For many people, the snazzy world of suits and ties in the finance industry is poles apart from wearing shorts and bringing groups of people out in the heat of Singapore. However, for self-made tour guide Leo Loo, 60, who moved from a high paying position as a finance manager to being one of the most sought after tour guides running Tour About Singapore, this isn’t such a radical idea.
In 1975, after doing badly in his O’Level exams, Leo was confused as to what he could do and went into one of the only schools that would take him which was Ngee Ann Technical College (now known as Ngee Ann Polytechnic). He took up a diploma in business studies with a specialisation in banking, Insurance and Accounting, and this was what started his career.
“I initially wanted to do banking but the entry requirements had changed and they wanted people to have a degree which I didn’t have.” Leo said. Undeterred, Leo decided to continue exploring his options. This led him to an insurance company where he was tasked with managing accounts.
“I couldn’t survive. The pay was bad and the job itself wasn’t very safe,” He said with a laugh as he added that he once had a colleague threaten to beat him up because of how competitive it was in getting clients.
After quitting his job in insurance, Leo managed to find a job in a trading company and joined them as an accountant. He immediately fell in love with the job scope and the attractive salary and found that he had quite the knack for the job.
“I worked in accounting for about 10 years. I ended up climbing the ladder till one day, they needed me to go to Batam to run their business operations. I was there selling corrugated boxes for seven more years as the general manager.” He said.
It was then that Leo, who felt that he had a good run in the accountancy industry, decided that it was time for him to retire from the trade and try his hand at something else.
After several years passed, Leo realised that he wanted something that keeps him active and so he decided to go back into the workforce. Unfortunately, this was an uphill battle.
“When you are above fifty, it’s really hard to be rehired. You’re really lucky if you manage to get a similar job at the same salary. I didn’t want to end up collecting cardboard or as a security guard.” He said.
Fortunately, the plucky accountant who was used to overcoming challenges as an avid sailor and divemaster during his youth took this in stride. He eventually considered the tourism sector, as it was something that was more dynamic and exciting.
“I decided to try becoming a tourist guide and to do that, I first became a tourist in my own country.” Leo said.
In order to become as qualified as he possibly could, Leo went for courses and joined free tours offered around the city. After becoming more adept, he volunteered with NParks to provide free tours to people around heritage sites in Singapore. Finally, after attaining the relevant certificates, Leo began doing general tours.
“I enjoyed it but I think I really found my calling with private tours. I enjoyed smaller groups and more specialised material.” Leo said.
Six years later and indeed it did seem like Leo had found his calling because his storytelling skills quickly earned him a name in the city. In fact, Leo’s tours were at one time rated the #4 thing to do in Singapore by Tripadvisor.
“I like making people go ‘wow’. I really enjoy doing tours especially for Singaporeans because I get to tell them things they never knew and that really surprises a lot of people. Singaporeans just don’t believe they have anything new left to learn about their country but they do.” said the cheerful guide who’s only publicity is that of word of mouth.
Recently, Leo decided to branch out into custom tours and this was how the idea of Tour About Singapore came about in providing custom tours to meet the different needs of tourists and visitors - from those seeking adventure to avid history buffs and cuisine hunters.
“Every tour is different and there is a wide spectrum of opportunities for people to do what they want. We want every experience to be unique and a challenge.” Leo said.
Currently Leo is continuing to pursue his love for conducting tours and managing the private tour requests coming from Tour About Singapore. That said, he still remains humble and knows that there is still much to learn.
“I regularly go for tours by my friends or other people in the industry because there’s always something to learn. What doesn’t work and what does work. It’s important to keep improving.”
When asked what his motivation is, Leo was quick to say that it was the people. “People call me the ‘aunty killer’ because of a certain photo where a large group of elderly ladies were standing captivated as they listened to me explain the history of Singapore. To me, I would just want to bring joy to more people and give them this kind of captivating experience.”
This article is sponsored.