By Lee San
24 years ago in 1998, the air was filled with children’s songs everyone was so familiar with. “Little sister carries a doll on her back… I have a little donkey.” These songs were so popular that their DVDs were selling like hot cakes at the local night markets. Back then parents had to force themselves to learn a few children’s songs in order to sell the DVDs. And the above two songs were just part of my “homework”, or the tiny tot at home would not go to sleep.
So, who was so powerful to take children’s songs to such a phenomenal level of popularity? Who else but the adorable “Four Princesses”? Coincidentally the four of them were all born in the year of tiger. To be honest, before smartphones and social media became a part of everyday life, going after child singers was a major consumer industry back in those days, including snatching up their DVDs, peripherals, attending meet-the-fans sessions and concerts… Being a child singer’s mother could be a very taxing job, as she would have to double up as the manageress and home tutor as well. From these people I came to learn that we had to be persistent in what interests us as well as our professional careers.
In the 1997 financial crisis, the biggest damage wrought was a complete halt of the economy which in turn gave rise to spiraling inflation and unemployment. Many had to go without a job and income but big mortgages to service, be they business owners or just meager wage earners. Some might ask: Will people still have spare cash to go on holiday? Indeed, but we still need to find some way to relax. Don’t we?
Of course, I did consider the fact that Apple Holidays started business at a very bad timing, but I still needed to take a quick turn in search of a win-win solution.
Opportunity is for those who are prepared. So I was exploring along such a belief, wondering whether it was possible to bring the Four Princesses and tourism together. Having some lovely child singers to travel along with you and keep you entertained must have been a rather novel win-win solution, right?
I happened to have this opportunity to meet Bong, manager for the Four Princesses. Initially I was a little wary whether Bong would mistake Apple Holidays as trying to exploit the ever popular young singers. But after meeting him, I found him a truly humble, diligent and very understanding guy. A deal was struck and we rolled out our “Traveling with Four Princesses” program.
Bong, quite a well known figure in the entertainment business, had maintained a very close relationship with the media. He introduced me to Khim Liang, the deputy chief editor at New Life Post, another very helpful media friend. I was thinking Lady Luck was always by my side. As for New Life Post, it was a down-to-earth weekly periodical. At the suggestion of Khim Liang, the project was packaged into one that offered an unforgettable travel experience with the Four Princesses while participating in a meaningful charitable course. We started from domestic trips before venturing out of the country. It looks like the Four Princesses could not wait to get going!
On a sunny Saturday morning, 400 of us aboard ten travel coaches departed from Kuala Lumpur for Melaka for an unusual 2D1N Historical City Tour with the Four Princesses. We became the focus of attention among the curious onlookers at the sightseeing spots we visited. The mini concert at Auyin Hill Resort was a memorable and truly enjoyable one. I believe Apple Holidays was the first agency in the country to have started such a unique travel plan for its customers, and before long, such a model was duplicated by others and became a trend.
We later organized another trip to Melaka with the four young singers from BM Boys. Additionally, we partnered with Radio 5 and thanks to the promotion by anchors Lin Yan and Zhang Guo Xiang, we put up another trip to Gua Tempurong with Danny One and other local artistes, not to mention another one to Mulu Caves in Sarawak. Almost 25 years now, but sweet memories from these trips remain deeply etched in my heart.
The Four Princesses initiative did bring lots of spinoff effects. We soon chartered a 68-seat passenger aircraft to fly to Pattaya in Thailand for an unprecedented 4D3N tour + concert combo. Upon arrival in Pattaya, our Thai GA partner arranged for the local traffic police to escort us. The concert was held at the hotel’s banquet hall and was touching everyone’s heart!
The two-year Asian financial crisis that began in 1997 had a major and far-fetching impact on everyone’s life. As a matter of fact, Apple Holidays, which was all set to embark on its ambitious plans at that time, was like treading on thin ice. However, we went against the odds and took the risk to charter a flight to Pattaya. The incredible thing was that we somehow managed to send 13,000 tourists to Pattaya for a fun-packed travel experience with good food and a totally satisfying Thai massage.
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)