The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) holds travel fairs biannually at the Singapore EXPO Convention and Exhibition Centre at the beginning and in the middle of every year. The NATAS fair is also the biggest travel fair in the country, attracting tens of thousands of visits from the public in search of the best travel deals.
Having been invited free of charge to participate and make its debut from 25 to 27 February this year (thanks to NATAS' Outbound Chairman, Ms Susan Teng, who discovered Tzu Chi's Free Health Screening and Medical Clinic in Jurong East alongside its environmental mission, and decided that the waste repurposing effort could be publicized at the fair to bring an environmental angle to the public), Tzu Chi Singapore continued to participate in the fair for the second time, vigorously promoting the philosophy of environmentalism and DA.AI Technology's upcycled products to the public.
The travel fair occupied three exhibition halls at the Singapore EXPO, hosting about 160 exhibition booths. Exhibitors cracked their heads to win more businesses by employing large number of temporary workers to distribute brochures and flyers, disguise as cartoon characters, and give away balloons.
On the other hand, environmentalism was the only topic that Tzu Chi Foundation publicized at the commercial fair.
It was indeed challenging to attract the large number of fairgoers who were preoccupied with landing travel bargains for themselves to the Tzu Chi booth without any brochures or flyers. The only tools at the volunteers’ disposal were advertisement cardboard, empty PET bottles and their persuasive words of mouth.
In a space as big as 29,908 square metres, they looked for their ‘targets’ by mingling with the massive crowds, among whom were those who had signed up for travel packages and pulling free luggages away, those who're walking leisurely in search of bargains and student part-timers who're distributing brochures and flyers for the fairgoers.
“Believe it or not but plastic bottles can be made into apparels!”
Taking part in the event for the first time, new volunteer Xiao Jing Ci was determined to invite fairgoers to the Tzu Chi booth so that they could be introduced to DA.AI Technology's eco-friendly apparels and home accessories, some of which includes polo shirts, caps, scarves, tote bags, aprons, pillows, etc.
“I have learnt how to identify ‘potential targets’ today. I'm very happy and grateful to them for lending their ears to me,” said a delightful Xiao.
At the booth, volunteers warmly welcomed the fairgoers with greetings and smiles before explaining to them how used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are collected and sorted across Tzu Chi's recycling stations in Taiwan. The flattened bottles would later be processed into polyester resins and spun into yarn and woven into garments by DA.AI Technology Co. Ltd., the company established by five Tzu Chi entrepreneurs with profits channeled to Tzu Chi’s charitable work.
With much enthusiasm and patience, the volunteers made sure that they were clear in their explanation. Whether fairgoers made purchase or not was immaterial as what matters was to introduce Tzu Chi’s environmental efforts to everyone who cared to stop at the booth. They also made it a point to give away the Tzu Chi bimonthly magazine and flipped to the last page to highlight where all Tzu Chi recycling points are island wide, urging the fairgoers to lend their support to the monthly community activity.
60-year-old Hong Jing Yan came to the travel fair with her friend, Huang Mei Mei. Though already grandmothers themselves, they are role models for emulation when come to green lifestyle as they do recyclable sorting at home and paper recycling at work—by using both sides of paper and then collect the paper for recycling.
Both of them first got to know about DA.AI Technology products and Tzu Chi’s recycling initiatives at the travel fair in February.
“I bought the eco-friendly polo shirt and utensils last time, they are very practical items. I am buying your new product, the black sweater, this time around.” Mdm Hong learnt from the volunteers that there is a recycling point near where she lives and promised that she would send her recyclables over in the following month.
Mdm Huang Gui Lan learnt by chance about Tzu Chi and its environmental philosophy from television programmes and mass media coverage.
She very much identifies with Tzu Chi's motto and fully agrees that “Environmentalism is about doing real, hard work to protect the Earth and not just paying lip service.” She already has a pair of eco-chopsticks of her own, but she still bought four pairs of retractable eco-chopsticks from the booth to be given away to her friends as gifts. Volunteering to participate in Tzu Chi’s recycling activities, she also left her phone number behind so that Tzu Chi volunteers can send text reminders to her.
Chen Min Yi and her two sisters had not known much about environmental conservation. The trio felt that it was a "spillover" for them to learn about recyclable sorting and DA.AI Technology at the travel fair. Coming from the Northern part of Singapore, they too left their phone numbers with the volunteers so as to be kept in touch with Tzu Chi's recycling activities.
The 3-day exhibition ran from 26 to 28 Aug 2011. Tzu Chi volunteers from the North, East and South of Singapore worked in day and night shifts, making a total of 128 shifts to man the booth to spread environmental awareness as part of one's daily lives.
“The total commitment and strong team spirit exhibited by the volunteers have made this exhibition a very pleasant experience! With strong teamwork, nothing is impossible.” Playing overall coordinator for the second time, Sister Yap Sook Ting said she is able to go about her work with much ease. She added that green products like the DA.AI Technology creations do provide consumers with a better choice and offers them the opportunity to be an environmentally responsible shopper.