Seizing Opportunity When Crisis Hits

MICE specialist Burnaby Solutions developed a new stream of revenue when COVID-19 disrupted its core business.

Founded in 2010, Burnaby Solutions has grown to become a leading solutions provider for Singapore’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector. However, its business came to a standstill when COVID-19 hit last year, as international travel was curtailed amid border closures to contain the spread of the virus.

While government assistance schemes helped keep his business afloat, Burnaby Solutions’ founder John Chua also chanced upon an opportunity to provide a new service to Chinese travellers en route to the United States via the Air Travel Pass (ATP) scheme. This scheme enables foreigners who are short-term visitors departing from certain countries or regions to seek entry into Singapore.

Seizing that opportunity not only proved to be a lifeline for Burnaby Solutions, but it also has the potential for the company to continue in a new business post-pandemic. In an interview with BiZQ, Mr Chua shares how he pivoted his business for survival in a highly fluid and uncertain economic landscape.

As a professional travel and hospitality services provider for the MICE industry, how has Burnaby Solutions been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

When the crisis hit, the first thing we did was to scale down and look at what government schemes could help sustain us. We have benefited from the Jobs Support Scheme and rental rebates, among others. We also continued to ensure that our staff were paid on time and assured them that we would get through this crisis together.

However, after six months, we asked ourselves – ‘What are we going to do?’ It was clear that we would not be returning to the pre-COVID days for some time. We could no longer do what we used to do and had to think out of the box.

How did you manage to find new revenue streams during the pandemic?

We chanced upon an opportunity involving the Air Travel Pass, which is a green lane for travellers from some countries to enter Singapore. Parents from China who wished to travel to the United States to see their children who were either studying or working there could not do so directly. Instead, they had to travel from a country that had been endorsed by the US, such as Singapore.

Our partner in China wanted to offer such travellers a one-stop solution to come to Singapore via the ATP, serve their quarantine, before flying to the US. So, they engaged us to help with the accommodation needs for these travellers in Singapore, and to also act as a concierge for all their needs during their stay.

Our first customer arrived on December 10. It was like Santa Claus had delivered us a Christmas present! He stayed at a five-star hotel, and we took care of him throughout his trip. It is a bit like business travel, but these customers would require a bit more attention and guidance as Singapore is a foreign land to some of these travellers.

What was some of the value-add you provided with this service, as well as challenges you had to overcome?

There is a lot of coordination required because travellers need to take a COVID test upon arrival and the results need to be sent to the hotel before they can be released from quarantine after 15 days.

We created a chat blog to communicate with our customers, so that we could reply to them if they faced any problems. We were like a mobile concierge service that is here to support them, and we helped ensure that they stayed safe and healthy during their time here.

It was a steep learning curve because we had to learn to deal with many challenges that were new to us, including improving our communication skills in Chinese to better manage our Chinese clients. For example, some of the customers were elderly and only knew how to use WeChat, so we had to teach them how to install and use the Trace Together app.

When Changi Airport was closed to visitors earlier this year, we also had to figure out how to meet the customers upon arrival. We created a step-by-step guide so that they would know exactly what they needed to do to get out of the airport before being received by us. We also guided them on the required documentations since we are unable to assist them onsite during check-ins at the airline counters.

There were also some who fell sick and wanted to see a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor and we assisted them with this as part of our comprehensive suite of services.

How has this new business grown?

The business has grown quickly. Since that first arrival in December, we now have arrivals every day requiring one to a few rooms. This is a wonderful business opportunity for our hotel partners as well.

We understand there are other Chinese companies that are also offering the same service as us. But from what we hear, when their customers stay at the same hotel as ours and they make comparisons on the service, our one-stop solution sets us apart from the rest.

How do you see travel solutions for the MICE industry evolving post-COVID-19?

Even when Singapore eventually reopens it borders and physical exhibitions resume, it is likely that there will still be restrictions in place. People will still need to take COVID tests or register their accommodation and travel itinerary.

Having controlled itineraries for the delegates will be important. Whatever we have learnt in the past seven months will be very useful in coming up with such itineraries, and this will help our clients better estimate their budgets.

However, the situation is still very fluid, and we must stay abreast of the changes, including tapping technological tools to navigate this uncertainty. With changing guidelines and requirements as Singapore gradually reopens and vaccination rates improve, we as an organisation must always keep ourselves updated to ensure that we are ready to implement the required changes based on the evolving situation. However, at the end of the day, hospitality is still a people-centric service, and there is a need to provide a certain level of personalised service.

So far, our customers have continued to trust us because of our track record and reputation. We have not failed anyone so far, and we aim to continue to do so!