said.

"More participants per guide means we can earn more, and keeping groups to 12 will not compromise on our service or safety considerations," said Mr Sim Cher Huey, founder of eco adventure travel company Kayakasia.

Mr Tony Tan, director and guide at Betel Box The Real Singapore Tours agreed, saying the increase in group sizes makes tours more scalable.

"When the group sizes are too small, the cost of operations can be quite high for us, and the shared costs for participants, like guide fees, may also be prohibitively high," said Mr Tan.

His company has seen more than double the number of bookings in November compared with October - most of them corporate bookings.

Mr Suen Tat Yam, founder of Monster Day Tours, said that the increase in group sizes is unlikely to affect the sign ups for public tours dramatically, but that the new maximum of 20 people suits entities like companies and schools best and some had already made inquiries with the company.

"Many of these clients had bookings with us prior to Covid-19, and we have extended them for a perpetual period," he said.

"Some see that things are settling down now, and are comfortable with discussing the resumption of tours again for their employees or students."

However, tour operators here are in no rush to raise group sizes.

Mr Toh Thiam Wei, founder of Indie Singapore, said his company's guides have found smaller group sizes more intimate and interactive, especially when compared with those of up to 40 that they led before Covid-19 struck.

The company wants to see if it can maintain smaller group sizes even beyond the pandemic.

Others like Mr Sim said that he would keep group sizes to about 10 due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, and in case group sizes were decreased again if the situation got worse.

Mr Loe and Mr Toh both said that some of the stakeholders on their tour stops prefer to have smaller groups owing to Covid-19 concerns, while safe distancing measures at some places, like restaurants and galleries, meant that larger crowds cannot be accommodated.

Those running food tours also cited the group of five rule at dine-in establishments as a hindrance to increasing group sizes.

"If our guides were to sit and dine with participants, we can still take only four others at the same table," said Mr Toh.

Ms Wang said that it has taken tour guides some time to get used to enforcing safe-distancing measures, but guides have gotten used to the need for constant reminders, which most guests take "in good spirit".

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