Watch out for this Apple
F you love to travel, chances are you may have heard of Apple Vacations & Conventions. If you have not used this travel agency, you may have had a friend who took up their services.
“I am confident that 90% of the people who travelled with Apple are happy,” says Apple Group of Companies managing director Datuk Seri Lee Ee Hoe, fondly known as Lee-San.
Apple Vacations is an outstanding travel agency that today covers the entire gamut of travel. It was founded by Apple Group deputy managing director Datuk Seri Koh Yock Heng and Lee-San.
The group has various arms that cover airlines, cargo, property investment, hotels, advertising and the most recent one being an extravagant light and sound show by an acclaimed Chinese filmmaker.
Having been in the travel agency for 25 years, Apple Vacations was founded by the effervescent Lee-San 17 years ago. Known particularly as a travel agency that specialised in Japan tours, tour members loved the quality and caring itineraries provided by Apple.
At Apple Vacations, there is no stressful and superficial tours; instead, they are far more meaningful and enjoyable, the essence of a holiday in fact.
“My tour guides are Japanese undergraduates who are familiar with Malaysian culture. That makes a huge difference in the quality of our tours,” says Lee-San.
Lee-San himself is an economics graduate from the Tokyo International University where he started his love affair with Japan when he studied there in the 90s.
Today, Apple Vacations is the biggest tourist supplier to Japan in South-East Asia. This year, Lee-San received the Fifth Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner’s Commendation award from the Japan Tourism Agency.
On receiving a silver SOBA award in the Best Brand category, Lee-San is elated. “It is recognition for all my staff who have given a lot to the company. There is no success without a good team.”
What is the secret to Lee-San’s success? It certainly can’t be the price factor because Apple Vacations is priced higher, yet people buy packages from them. In fact, he owns the better-heeled category of customers who are looking for comfort, quality and respect.
“If a customer buys a cheap package, can he really expect the best quality? When a customer buys from us, I assure them they are getting one of the best deals in town in terms of quality. I can confidently say that our quality is far better than many and my team works passionately to give customers a truly enjoyable holiday.”
Lee-San wants people to enjoy their holidays. He cites China‘s founding father Dr Sun Yat Sen and India’s Mahatma Gandhi as people he looks up to.
“They were selfless people who did things for the greater good of others. In essence, I am like that; I do things for others.”
He also adds that good tours enlighten customers to discover the true meaning of a holiday. It is his passion in doing his best that reverberates with many.
When the Japan earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011, over 4,200 customers cancelled their trips to Japan with Apple Vacations. Many thought Lee-San was a goner.
“At the time, we had collected approximately RM6,000 from each of them, amounting to RM25mil. Now if everyone had wanted a refund, there was no way we could afford to pay them back.
“But the opposite happened. Only 20% asked for a full refund while the rest changed to a different destination with us. Fifty per cent of them told me to just keep the money. They had full trust in me, and that was very touching.”
Lee-San believes in setting new standards for the industry. The company’s website is always fresh and updated, and his products remain innovative.
Three years ago, Apple Vacations decided to focus on the English-speaking market in the country. They began advertising in local English dailies and hired more English-speaking people. They have since been successful in tapping into this huge market.
“I have to say that though the Chinesespeaking market is easier to handle, the English-speaking market has more demands,” he laughs.
In particular, he feels that travel industry is lacking in education.
“A lack of professional service, product knowledge and passion is obvious. Business owners must realise that people are your assets. I need my tour managers to be passionate about what they do. My ‘Apple-nians’ must be happy to give good service and, in turn, make customers happy.”
No surprises then as Lee-San spends RM300,000-RM500,000 a year on training to keep his staff motivated and united.
Lee-San is also a firm believer in recognising and rewarding talent.
With over 200 staff members in his group, many of them who joined as tour guides have been promoted to tour managers and from supervisors to managers.
“The Apple Group has many arms and each arm is headed by an executive director who is essentially the head of that arm. I empower that way and give a sense of ownership.
“I do not believe in passing on my business to the next generation. I have told my children as well as my staff. It is the staff who knows the culture and is passionate about the company.
“Some of them have been with me for many years and I certainly appreciate that. For the company to be everlasting, I will happily give my company to my employees.”
“We are now working to become a publiclisted company on Bursa Malaysia,” he says.
The awards was organised by The Star with Export-Import Bank of Malaysia Bhd as presenter. It is supported by Bursa Malaysia and audited by BDO.
The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur was the official hotel partner, with Red Tomato the official Chinese newspaper and 988FM and RedFM the official radio stations.
Apple Vacations is an outstanding travel agency that covers the entire gamut of travel.