More initiatives to help travel agents stay relevant

Members of the newly formed Tour Operators Alliance: (from left) Ms Joy Ng, reservation agent at Singapore Sidecars; Mr Simon Wong, co-founder of Singapore Sidecars; Mr Jason Loe, co-founder of Tribe; Mr Kyanta Hidayat, resident guide at Monster Day Tours; Mr Suen Tat Yam, founder of Monster Day Tours; Mr Daniel Tan, co-founder of Let’s Go Tour Singapore; Mr Robin Loh, co-founder of Let’s Go Tour Singapore; and Ms Shalini Lalwani, founder of Ruby Dot Trails. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Local travel agents will receive more help in updating their business models to stay relevant, amid the changing preferences of travellers and rise of online booking sites.

On Friday (Nov 16), the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) announced several initiatives including an online resource centre for travel agents as well as programmes to help them address manpower issues and dream up new business models.

The travel agent industry is one of Singapore's core tourism industries, providing more than 10,000 jobs to residents with about 1,200 licensed travel agents here, STB chief executive Keith Tan said in a speech at the Travel Agent Industry Forum at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

But changes in consumer travel habits coupled with competition from various players, such as online booking sites that consumers and suppliers of travel products can access directly, have impacted travel agents' business models and sustainability, said STB's travel agents and tourist guides director Ong Ling Lee.

The industry, however, has potential to grow if it can adapt to these changes by reviewing business models, leveraging technology and upskilling the workforce, said Ms Ong.

One example announced at the forum - a group of walking and cycling tour operators banding together to form a new Tour Operators Alliance.

Cycling around the civic district and zipping through the alleyways of Kampong Glam in a Vespa sidecar are examples of day tours that have grown in popularity among both tourists and locals here, said members, which include Monster Day Tours, Let's Go Tour Singapore, Singapore Sidecars, Ruby Dot Trails, and Tribe.

Monster Day Tours, which offers free walking tours through the city's historic districts as well as themed tours that start from $80, sees up to 50 people take part in its tours a day, up from just two or so a day when it started last May (2017).

Corporate clients are also turning to them for private tours, said founder Suen Tat Yam.

Banding together with other similar tour operators helps them boost their scale and capabilities, for example by sharing tour guides, said Mr Suen.

"People always say that one or two days is enough for (visiting) Singapore, but if we combine our day tours, we can create multi-day tours that offer different experiences," he said.

Let's Go Tour's co-founder Robin Loh said the alliance will help smaller players compete by enabling them to collaborate and cross-sell tours.

The four-year-old tour business, which offers cycling tours and cooking classes that include trips to the wet market, has seen sales grow by 15 to 20 per cent each year, said its other co-founder Daniel Tan.

"Tourists nowadays are more discerning, especially younger travellers who are looking for something more experiential rather than your typical bus tour," said Mr Tan, who added that the cooking classes are also popular among locals.

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