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12/12/2021
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[Isshōkenmei] The Orange of the 21st century (19)

By Lee San

December 31, 1999, the last day of the 20th century, the moment the world worried most about the Y2K bug’s attack.

The experts had predicted that there could be problem when the computer’s calendar date transited from 1999 to 2000, and might even trigger a catastrophic paralysis of the world’s computer systems, messing up navigation systems of aeroplanes, trains etc…

Bear in mind that there wasn’t anything like the AI we know today, and IT engineers then basically had no idea how enormous the ensuing “disasters” and damages could be. Sure enough with the media cooking up the issue, it was anticipated how terrified people would get. Perhaps you felt the same now that I bring back this part of the millennium history, right?

What we travel industry operators worried most at that time was whether there would be a computer system mess-up during check-in at the airport, causing our booked seats to vanish in the system such that we could not board our flight, or our return flight would be wiped out by the bug. Everyone was waiting cautiously for the arrival of the first day of 2020. Were you one of them?

I was at Hokkaido Jingu Gaien at that time, silently offering my prayers for the birth of a brand new century. As the clock struck twelve in midnight, the temple’s bell was rung 108 times, with the world joyously celebrating the arrival of the 21st century. While the wait was indeed tormenting, we were fortunate to have bidden the 20th century without any untoward incident.

I was born in the middle of the 20th century, and set up my own business before the end of it. That journey was a tortuous one although at times I was visited by Lady Luck. As we stepped into the new millennium, I learned to take things easy and continue to work hard. I was thankful for the many tests and trials that came to me during the early days of my career as well as the concerted effort from the dedicated team that had prompted us to fight with heightened spirits to eventually start a brand new modus operandi and accomplish our goals.

A precious friend of over two decades, Dr Lim (L3) was one of the farewell gifts bestowed upon me to usher in the new millennium.

At the beginning of the new millennium, I was lucky to have met a new friend just one year my senior, a very knowledgeable and business-savvy Dr Lim. He was the one who painted my “Apple” logo, if you remember. Through his own businesses, Dr Lim made his first million at a very young age of 30. The point is, this guy is full of business ideas, and has been doing exceptionally well in almost every business he is involved in. Today, his business empire spans across a very broad spectrum of industries, from telecommunications to medical tourism, real estate development and confinement service, among others, providing a complete range of one-stop services.

Of course, he was also interested in my outbound tour business, believing it was a profitable venture. Most importantly, he felt that people should reward themselves and families for their hard work with a really nice and fulfilling holiday.

On September 16, 2000, Dr Lim and I worked together to start an “A” license travel agency called Orange Holiday. Steve was the general manager. The company was located on the second floor of the newly inaugurated Low Yat Plaza. As the name suggests, we first had the apple, and now another orange, and probably some other fruits in the future? Targeting English-speaking Malaysians initially, Orange Holiday specialized in Europe, US, New Zealand and Australia tour packages. We even set up an incentive department headed by Jessica to venture into the MICE market. December 2001, Dr Lim and I took a group to the Mulu Caves, and another one to Bangkok for new year countdown.

Dr Lim was right: the incentive sector was an untapped market with huge potentials. Orange Holiday offered excellent incentive ideas and the response we received was simply overwhelming. I even personally took a Nirvana group to Australia and an insurance company to Turkey.

You probably wonder why what was being done in Orange couldn’t be done in Apple. Opening a new travel agency would invariably incur additional expenses.

Orange Holiday carried Apple Holidays’ diverse and segmented business philosophy back in those years.

Indeed, but first and foremost, starting a different company providing different travel products for a very different category of customers went well with the diversified and niche business philosophy of Apple Holidays.

Secondly, if we were to do things the conventional way, we might squander lots of manpower resources in our travel business. As such, we needed the participation and guidance of very systematic professionals who could even become our investors.

Thirdly, I have always wanted to provide one-stop travel services with plans to set up oversea shops in future. As such, through such a “new concept business” as Orange, we could put our team’s operability to test.

As a matter of fact, after those few years. I felt that it wouldn’t be that difficult at all to start another company because we had already built quite a solid cache of knowhow by then.

The thing is, what the travel business fears most is an unforewarned natural or man-induced disaster that comes all of a sudden.

In 2003, we had the shock visit of SARS…

More in the Isshōkenmei series

(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.)

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Lee San
Apple Vacations
Isshōkenmei

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