Jason Loe takes tour participants to Guan Hoe Soon restaurant to sample Lee's favourite Peranakan refreshmentsJason Loe takes tour participants to Guan Hoe Soon restaurant to sample Lee’s favourite Peranakan refreshments
Jason Loe takes tour participants to Guan Hoe Soon restaurant to sample Lee’s favourite Peranakan refreshments

With tourists increasingly wanting deeper insights into the places they visit, Jason Loe, co-founder of Tribe, a Singapore start-up that aims to rewrite tours, thinks the opportunity is clear. No player in this space provides valuable local content, he said.

With fresh eyes, a focus to bring out the true flavour of a place and go back to the basics of ‘why we travel’, and efforts to build relationships with locals with whom the tourists will mingle, Tribe has created tours that ditch the city’s glitzy malls, theme parks and staples such as Chinatown or Little India, embracing instead disappearing trades, public housing, unique drinks and, its latest, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

In 3.5 hours, ‘About Mr Lee’ aims to give visitors insights into the man behind the public persona – how he was as a friend, son, father and husband, his likes and dislikes, his values – as the tour winds through relevant local places such as his home location in Oxley Rise, his constituency Tanjong Pagar and steps of the former City Hall (now National Gallery Singapore), where Lee declared self-governance in Singapore in 1959.

Some may see such a tour – launched last month when the nation commemorated one year of Lee’s passing away – as opportunistic or a propaganda, but Loe scoffed at the notion. Asked why Tribe launched it, he said: “How can we not? His story is of great interest to many.”

“The story of him as a regular person was eclipsed by what was more interesting to the world – his geopolitical viewpoints, etc. But in his passing, now people want to know who he was as a man. Hence, stories of his extreme frugality, his love and devotion to Mrs Lee, his childhood and love for yummy food are surfacing now. To us, having done the research, this is a story that is so beautiful that it would be a crime not to share it,” added Loe.

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Compared with traditional outings, Tribe writes its tours than just organising the nuts-and-bolts, which is what separates a compelling narrative from mere information, an experience from sightseeing.

“To be a local but look at seemingly ubiquitous everyday activities from an alternative perspective is easier said than done,” said Loe. “Next is to design the experience with the traveller in mind. This phrase has been bandied about enough, but how many people actually care to really do so? As a traveller, what makes an episode, an experience memorable? An example is our Drinks of Singapore tour. This is a fun, none too serious tour about all the myriad of drinks in Singapore. But we make sure while people are having fun, that they go back with a deep learning journey about the water story that is so inextricably connected to Singapore.

“And lastly, everything about Tribe revolves around locals. They are undoubtedly the stars of the show and give a level of authenticity that travellers crave, not the attraction or the guide. It is all about guests feeling like a local for the day and mingling with locals, interacting, cooking, eating, and learning from real locals.”