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Country Holidays:
Taking a globetrotting business global

Country Holidays: Taking a globetrotting business global

From tracing maps as a hobby to having offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, founder of Country Holidays shares his success story of the travel agency

If you’re looking for adventures in far-flung corners of the world, luxury outbound travel company Country Holidays might just be the place to go to.

For US$2,500 (S$3,400) a night, Country Holidays can put you up in an exclusive luxury lodge in the African wilderness with a private pool, fine dining under the starry night sky, and a top-rated naturalist guide.

This is just one of the exotic tours Country Holidays offers its globetrotting customers, with trips spanning the remotest corners of the world.

From the Antarctic and Arctic to Africa and Latin America, as well as the Himalayas and Middle East, Country Holidays tours focus on themes and special interests such as wildlife safari, hiking, gourmet, photography, and the arts.

Founded by managing director Chang Theng Hwee and his wife in 1994 after he left his banking job, the now 60-strong company based in Singapore currently has four other international offices.

The Global Company Partnership (GCP) helps companies become globally competitive by providing assistance in building internal capabilities, manpower development, gaining market access and gaining access to financing.

Country Holidays was founded by Chang Theng Hwee and his wife in 1994

Country Holidays sends about 6,000 people on trips all over the world each year, and has a yearly turnover of US$40 million.

The company attributes its success to its ability to think ahead. While other travel companies were running “conveyor belt mass tourism” trips in the 1990s, Country Holidays had already started tours to the jungles of Malaysia and the Himalayas in Nepal.

In 1996, it was the first to launch a daring trip to Antarctica costing more than $10,000 a person, which back then was a big sum that Mr Chang likens to “going to the moon”.

One glimpse of Country Holiday’s headquarters in Singapore makes Mr Chang’s passion for unusual and remote destinations clear. Over the years, the company has expanded its offerings to include hiking in the Inca Trail, tours in Mali (Timbuktu) and Ethiopia, as well as railway journeys on the luxurious Orient Express and voyages to the Galapagos Islands.

Along the way, Mr Chang realised the company’s growth would be limited unless they entered new markets to extend its reach to a wider clientele.

Country Holidays opened its first overseas office in Shanghai in 2003, and Hong Kong and Beijing followed in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

Travel guides to far flung locations around the globe fill up the bookshelves at Country Holidays's office

When asked of the company’s expansion journey, Mr Chang says that it has not been without challenges. One of its biggest hurdles was navigating the complex regulatory requirements of foreign markets.

“Many requirements are also ambiguous and subject to interpretation,” he says.

Another challenge he met was overcoming the cultural differences, interests and tastes of local consumers overseas. Mr Chang cites the example of a Chinese traveller, who might prefer a much busier itinerary than the average Singaporean.

“In China, you need to go through many departments such as the industry and commercial department, foreign exchange department, regional city department, and more, just to get various permits and licences."

Despite these challenges, Mr Chang has his eye firmly on Dubai – gateway to the Middle East – as the next stop in its expansion plans.

IE Singapore’s Dubai Overseas Centre provided the company with valuable market intelligence on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) tourism business environment and introduced in-market business contacts.

The company also received financial support for the set-up of its Dubai office under IE’s Global Company Partnership grant. The grant defrays up to 70 per cent of a company’s development costs of setting up an overseas marketing presence.

IE Singapore also deployed personnel on the ground to help spearhead the company’s entry into the market.

Mr Chang reveals that the company intends to continue its expansion plans to new markets, with Indonesia as a distinct possibility.

“With our innovative itinerary planning, quality assurance, reputation and reliability, we believe we will continue to have an excellent value proposition for our clients,” he says.

Article adapted from The Straits Times.

The Global Company Partnership (GCP) programme provides relevant assistance to internationalising Singapore-based companies in the areas of building internal capabilities, manpower development, market access, and gaining access to financing.

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