Travel Agent NewsUrban Rhythm Tours' Nigel Wong now conducts special "trade missions" to wine regions for travel aficionados and foodies.

What a grape idea to marry travel and wine

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During the pandemic, Nigel Wong uncovered new opportunities to pivot his travel agency and wine import businesses beyond the traditional scopes.
During the pandemic, Nigel Wong uncovered new opportunities to pivot his travel agency and wine import businesses beyond the traditional scopes.

Nigel Wong always had an affinity for travel and wine, including having his own travel agency and wine import businesses, but it wasn’t until the pandemic did he see opportunities in merging both passions to offer entirely new experiences through his Kuala Lumpur-based outfit, Urban Rhythm Tours, Adventure & Travels.

It wasn’t just travel agents which were forced into a rethink of their business model during the pandemic, says Wong. Other traditional industries like wine making also came under pressure to modernise their processes, which led the astute business leader to uncover opportunities in pivoting both his businesses beyond the traditional scopes.

We decided to introduce a series of very niche experiences that will take wine aficionados and foodies on trips to wine-growing countries to give them a view of wines from an industry perspective.

“We already seen a growing interest in travellers taking up more niche experiences, and it's during this time while importing wines that we've decided to link both businesses as a product. We decided to introduce a series of very niche experiences that will take wine aficionados and foodies on trips to wine-growing countries to give them a view of wines from an industry perspective.”

These experiences, which Wong dubs as “trade missions”, are not typical wine tours found on the market. Instead, the visits are educational with a commercial bent, marrying Wong’s insider contacts with his travel design expertise to offer a structured itinerary. They also aim to put delegates into the shoes of a wine buyer, so that people understand not just the passion or nice bits of the wine industry, but the entire process, “everything from the agriculture to the business process to the logistics and how the bottle of wine finally ends up on your doorstep”.

Wong already has his sights set on leading trade missions to wine growing destinations such as Australia, France, and the UK – the latter an up-and-rising wine production region in Europe – to connect buyers with brand owners, wine producers and exporters.

Urban Rhythm Tours, Adventure & Travels also conducts wine-focused "trade missions", which put visitors into the shoes of a wine buyer to under the procurement process.
Urban Rhythm Tours, Adventure & Travels also conducts wine-focused "trade missions", which put visitors into the shoes of a wine buyer to under the procurement process.

On the travel front, Wong has also co-founded Buddy.co, an experiential travel platform that offers a curated selection of niche experiences in Malaysia’s lesser-known destinations while accompanied by local hosts handpicked for their intimate knowledge and lively engagement with guests.

Together with his business partner Eric Yap, Wong had to quickly tweak and pivot Buddyz.co’s offerings to encompass virtual tours during the pandemic. These virtual offerings also became a good promotional tool for overseas travel agents and travellers alike to scout around for destinations to visit as borders reopen.

“We've built up a very good rapport with the product owners and the various government agencies interested in promoting Malaysia. We're very happy with being able to build this relationship during the lockdowns.”

Wong is visibly excited by the prospects of new opportunities that await in the travel industry as recovery momentum picks up pace. “We look forward to the millennials who are now the ones driving spending not just in tourism, but in every other industry for the next five to 10 years. These trends will drive the demand for new products, new services, new destinations, new experiences.”

With technology set to play an outsized role in the travel industry, Wong is also lending a helping hand for travel agents in their digitalisation efforts through MATTA, where he sits as honorary general secretary.

“We’re launching MATTA online travel platform in Q2. And it's exactly going to be a platform designed for agents to give them that competitive edge. This one is specifically for you can swap packaging destinations and the trips are very different from what all these other platforms are offering.”

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