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Saturday, August 19, 2017, 15:30
Heartland tours drawing tourists and locals in Singapore
By The Straits Times/ANN
Saturday, August 19, 2017, 15:30 By The Straits Times/ANN

Tribe co-founder Jason Loe with Mah, who enjoys opening up his bakery to visitors as he has many stories to tell. (ARIFFIN JAMAR / THE STRAITS TIMES)

SINGAPORE - Visitors are increasingly seeking more in-depth experiences that allow them to better understand and appreciate a destination.

What do the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands and Jie Bakery and Confectionery, which makes and supplies local breads, have in common?

They all pull in tourists.

The local mom-and-pop shop in the industrial estate of Tai Seng draws tourists from China, America, Australia and Europe, giving them a slice of local life. The tourists are there to learn how local favorites, such as traditional soft, fluffy white bread, are made each morning before being distributed to different parts of the island.

It follows a growing trend in which tour operators are offering trips to local neighborhoods and the heartland.

The Singapore Tourism Board told The Straits Times that tours in Singapore have "gradually shifted from broad-based and attractions- focused ones to more immersive and interest-based tours with stronger storytelling" to cater to the evolving needs of travelers.

Its spokesman said that while tourists may once have been satisfied with "touch and go" commentary, visitors today seek hands-on experiences and in-depth information, such as the locals' way of life, and are willing to spend time going deep into specific interest areas like food or nature.
It mirrors a global trend. According to the 2015 Global Travel Intentions Study, 16 percent or one in six travelers opted for personal guided tours and a customised itinerary, up from 10 percent in 2013.


Visitors are increasingly seeking more in-depth experiences that allow them to better understand and appreciate a destination.

Tour operator Tribe, a two-year- old company, organizes trips to the 28-year-old Jie Bakery and Confectionery as part of its Disappearing Trades tour. The tour, which runs for four hours, takes people to three stops for about $75 a person. The other two stops are a coffee-roasting factory and a paper-house maker catering to Chinese prayer rituals.

Tribe, this year's Singapore Tourism Awards recipient for best tour experience, started out with just two tours but now offers about a dozen. Co-founder Jason Loe said such tours fill a gap.

Frequent travelers to Singapore might have already experienced places such as Orchard Road and Marina Bay Sands, and are now on the hunt for a deeper and more authentic look at the heartland to uncover the stories and places that make Singapore tick.

"They are eager to experience what is quintessentially Singaporean," said Loe, adding that it comes at a time when Singaporeans themselves have been showing greater interest in the country's heritage, over the past four years or so.

He said: "At the heart of it, people are fascinated by a good story. It is about having the confidence to show foreign guests what Singapore is really about - deep stories with a lot of soul."

A+B Edu Tours and Travel runs a Unity In Diversity tour that takes participants along Waterloo Street to the varied religious institutions located next to each other.

There is also Tour East, which runs a feng shui tour, called A Walk With Our Ancestors, in which visitors learn how geomancy and innovation come together in the design and construction of Singapore's landmarks.

Jimmy Mah, the owner of Jie Bakery and Confectionery, said he enjoys opening up his bakery to visitors as he has many stories to tell. These include his backstory of how he got into the trade.

Locals also join these tours.

Mah, 54, picked up baking skills by observing the Hainanese bakers he supervised at a now defunct bakery in Tai Seng while in his 20s. He said: "They never taught me and instead chased me away. They sent me out to buy coffee, laksa and wonton mee during the baking process. But over time, they shared with me some basics and I observed the process from the side."

But tourism is not how he makes his bread. Today, he makes additive-free confectionery, including traditional white bread, sweet buns, milk bread, french loaves and buns with fillings.

He said there are about three bakeries comparable in size to his operation. Mah bakes about 1,000 loaves each day, employs eight workers and supplies about 35 companies.

On what he enjoys about the tours to his bakery, he said: "I get the chance to tell foreigners about our traditional breakfast style. We make soft bread, unlike the harder breads in Europe, for instance.

"It is a joy to share my craft and what Singaporeans are also passionate about with our foreign visitors."

Tourists usually walk away smiling, with a bag or two of his popular milk bread and other assorted buns.

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