SINGAPORE: Forget integrated resorts and theme parks - want a more unique and insider look at Singapore? Try your hand at the traditional Chinese exercise of qigong or learn how to cook a Hainanese vegetable dish called chap chye, all within the tiny but bustling central neighbourhood of Geylang Bahru.
Local non-profit charity TOUCH Community Services and home-booking giant Airbnb on Thursday (Mar 22) launched the latter’s first series of Social Impact Experiences in Singapore.
“Experiences” is Airbnb’s tours and activities business and sees hosts curate an insider’s view of their city with tourists and fellow locals both. The Social Impact arm brings non-profit organisations onboard to offer the same, while receiving 100 per cent of proceeds.
Singapore makes its debut in this category with senior citizens and long-time Geylang Bahru residents James Tan, 77, Catherine Loh, 70, and Maria Yee, 61, separately sharing their passions and hobbies at a price of S$50 per guest.
“Experiences give guests unprecedented access into communities, often where travellers don’t normally go,” said Sriram Vaidhya, Airbnb’s Head of Trips for Southeast Asia and India.
“With TOUCH Community Services, it’s a great way to showcase the incredible wealth and knowledge collected by the seniors. They’re the real stars here.”
Ms Yong Yin Hoong, assistant manager at Geylang Bahru’s TOUCH Seniors Activity Centre, said there were other interested elderly but the selected trio stood out because they spoke English, presented themselves well, and were most comfortable sharing.
All three are beneficiaries of TOUCH who also volunteer with the organisation. They spent up to half a year being prepared by Airbnb staff and running a few trials. Their Experiences - qigong with Mr Tan, chap chye with Mdm Loh and gardening with Ms Yee - will kick off in late April on a once-a-month basis, entertaining about four guests for up to two hours each time.
“Most importantly, they must enjoy what they’re doing,” said Ms Yong. “We don’t want to give them a list of things to do. When they’re happy, they will want to do more, meet more people, make more friends and maybe show other elderly they can do it too.”
When Airbnb launched its first Experiences in Singapore last year, there were media reports suggesting both guides and users could be in breach of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) Act.
By law, only licensed tourist guides can provide paid guiding services to tourists. These services include “providing any direction, information, description or explanation … in or to a place or point of interest in Singapore”.
However under Social Impact Experiences, guides or hosts do not receive payment. Ms Yong confirmed that all fees paid by guests will instead go directly into supporting the work of TOUCH and paying for the operational costs of the Experiences - such as cooking ingredients for Mdm Loh.
Said Mr Vaidhya: “We provide assistance in helping hosts list their Experience. It’s up to the Experience host to decide what price they want to set at - though we provide guidance about what price points work well and how to optimise that to attract the most number of guests.
“We have a responsibility to give back and be extremely aware of causes important to a particular community. And senior care is important to Singapore society,” he added.
He also said Airbnb’s Experiences and Homes divisions are run separately in Singapore. The latter has occupied the spotlight of late, with two men prosecuted for unauthorised short-term letting of apartments.
Singapore has a minimum rental period of three months for private housing and six months for public. The Government has said it would consult the public in March or April on how best to regulate this market.