How Singapore Travel Companies Stayed Afloat When Travel Disappeared

How Singapore Travel Companies Stayed Afloat When Travel Disappeared

  • Singapore has closed its borders since March 2020, with almost no domestic travel.
  • We spoke to three local travel agents to find out how they’re surviving the pandemic.
  • One company said they were focused on local experiences, but they were only getting 50% of their pre-pandemic revenue.

When Singapore closed its borders in March 2020, the number of tourists to the island fell 99% from the previous year. Then there is the cancellation request.

“About 70 percent of our bookings are canceled and 30 percent are delayed,” said Krystal Tan, director of local travel company Blue Sky Escapes, known for off-the-beaten-track experiences in destinations such as Bhutan and Peru.

She is not alone.

“Overnight, bookings stalled,” said Jess Yeh, co-founder of Intriq Journey, a travel agency that launched in Singapore last January.

With borders closed due to the pandemic, tour operators around the world have been forced to find new revenue streams. This is especially true for those who are in the business of overseas travel planning and, by extension, tour operators in Singapore. The city-state, the equivalent of New York City, has virtually no domestic travel.

Insider spoke to three Singapore travel companies to find out how they can stay afloat after their core businesses disappear.

A new way to explore Singapore

Quotient Travel, a pre-pandemic specialist in bespoke luxury travel, was known for long-distance, multi-country vacations that might include visiting the Sahara desert or dining at Tokyo’s three-Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Javiny Lim, co-founder and managing director of Quotient Travel, said the travel company typically sells 150 vacations a year. In the second quarter of last year, it had zero bookings.

Quotient Travel has designed eight new itineraries. Some, like Eat, Pray, Love in Balestier ($71 per person), take you to iconic landmarks and hidden discoveries, such as one of Singapore’s last remaining traditional bakeries and coffee roasters.

Others, like the Singapore tour, draw inspiration from iconic holidays in places like New Zealand and Japan. The Singapore Self Drive Tour is a two-day self-drive tour for $5 per person that includes a local “national park” (there are no designated national parks in Singapore), a former Grand Prix street circuit, and a seaside lunch in a neoclassical residence 1910 .

A post shared by Quotient Travel (@quotienttravelplanner)

Blue Sky Escapes also offers a new way to explore Singapore.

A popular option to visit Singapore’s last kampong Lorong Buangkok (Village) ($315 for up to 5 people), a hodgepodge of quaint zinc-roofed houses – complete with kitchen gardens and roaming chickens – defies time.

“There are 29 families here – most of the residents don’t speak English or even have cell phones,” Tan said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to turn back the clock and learn somethingkampong Spirit’ is real. “

Blue Sky Escapes has also found a niche with its wellness retreat, which it launched in January. These include three-day, two-night retreats, starting at $2,590 per person, that claim to help guests “find themselves” through stillness and meditation. Held at Villa Samadhi, a restored century-old mansion in the Labrador Nature Reserve, each retreat includes specific movement and sound healing.

A post shared by Blue Sky Escapes (@bluesky.escapes)

New audiences and shorter experiences

When the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble was first lifted in November, Intriq Journey’s Yap realized she needed to “do more than [sell] Accommodation and cruise ships are nowhere to be found. “

She also found herself having to revisit her target clientele: The industry veteran works with clients who typically spend $10,000 to $12,000 per person per trip.

A post shared by Intriq Journey (@intriqjourney)

Last year, she reversed course and launched virtual tours for $80 per person. One of them was a two-day Beijing and Chengdu local university “trip” that allowed students to see the Great Wall of China and explore Chengdu’s vibrant street food scene.

“It’s not a pre-recorded presentation. There’s a real tour guide, a host,” Yap said, adding that guests can interact with the tour guide and meet new people in real time. “It’s real life, straight from the scene.”

Quotient Travel’s usual budget guide for a couple’s European vacation is $750 per person per day, Lim said. Now that number is much lower, she added.

“For us, the main change for all travel will be a wider customer base,” Lim said.

A blow to an already struggling industry

The pandemic has dealt a further blow to an already stressed industry.

In the Q3 2019 GlobalData survey, only 17% of global respondents said they booked through an in-store travel agency. Still, travel agents in Singapore have remained relatively resilient throughout the pandemic. Of the 137 travel agencies that closed in the city-state between February 2020 and May 2021, only 38 cited the pandemic as the reason for cessation of operations, according to TTG Asia.

This is largely thanks to the Singapore government’s efforts to support the local tourism industry. These include wage subsidies, a waiver of license fees, and the distribution of $320 million in vouchers for citizens to spend at local hotels and attractions.

All three Singapore agencies interviewed by Insider said they have not reduced the size of their teams, although the pay cuts are part of all their business continuity plans.

Lim said Quotient Travel implemented a three-day workweek and took pay cuts of up to 25 per cent over the past 15 months. Tan and her husband, who is also her business partner, stopped receiving wages for a year. At one point, Tan’s sales team turned to event programming and content marketing, while Lim said her company expanded into an online luxury jewelry store.

“It’s especially challenging to have to show up with perseverance every day during tough times, be prepared to lead and support team morale, and navigate such a volatile, uncertain environment. We’re in full testing mode and it’s not clear what might be possible what will happen,” Tan said.

Still, the new experience is a far cry from what companies typically earn.

Tan said the new experience accounts for about 50% of Blue Sky Escapes’ typical revenue. Lim said Quotient Travel’s local tourism revenue is less than 1% of its typical revenue.

Yap said the next six months would be particularly challenging as the government’s wage support scheme ended in September. She remains hopeful that some form of leisure travel will resume in the final quarter of the year, when at least three-quarters of Singapore’s population will be vaccinated.

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