Have Passion, Will Travel

by Anton D. Javier
Art Direction by Dennis V.C. Chong
Photography by Chino Sardea
12 Nov 2018

The landscape of travel is changing says Mr. Nicholas Lim, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation Asia, and ensures us that, through their efforts, we won’t miss a thing

There is a story that Mr. Nicholas Lim, Managing Director, The Travel Corporation Asia (TTC), never tires of telling, which gives people an idea of how his love affair with travel started. It was when he was about 3 or 4 years old when he realized that that travel bug hit him, due to regular trips to Malaysia to visit his father who was based there for work.

“My mum would take me to visit him often, so we’d go to Paya Lebar airport and catch a flight to Kuala Lumpur. At that age, everyone treats you well — from the airport staff to the flight attendants — and you get to regularly ride on an airplane. It’s definitely an experience you never forget as a child,” recalls Mr. Lim. “And when I was 12, an opportunity came at this 5-star hotel along Orchard Road where kids would open their hotel doors during Christmas. There I was, donning my Santa hat, opening doors and greeting people. It’s a memory that I look back at fondly and you could say that it was my first introduction to the tourism trade.”

Today, Mr. Lim is responsible for a vibrant portfolio of travel and leisure companies under TTC, which include household names like Trafalgar, Contiki Tours, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, among others. The role sees him traveling more than two weeks at a time, but he admits that while tiring, there’s nothing quite like it.

“I was in India recently,” he tells me, “and I’ve been on the road for the past three weeks. It was pretty non-stop.” Despite his hectic schedule, Mr. Lim remains fresh-faced, with nary a sign of fatigue, talking passionately about what’s next for the company, with perhaps the same enthusiasm he had 18 years ago when he first joined TTC.

You can immediately tell that Mr. Lim is the type of person who won’t say no to an adventure. “Since I was a little boy, I’m always the first one to stick my hand out and ask, ‘What’s next?’ To this day, I still do that. When my bosses said, ‘Nick, we need someone to go open up an office in India,’ I stuck my hand out and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I honestly had no idea about the market, but it’s that sense of seeing and experiencing something new that excited me.”


How to Travel Right

At TTC, Mr. Lim reveals that what he ultimately wants to achieve is re-engineering how travel is communicated; to allow the public to understand what a good travel experience is all about. “At travel fairs and expos, I look around and it drives me up the wall to see travel agents selling a travel package for $800, for example, while the one next to them will be selling the same one for $700. It’s like a race to the bottom. In reality, there is never a 1-star price for a 5-star experience. So it just doesn’t connect for me and travel is not supposed to be like that. If you studied travel or are in the industry, you know that people put in a lot of hard work behind what they do. With this kind of approach, it really compromises the quality of the travel experience,” he laments.

“Traveling the right way is the way to go,” he exclaims. “Instead of talking about price, let’s talk about what you want to get out of your travel experience. This is something we need to educate consumers on.” He continues, “If you look at it in a different way and take for example the best selling car brands in Singapore, you’ll have an idea of the changing mindsets of consumers. Instead of opting for utilitarian models that simply get you from point A to point B, more people are buying luxury cars like Mercedes-Benz or BMW because of the aspirations, the quality service, and the experience that comes along with it. That’s where I think the Singaporean behavior has evolved. This is something we’ve seen in the take up for our premium products like Luxury Gold and Uniworld.”

According to Mr. Lim, he is seeing a promising shift in how Singaporeans are traveling — from simply wanting to see a destination’s main attraction to asking questions like what’s new, where should I go, and what kind of experience do I get? Savvier travelers are now interested in experiences like visiting a local’s home in Europe, sharing a meal with them, and understanding what their daily life is like. And beyond popular destinations like Paris or London, more clients are venturing out to places like South America, Canada, and even Middle America in the USA in places like Nashville and New Orleans.


The Allure of Luxury Travel

Luxury travel and trips that offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences are more popular now than ever before, and it all comes down to aspirations. “Travel is so personal. It’s easy to associate luxury travel with Michelin-starred restaurants and fancy hotels, but what is also important is the quality of one’s overall experience,” shares Mr. Lim.

To ensure quality experiences, TTC has a dedicated range of products that promise to deliver on one-of-a-kind itineraries that ensure an adventure unlike any other. There is Luxury Gold, which is all about indulgence and refinement, allowing clients to enjoy a collection of journeys that go beyond expectations. Here, one can expect memorable stays at luxury hotels with impeccable service, as well as exceptional dining in style and comfort. On a Luxury Gold trip, one can also experience meeting extraordinary people, resulting in what can be interpreted as a serendipitous networking session, all while visiting iconic sites when not open to the public.

Luxury Gold also offers several itineraries under The Chairman’s Collection, which were handpicked by the company’s chairman, Mr. Stanley Tollman himself. “This is something that our chairman has personally overseen and you could say that these are reflections of his own personal holidays. Expect the unexpected here like staying at a maharajah’s palace in India, a stay at a castle in Ireland, or even sharing a meal with royalty from Austria,” shares Mr. Lim. He adds, “Of course if a client wants something more bespoke, something that’s more tailored to their preference, we are more than happy to arrange that.”    

Meanwhile, Uniworld is a luxurious all-inclusive river cruise line that features ships for exclusive excursions, with gourmet cuisine, boutique hotel-style accommodations, and one of the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the river cruise industry. It traverses some of the world’s mightiest rivers, with itineraries in Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Egypt. It also features a host of themed cruises, taking guests to destinations like European Holiday Markets, which rises in popularity during Christmas and New Year, the Connoisseur Collection, which centers on various locations in France that highlight culinary traditions, as well as the family-friendly Generations Collection, with itineraries planned around school holidays.


It’s All About Expertise

When I asked about brand loyalty — and if it’s something that he thought still existed — Mr. Lim says, “Of course it does. To keep guests coming back, we really have to take care of them. It starts with our Chairman and CEO. If that passion to care for every client starts right from the top, it eventually cascades down and is woven into the company’s culture. We are happy to say that our customer repeat rate is very high at 42.5%, and this is year after year. What’s more, everything is put together seamlessly. The service and itineraries offered must be right at all times. There must be a sense of ownership from our staff when it comes to caring for our guests, and that is how they will feel that what they are experiencing took a lot of work to put together.”

Mr. Lim notes that in Singapore, the demand for excursions to Europe is still high and with good reason. “We know Europe. The group grew up in Europe and we have our assets and offices there. The governments know us and like working with us because we give back through what we do — tourism, awareness, business, job creation, and more.”

Beyond Europe, Mr. Lim is confident that 2019 will be an exciting one not just for the company, but for travelers as well. “South America is gearing up to be a popular choice, with an increased number of bookings to countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. Other destinations that are making a comeback include South Africa, Egypt, and North America. And a little closer to home, you have India and Sri Lanka.”

“In the end,” Mr. Lim shares, “these experiences, these destinations are what more people are aspiring towards. Today, it more than just a quick 3-day, 2-night whirlwind trip. We are realizing that when we travel, we want to get beautiful stories out of it. When you learn about a new destination and unearth gems of experiences you’ve never thought possible, it ultimately becomes the most memorable and enriching part of the whole travel experience.”

Styling by Jerome Awasthi, assisted by Nadiah Rashid, Hair & Makeup by Jace Ang
Shot on location at Marquis Studio at Dempsey Hill