Singapore brings greying trades to life

Tours with a twist are taking tourists into the heart of Singapore’s disappearing industries, in line with the destination’s new brand

Tourism stakeholders in Singapore are rolling out tours that are promising to cast a spotlight on fading businesses and bring more travellers to the city state.

Featuring old-school trades such as traditional baking, ancestral paper-house making and Arabic perfume mixing, these tours bring out cultural flavours of Singapore beyond its modern attractions.

Tribe, one of the pioneers of such tours, offers excursions led by locals and experts in related fields, such as a master paper-house maker and one of Singapore’s last traditional bakers.

The concept can “disrupt the way tours are usually conducted”, said Tribe’s co-founder Jason Loe. He explained: “Singapore has so many layers to peel back and discover… We like our guests to come away with an authentic slice of life in Singapore.”

Similarly, tour operator Journeys takes guests to the heart of cultures and businesses oft forgotten in modern Singapore. A third of its tours include visits to traditional trade shops where guests can also interact with the owners, said its executive director Savita Kashyap.
Stops include a Chinese funeral supplies shop, a popiah (spring roll) stall, an Indian flower garland shop and a traditional Arabic perfume mixer.

Joseph Sze, project director of Siam Express, observed that travellers – especially visitors from China – are now more drawn to such shops, especially in Haji Lane and Little India, for products that “cannot be found in their own countries”.

The endangered rickshaw business has also been given new life. Operator Trishaw Uncle recently refreshed its services with GPS-guided trishaw tours through heritage districts such as Little India, Kampong Glam, Chinatown and the Civic District.

Its managing director, Png Yiow Beng, noted that such tours are growing in popularity among the youth segment. Trishaw Uncle is also attracting younger drivers who are “are very passionate about introducing Singapore’s history and landmarks”, he added.

Hoteliers have also jumped on the bandwagon; The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, for instance, offers complimentary monument and maritime tours, and has recently partnered with Jane’s SG Tour to offer experiences covering Singapore’s oldest mosque, a pre-war medical institution and culinary classes on local cuisine.

“Stories told enable travellers to appreciate Singapore on a deeper level and stay longer, beyond just a quick stopover,” said Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Hotels Singapore.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Economic Development Board in August launched a unified destination brand, which aims to tell “a fuller Singapore story beyond tourism… about this destination and its people”, said STB chief executive Lionel Yeo.

Through promotional efforts, the Passion Made Possible brand will also see operators roll out new tours highlighting heritage businesses – such as Wok ‘n’ Stroll’s food trail featuring new-generation hawkers, Ruby Dot Trails’ family businesses of Kampong Glam and Tribe’s past-to-present industry tour.

STB has identified 15 target markets for this brand, including China, India and Indonesia, Australia, the UK and US.

STB has also been expanding its marketing efforts to tier-two cities in key source markets Indonesia, China and India, said its director, strategy planning & incentive policy, Rachel Loh.

As of April 2017, year-to-date international visitor arrivals from targeted tier-two cities in Indonesia, China and India reached 170,000 (+11 per cent year-on-year), 315,000 (+17 per cent) and 58,900 (+ eight per cent) respectively.

Loh added: “We remain hopeful for a year-on-year growth of one to four per cent in tourism receipts and one to two per cent in international visitor arrivals for 2017.”

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