COME December, Singapore Ducktours will cease operating its HiPPO River Cruises along the Singapore River, having failed to secure the tender to run water taxi services on behalf of the country's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
Ducktours took issue with URA’s emphasis on bid price instead of the bidder’s track record during the tender process, and argued that the authority’s new requirements – including the S$3 (US$2.40) and S$4 price caps on standard and express fares, respectively – simply did not make business sense.
“According to our projections, by providing the full water taxi services as per URA’s tender specification, operators would incur a loss of up to S$1.6million per year,” said Ducktour’s deputy director, Pamela Wee.
“Our research indicated that with a S$3 standard water taxi service available at all times, the tourist market would be cannibalised. Tourists would opt for the more affordable S$3 water taxi DIY tour, and tour consultancies would have a harder time convincing visitors to go on tour packages – which can cost up to six times more. Based on our projections, this market segment could crash by more than 50 per cent," she explained.
On top of using an online blog to air its grievances, Ducktours published an open letter – signed by Ducktours’ CEO James Heng and addressed to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – appealing for a review.
“Although URA authorities replied that the tender (was) in order, we owe it to everyone at Ducktours and HiPPO for a chance to have the tender re-examined, thus the letter to the Prime Minister. We do not know who else we can go to, as the URA has not shared why we were not re-awarded (the tender),” said Wee.
If the appeal fails, Singapore Ducktours, as outlined by Wee, will seek to work with its competitor, Singapore River Cruises – one of two bidders that secured the tender – to offer water taxi services on the river. Global Yellow Pages & Leisure Empire – a greenhorn to the travel trade, was the second company to be awarded the tender.
In a statement to the media, a URA spokesman said that the tender was awarded “after careful evaluation which included study of the design of the routes and cost competitiveness”.