Tour operators focus on local market as domestic tourism gradually resumes

Besides complying with safety measures, operators will have to target the domestic market since it will be some time before Singapore can fully welcome international visitors. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As attractions reopen and tours gradually resume, tour operators plan to focus on domestic tourism and encourage Singaporeans to explore their own backyard.

The Singapore Tourism Board announced on Sunday (June 28) that tour operators could submit applications to resume tour activities and may resume operations after receiving approval from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

There are currently 2,994 licensed tourist guides and over 30 tour operators in Singapore, according to STB.

Though safety precautions will have to be implemented and tours will be limited to a maximum of five participants at any one time, operators said they are glad to be able to generate some business and that this signals a start towards recovery for the industry.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday, Ms Jasmine Tan, co-founder of operator Oriental Travel and Tours said: "We're very excited to be able to start work again. We've been mentally prepared that we would have to take many safety precautions. It is the norm now."

The company applied to resume work on Monday and expects to receive an answer within the next two weeks.

Mandatory measures that operators will have to enforce include making hand sanitiser readily available and keeping the contact particulars of tour participants for at least 30 days for contact tracing purposes.

Ms Tan also said the company will provide disposable headsets to tour participants. Tour guides will have their own headsets with microphones wirelessly connected to the disposable headsets, which will allow participants to listen to the guide's commentary without having to stand too close.

Besides complying with safety measures, operators will have to target the domestic market since it will be some time before Singapore can fully welcome international visitors.

Mr Suen Tat Yam, founder of Monster Day Tours, said: "This is a chance for us to innovate and think of tours that will appeal to locals. We hope that Singaporeans take up the chance to learn something new about their own country."

Mr Suen said he is planning to convert their popular free walking tours, which used to cater to groups of 25 to 60 people, into private paid tours for groups of five.

The tours cover locations such as Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam and give participants an insight into the history, heritage and architecture of each area. Each two-hour tour will cost $50 per tour and accommodate up to five people.

Ms Tan said some of her company's unique tours already have a track record of attracting Singaporeans. For example, an equal number of locals and tourists have taken up the company's Creepy Tales Of Singapore tour since it launched last year.

The tour takes participants to different eerie sites in Singapore, including a spot near a beach where the Japanese army possibly massacred thousands of innocent people during World War II and one of the world's largest Chinese cemeteries. Guides will also entertain participants with gruesome ghost stories along the way. The two-hour tour costs $120 per person. The charge covers private transport to three locations and tour guide fees.

Industry experts said tour guides will need to be creative in the way they present their services to appeal to the local market.

Mr Chew Kian Beng, course chair for the diploma in hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business, said: "It will come down to the programmes they have to offer - it cannot be focused on sightseeing, but will have to be more educative and content-driven in form and outcomes. Tour operators will have to leverage on storytelling and creating emotional connections with their customers."

Associate Professor Prem Shamdasani of the National University of Singapore Business School's marketing department added that tour operators also face the challenge of convincing customers of the effectiveness of safety measures and hygiene protocols.

He said: "They have to go the extra mile to ensure the psychological and social safety of (their) customers."

Ms Tan said: "People (here) have been stuck at home for so long, they will want a change. Since Singaporeans also can't travel out (of the country), it'll be interesting for them to explore the different pockets of their own country through local tours."

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