Star Holiday Mart: Rising From Crises
Star Holiday Mart Pte Ltd
Throughout his entrepreneurship journey, Star Holiday Mart’s Founding Director Dennis Law has driven over rough terrains. Despite this, there’s no taking a detour for this former driver from Malaysia. From the very beginning, Dennis had his hands steady on the steering wheel to
It was from being a humble tour chauffeur that Dennis saw the opportunity to establish a full scale vacation tour agency, leading him to found what is now one of Singapore’s longest-running tour operators, Star Holiday Mart Pte Ltd. The one-stop holiday booking company offers
airfare, hotel, and transfers plus tour packages. To survive in the highly competitive market amidst the Asian Financial crisis of 1997 and the dreaded SARS of 2003, Star Holiday Mart must indeed be made of something solid and strong.
That strength is derived from Dennis’ collaboration with co-director, Dominic Ong.
Affable and with a sanguine disposition to share, Dominic warmly greets us in his all-access open office. He quickly shed light on his passion for the business: “We are not only a tour operator. We are in the business of making dreams come true.” That statement cannot be truer.
Dominic goes on to share how he and Dennis started out as dreamers, and how their dreams helped them rise from crises together. Here is their story.
Rising Above The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis
When the 1997 Asian financial crisis casts a gloomy cloud over the economy, Dennis and Dominic met a denouement they least expected: The tour company they were working with was closing down and with it, their flourishing careers screeched down to a complete halt. Vacation
was over, just like that. It was particularly a difficult situation for both Dennis and Dominic. Faced with the crisis, he had to make a choice: To go without employment, or to stay on with the business. “I took up the challenge to carry on with the company, “he said.
That was a courageous, if not an insane move. After all, the company had a whopping S$500,000 in debt, and a heaping pile of undelivered promises to customers and suppliers. It was not going to be easy. “When I made a room reservation with the hotel, the hotel would say I had to pre-pay. They did not anymore allow me to add on to the company’s debt,” Dominic said. Undeterred, Dominic rolled up his sleeves and got to work. One by one, he made sure that promises to suppliers were met and debts were paid off. With only a staff of 3 to help him turn the tables around, he made sure everyone shared with the vision of a rising star ahead. But this was not to happen easily.
At The Mercy Of SARS: Crisis Strikes Again
Business was gaining momentum between 1998 and 2002. With all debts settled and old promises fulfilled, Star Holiday Mart was finally off to a positive start. Not for long. In 2003, the business faced another crisis. This time, the tourism industry was a direct hit. Many tour operators went beyond recovery. It was a miracle Star Holiday Mart survived. The SARS crisis hit Singapore in 2003. “Tourists were almost zero. From 50-80 clients a day, we only had 3-5. “With a staff of 20, Dominic was determined to not let anybody go. “SARS can come and go, but
we are here to stay for the business,” he would tell his staff.
Reaping Successes Amidst Crises
Today, Star Holiday Mart has risen with reckoning force from the back-to-back crises that buffeted its young existence in years past. As one of the most preferred inbound tour operators in Singapore, the company has now doubled its workforce strength to 40, and envisions adding 10 more full-time staff in the next five years. When asked what the formula behind this steady success is, Dominic pointed out three things: humility, passion, and taking care of the staff. Dominic emphasizes the importance of passion as the driving force behind the business. He cannot recall a time when he had to make sacrifices. All he did was out of passion, and all the work that went with it did not feel like a sacrifice. On this note, one can say that Dominic is the type of business leader whose worst day in the business will still be better than his best day at work as an employee. Loyalty and dedication among the staff is also a huge factor. Most of Star Holiday Mart’s staff members have been with the business for an average of 5 years. In the office, they treat each other like family. The open office environment invites anyone to walk in and have a talk with anybody including the founding directors. There is no gap between the rank and file and top management— open and honest communication gets the job done with the highest satisfaction. Beyond what is happening within the business, it is the experience of the customers that ultimately makes them choose Star Holiday Mart above other travel providers.
Dennis Law and Dominic Ong put their customers’ delight above anything else. “A holiday is not necessity. To succeed in this business, you must derive great job satisfaction when you fulfil a client’s dream,” Dominic shares.
Driven by this philosophy, the one thing Star Holiday Mart will not stop doing is to constantly innovate and take good care of their customers. Prompt and accurate booking confirmation is one, and being more intuitive of the customers’ preference is another. As they grow in the business together, Dennis and Dominic collect ideas from their daily interactions with customers. Every day brings a new surprise. Star Holiday Mart has survived crises in the past, and they see nothing they can’t overcome in the future.
Lessons Learned: Succeeding In The “Dream Business”
To the aspiring entrepreneurs who may want to carve a name in the “dream business,” here are Dennis Laws and Dominic Ong’s words of wisdom:
On the sustainability of tourism business:
“Tourism in Singapore will always be there because we are dealing with human beings. So long as there are human beings, we will be there. Singapore is an attractive destination because of its stable politics, because it is a financial hub, and because there are lots to do for everyone in the family here.”
On keeping an eye over an evolving market:
“The market is ever changing. Do not look at what you have; instead look outside at what is happening. Know what to play on.”
On keeping a strong staff:
“Make the office a happy place. It is a place where you spend more time in a week than being in your house. So be friends and enjoy. That’s how they stay on. We are not high paying people salary-wise but they choose to stay because of environment.”
On overcoming fear:
“We are in the service industry, so service is my product. My greatest fear is if I could not deliver my product to my trusted client. You cannot say one way of doing things fits everybody. You must understand your client individually.”
On success in and out of business:
“Stay humble, respect your partner whether client or supplier, continue innovating, keep changing.”
“THE CUSTOMER IS OUR BOSS”
Star Holiday Mart Pte Ltd
Blk 203, Henderson Industrial Park
#02-04, Singapore 159546
Tel: (65) 6735 9009
Fax: (65) 6737 9909