Saturday 29 October 2011

Your TV Star is not really the tour Guide

Premium fee was for tour specials, not the celebrity, explains travel agency

TUESDAY'S report ('Stars spend too little time with us, say some tourists') missed the relevance of celebrity-led tours as well as the reasons for the $300 premium each person had to pay and the $50 travel voucher offered to tour member Cheo Meng Soon.

Celebrities are not licensed to lead or guide a tour. The role of the celebrity, in this case MediaCorp host Guo Liang, was limited to mingling with the tour members as required by the reality travel programme, My Star Guide 6 on Channel 8, that was filmed concurrently on the same tour, as advertised.

The point was reiterated during inquiry, booking, pre-departure briefing and the tour.

Contrary to Mr Cheo's view that the tour's logistics was not planned properly, every coach had a professional tour leader from Singapore and a qualified local tour guide.

Tour members in each coach, including Mr Cheo and his companion, were allocated a fair share of time to be spent with the celebrity.

The $300 premium was not a consideration for the celebrity but the fee for premier inclusions, namely eight highlight meals and eight additional attractions in north-east China as well as two nights' accommodation at a five-star hotel in Hong Kong, all of which were not part of a regular itinerary.

The $50 travel voucher Mr Cheo received subsequently was our gesture of goodwill for his feedback and was neither to compensate him nor an admission of liability.

The tour itinerary was publicised accurately and we addressed Mr Cheo's concerns fairly and promptly.

We take pride in our record of satisfying and delighting our clients for the past 46 years.

The many positive views from clients and the fact that most of our customers are repeat clients are perhaps the best testimony of our record.

Mary Kheng (Ms)
Director, Business Development
Chan Brothers Travel
ST Forum, 29 Oct 2011

Stars spend too little time with us, say some tourists
By Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2011

A retiree signed up for a tour because well-known television host Guo Liang was coming along. But during the recent 10-day trip to Harbin in China, the celebrity spent less than an hour with his group, said Mr Cheo Meng Soon.

The tour, which drew 402 participants, was broken up into 13 groups so Guo could share his time with everyone.

Mr Cheo, 56, said: 'Guo Liang was obliging but the travel agency did not plan the logistics properly. I was sold a celebrity-led tour, but the celebrity did not lead my group at all.'

He complained to tour organiser Chan Brothers Travel and asked for compensation of $600 - the money he would have saved had he signed up for a similar tour not headlined by a celebrity.

He and his wife paid almost $4,000 in total because he had enjoyed himself on a celebrity-led tour with actor Terence Cao two years ago. That group had about 90 members and the star had ample time to interact with everyone.

Mr Cheo was offered only a $50 travel voucher for each person, so he filed a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). The matter is still pending.

This year, five such complaints - of not getting enough time with the star - have been filed with Case and they are pending resolution.

There have been no such official complaints until recently, since travel agencies began offering celebrity-led tours - which can draw more than 400 people - about a decade ago.

These leverage on star power to boost sales, and those headlining them include radio deejays, TV artists, well-known local chefs and even popular fengshui masters. They are paid a four- to five-figure sum, depending on their popularity and the tour duration.

The role of a celebrity typically is to mingle with the tour group members and pose for photographs. Some may also share information about the sights visited, but they do not replace tour guides. If the tour has a tie-up with a radio or TV station, the radio deejay may record a live broadcast or the TV artist may film footage for a travelogue show during the trip.

Travel agencies told The Straits Times that fans who want to rub shoulders with their favourite stars have been driving up demand for such packages.

The cost can be up to 20 per cent more than a usual travel deal. A standard tour has on average 40 customers, but celebrity-led ones usually attract at least 100. Groups of up to 300 people are common.

To avoid disappointing customers, tour agencies say they sign on as many customers as possible, unless the places visited cannot accommodate the number.

Agencies often divide the tour group into smaller ones to fit them into coaches. The celebrity usually rotates among the groups for coach rides and meals.

Agencies say they inform customers before they sign up that they may not be able to spend the entire trip in the company of the star.

Mr Cheo knew from experience that the celebrity would not be able to spend the entire trip with his group, but he was expecting at least a day or two.

Chan Brothers marketing and communications manager Jane Chang said Guo's role was to mingle with tour members. The agency tells customers at the point of sale and a pre-departure briefing what the celebrity's role is. She added that care was taken to ensure tour members were 'allocated a fair share of time' with Guo.

Guo, 43, who has previously led such tours, told The Straits Times that due to filming constraints, his schedule was packed and he could not spend as much time as he wanted with the participants.

He said: 'But when guests ask to take a photo with me, I always oblige and I tried my best to interact with them whenever I could.'

TV host and comedian Mark Lee, 42, said: 'The biggest group I've led is about 160 people but regardless of the size, I make it a point to interact with everyone because I assume that they joined the tour because of me.'

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said consumers should clarify with the travel agency the duties of the celebrity before signing up for a tour. He also urged travel agencies to be upfront in sharing such information with consumers.

For some fans of celebrity-led tours, however, a large tour group is not a turn-off. Housewife Diana Lim, 59, who has been on 10 celebrity-led tours with CTC Travel, said: 'The more people in the group, the merrier it is. Having a celebrity around makes it entertaining, but I care more about enjoying the sights.'

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