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​Taking a big step in the tourism industry

Published on: 09-Jan-2017

She had a well-paying job in a bank and was pursuing a PhD in information systems at Nanyang Business School.

But Ski Yeo chose to leave behind that financial and career stability in 2009 and move to Hong Kong, a city that had captured her imagination.

"I visited Hong Kong as a tourist and fell in love with the city's invigorating energy," Ms Yeo told The Business Times.

"There's a constant buzz in the city where people walk fast, talk fast and eat really fast. I'm also inspired by the fighting spirit that Hong Kong people exude . . . Local people from all walks of life fighting to have a better tomorrow, be it the quality of their life, economic growth or democracy."

The enterprising Singaporean, then 25, had neither family nor friends in Hong Kong, but arrived armed with a clear goal: to set up her own agency providing walking tours.

She spent her first two years here "buying up almost all the guide books" on Hong Kong that she could find, reading historical accounts voraciously and exploring the city on foot.

To make ends meet, she took on odd jobs, at times distributing flyers and helping out at charity events.

She then set up Big Foot Tour in 2011 with S$5,000 from her savings. Her company has since grown from a one-woman show providing three tours a week to a group of five guides today, with each leading up to two tours daily.

Customers can design and book tours online rather than in person at traditional tour agencies, and are free to change the course of their tours on the go.

A four-hour tour costs HK$2,200 (S$408) to HK$2,600 for groups of two to four people, and Ms Yeo said she takes pride in how Big Foot Tour has consistently enjoyed good ratings on TripAdvisor's lists of Hong Kong activities to take part in.

She is looking into further growing her team to 10 guides.

"From a business context, Hong Kong is no doubt the gateway to China," said Ms Yeo, adding that the city also has "a good infrastructure for setting up a business" which includes low taxes and the use of English as the predominant business administrative language.

She declined to reveal Big Foot's revenue and profit figures, citing how the industry is "very competitive", but said that her company remains profitable, with a business model that is sustainable and targets "digitally savvy, more affluent" customers.

"The industry is getting hot. When we first started, we were the pioneers of walking tours. Today, we note a substantial increase in tour companies that offer similar or even identical services," said Ms Yeo.

But to her it is "not a numbers game" or all about beating the competition - Ms Yeo said her focus is on the quality of Big Foot's guides and tours.

She said: "To walk and talk passionately about a place under the sun and in the rain takes a certain character."

Ms Yeo quit her banking job and PhD studies in Singapore to set up a tour agency in Hong Kong, guiding tourists and locals alike by foot.

Source: ​The Business Times, 9 J​anuary 2017​​​​

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