S'pore travellers go for local tour guides

Even in the age of smartphones and tablets - the modern, independent traveller's best aids - demand for guided tours among vacationing Singaporeans is still going strong.

Travel firms told MyPaper that more people have taken up outbound guided tours over the last year, citing the desire for authentic and local experiences among travellers as one of the main reasons.

Trafalgar Tours' chief executive, Mr Gavin Tollman, said the global company, which specialises in guided vacations, has seen 71 per cent growth out of Singapore this year, compared to last year.

"Today, people look for profound and unique experiences, and they want to see the world from the inside," he said.

For instance, Trafalgar Tours' itineraries include taking travellers to meet former members of the Irish Republican Army in Belfast, or learning to cook local cuisine using twigs over an open fire in the Croatian village of Osojnik.

"It's not enough for us to take our guests to the typical spots (any more)," said Mr Nicholas Lim, president of Trafalgar Asia, the regional arm of Trafalgar Tours.

STA Travel's sales and marketing manager, Mr Timothy Su, said that more travellers prefer tours conducted by local guides who have expert knowledge when it comes to the ins and outs of their cities, instead of travelling with a Singapore tour guide, as in typical group tours.

"Travelling with a good local guide means you get a taste of places that only those with insider knowledge would know," he added. "They also get to see and do things that are beyond just tourist attractions, which tend to be international in nature."

Mr Su said that the take-up rate for guided tours went up about 10 per cent from last year, "in spite of the more cautious spending and more limited travel budgets among our customers this year".

A report by The Straits Times earlier this year noted the emergence of more apps and websites - such as Spotted By Locals and TripTrotting.com - that mobilise locals in various cities to act as virtual or real tour guides for travellers seeking authentic experiences. Still, Ms Jane Chang, marketing and communications manager of Chan Brothers Travel, pointed out that guided tours will "never become a sunset industry".

Travel agencies have better connections with well-qualified guides, and are well-equipped to provide hassle-free holidays for travellers, she said.

"(This is) especially so with the myriad of ubiquitous travel tools and questionable booking sites popping up in the market, as well as increasingly dense and confusing influx of travel information available."

Ms Chang added that Singaporeans' "voracious appetite for travel" meant that new destinations are constantly being offered, such as the Arctic and Antarctica - places that would be extremely difficult to access without going on a tour.

Mr Steven Ler, senior vice-president at UOB Travel, said that travellers opt for guided tours for help with "potentially (severe) language barriers", especially in destinations where English is not the main language, such as Turkey and Egypt.


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