Tour OperatorsAll hell breaks loose during Hungry Ghost Month, yet Oriental Travel and Tours is seeing even greater demand for its offerings than ever.

Why business is booming for this tour operator exploring Singapore’s dark side

By
|
Guts and respect for the other realm are needed in big doses for participants of the tour.
Guts and respect for the other realm are needed in big doses for participants of the tour.

It is believed that the seventh lunar month, a time when the dead are free to roam the land of the living according to Chinese traditional beliefs, marks an inauspicious period for doing business. But for one Singapore tour operator business is not only surviving but thriving during this period, thanks to its supernatural tour offering that has attracted a steady stream of local guests.

Creepy Tales of Singapore is a paranormal tour offered by Oriental Travel and Tours that brings participants to some of the city’s spookiest places, including Bukit Brown Cemetery, a Chinese burial ground housing over 100,000 tombs, and World War II spots where many lives were believed to be lost during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. 

This guided tour is meant not to just give the chills but also educate participants on Singapore’s culture and history. For example, the visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery, where many of Singapore’s pre-eminent forefathers were buried, will be complemented with cultural explanation – say, the tomb designs and the use of incense in praying rituals – according to Oriental Travel and Tours founder and managing director, Stanley Foo. 

This after-dark tour is an immersive experience, with a guide leading the group with EMF detectors to locate any spirits or paranormal phenomena during the walk. Participants are encouraged to take pictures during the journey, and Foo said participants sometimes see “funny things appearing in their photos” in a phenomenon known as orbs.

Participants are armed with EMF detectors to sense the presence of spirits.
Participants are armed with EMF detectors to sense the presence of spirits.

Strong local spirit 

The inspiration to create this tour came when Foo, himself a keen paranormal enthusiast, realised there was a market for spooky experiences in Singapore. “Every year I see people pay good money to scare themselves at Universal Studios Singapore’s Halloween Horror Nights. These are just scare artists at work but the tickets are all sold out. That got me thinking of a tour in this direction, but I decided to add in educational elements like WWII history to this tour,” he shared. 

After conducting his research and groundwork, including travelling to the US to attend ghost tours, Foo launched Creepy Tales of Singapore in December 2019, just before Covid-19 started spreading across the world.

When Creepy Tales of Singapore was first launched, the foreign versus local market mix was about 50-50, but the attendee origin has since turned 100% local with Singapore closed to international tourism, according to Foo. But turning attention to the domestic market in the wake of Covid-19  has been a natural and easy pivot, he added. 

Foo believes his tour offered the right cultural appeal and uniqueness to attract inquisitive Singaporeans and local residents keen to seek out excitement in the city-state, especially as holidays abroad have become impossible amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Demand for this “best-selling tour” has been steadily building up in recent weeks, said Foo, which became apparent when the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) permitted the resumption of tours and attractions in July after Singapore emerged from its lockdown.  

“The response to this tour has been overwhelming, with the take-up rate even better than before during the seventh lunar month. We’re now running tours at least five times a week,” Foo revealed. “We are seeing better business than even before Covid-19.”

However, Foo is facing logistical challenges in stepping up the frequency of the tour experience as it’s no longer enough for Foo and his partner, Jasmine, both of whom are STB licensed tour guides, to lead and conduct the tour. “We’re looking to train more guides to meet the demand, although it hasn’t been easy as some guides didn’t even want to be involved a paranormal tour. That is a good problem though,” he admitted.

With demand shooting through the roof for Creepy Tales of Singapore that Foo said that a majority of participants who went on this particular tour are asking him to create “Creepy Tales of Singapore 2”. Works are currently underway to design the new edition, he told Travel Weekly Asia 

Respect distancing, respect the other realm 

Operating a tour in the new norm means post-Covid safety and health protocols have to be adhered to. This include the use of Vox box walkie talkies to maintain social distancing with guides, the cleansing of vehicles after use and requiring participants to scan QR codes to confirm their attendance, while group sizes are kept small to less than 10 pax and tour timings are staggered to prevent crowding at the sites visited. 

Safety has been a key thrust for the tour right from the inception. Besides physical distancing measures aside, it is important that guests observe and respect the cultural norms advised for this tour, Foo remarked. During the safety briefing before the start of the tour, participants will be briefed on the dos and don’ts during the safety briefing.

Asked if he is worried about copycats as the Creepy Tales of Singapore tour gains popularity, Foo said he is not spooked by the possibility. “There will surely be people trying to replicate this experience, but it is not easy to do this tour at all. I had to learn how to conduct paranormal tours, but it’s even harder still to find and train a tour guide to pull this off.”

The Covid-19 pandemic may have upended global tourism, but Foo believes that Singaporeans’ appetite for authentic local experiences will likely grow stronger in the coming months. With the recent announcement from the Singapore government to give S$320 million (US$234 million) in tourism credits to stimulate domestic tourism, he hopes more locals will be inspired to explore the lesser known nooks and crannies of the country. 

“I’m quite excited and hope to get something out from these tourism credits." 

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI