Holiday with celebs
School's out next month and travel-savvy S'pore families are booking trips with a difference
Come June 20, home-grown comedian-actor-host Mark Lee will play tour guide to Singaporeans on a 13-day tour of Eastern Europe.
Besides entertaining them with his bawdy humour and rubber-faced antics, the 38-year-old will have to answer questions about Budapest's Royal Palace, Slovakia's castles and Vienna's theatres.
The $3,199 package was launched just last week, but Chan Brothers Travel says 10 people have already signed up and it is "confident" of getting over 80 customers for this tour.
But the funnyman is not the only celebrity wearing another hat in the upcoming June school holidays. Five other well-known faces - from deejays like Yes 93.3's Dennis Chew to actresses like veteran MediaCorp artiste Yang Libing - will also help lead tour groups to places like the Gold Coast and Tibet.
And such trips are selling like hot cakes. Maybe it's because many Singaporeans have been there, done that, and are looking for new ways to extract more mileage from their June vacations.
Singapore is a nation of avid travellers. Figures from the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore show that people here made 12.6 million trips abroad last year.
This means that travel agents are continually devising new programmes and gimmicks to vie for business. Celeb-led tours are not exactly new - people like Moses Lim and Bryan Wong have led such trips before - so the challenge is to find new names to anchor fresh tours.
Chew, for instance, is doing his second tour-leading stint - the first time being a trip to New Zealand last year.
A Dynasty Travel spokesman says they can be paid anywhere between $ 10,000 and $20,000 or even more, depending on their star power.
"People get excited about such tours because it's different from anything else out there," says Chan Brothers' marketing communications director Ivy Tan. "It's like an affordable private session with the celebrities." She says such tours, which Chan Brothers launched in 2000, have become so popular that it will have a dozen of them this year.
Experienced tour leaders or guides will tag along on the trips. But such celebrity-led treats are just one of many options that agencies are dangling for next month. A wider selection of such tours, which include packages to remote spots like Tibet, adventure-based travel and free-and-easy packages, have led to a 10 to 20 per cent increase in sales this June, compared to June last year, estimate major agencies like Dynasty Travel and Chan Brothers.
Trips to places like Vietnam, Tibet and Eastern Europe are doing well because "Singaporeans are now travel-savvy", says Ms Tan.
"So they want something more interesting besides Bangkok or Hong Kong." A spokesman for Pac-West Travel notes that adventure travel is scoring with Singaporeans.
Activities like mountain-trekking, hiking and white-water rafting are regular highlights of such tours, and are popular with those tired of the usual shop-eat-leisure packages.
And lest you think that only corporate clients and students sign up for such tours, word is that many families are taking the plunge, too.
Says Pac-West spokesman Aileen Li: "We had this family with 20 people and eight children under 12 who climbed Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia."
But she cautions that because such trips require a significant level of fitness, less fit people should get into shape two months before the trip.
Another observation: Free-and-easy tours are becoming the rule for those going to English-speaking countries, say operators like Luxury Tours & Travel. "The Internet helps people work out their own itinerary," says Mr Dominic Soh, its business development director.
But the glut of options, ironically, can also prove daunting. Says 45-year-old housewife Alison Tang: "We would like to go for a holiday but it's very difficult to decide where to go to."
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