Singapore Flyer – this wheel needs a new spin

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The Singapore Flyer, photo from its official website.

Last Friday evening, Weizheng, ABC, Ronnie and I went to O’Leary pub at the Singapore Flyer to hang out. What really surprised me was the extremely low human traffic at the tourist destination.

Despite it being holiday period, and a Friday evening to boot, the pub was nearly empty save this bunch of executives making fools of themselves. I told the guys this would be a great place to get away from the crowds!

The S$240 million Flyer enjoyed great buzz during its first five months from this Feb, but it’s gone very quiet lately.

Yesterday, the worst PR disaster possible hit the Flyer:

flyer mishap

The Straits Times, 24th Dec 2008.

Over 170 people got stuck in their Flyer capsules after a fire in the control room caused the wheel to stop spinning. It wasn’t fixed until nearly 6 hours later at 11.10pm. The Flyer has been grounded while police investigations continue.

According to the papers, 10 chaps had to be evacuated using ropes ala rapelling. For army folks, this is no big deal, but we’re talking civilians here who have never done any form of rock climbing. The experience must have been terrifying to most of them.

This effectively means from today, a lot of people are going to think twice before riding on the Flyer.

It was the culmination of a year of news (both good and bad) for the Flyer and if you think about it, the Flyer faces huge challenges ahead as a viable business and tourist attraction. I was hoping to read an editorial in today’s newspapers about this looming problem, but the journos probably didn’t have time to do it, so here’s my two cents

World’s largest observation wheel…so?

Singaporeans are obsessed with topping everything that can be on a list. So naturally, you’d find the official description of the Flyer as follows:

Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel. Standing at a stunning 165m from the ground, the Flyer offers you breathtaking, panoramic views of the Marina Bay, our island city and beyond.

In an old 2005 press release, the Flyer is described by its MD as

…an astonishing landmark. The Singapore Flyer will undoubtedly be one of Asia’s most distinctive visitor attractions and will be Singapore’s own recognisable icon in the minds of tourists, much like how the Eiffel Tower and London Eye have come to symbolise France and England

But what is there to see from the capsules?

The PR was well written:

Once aboard, passengers will be enthralled by sweeping, epic views – from the historic Singapore River and modern skyline, to the grand vista of ships on the horizon, and on a clear day, right out to Malaysia and Indonesia. From each of the 28 air-conditioned, UV-protected capsules, visitors can enjoy the fascinating sensation of flight, while afloat in the sky during the 37-minute ride.

Unfortunately, most Singaporeans won’t buy that and haven’t bought it yet. You’ll see roughly the same views when you drive over Ben Sheares Bridge or get a room in Ritz Carlton. There’s nothing much to see of Indonesia from here anyway.

Now one thing people don’t seem to realize or observe about setting up a tourist attraction in Singapore – if your locals don’t go gaga over it, it’s likely that tourists won’t either. That’s why the Zoo and Orchard Road do much better than other sites like Sungei Buloh, Sentosa and Underwater World.

For one thing, I ain’t paying $29.50 to take a 30min ride on the Flyer. Singapore’s tourist attractions are notorious for being expensive – I only paid S$3 to go to the lovely Taipei Zoo. The Taipei Zoo is a bit run down and old, but for the price, the experience is more than worth what you pay for.

Ok, granted, the Flyer is a beautiful construction, especially at night, but how will it keep the coffers flowing to maintain itself?

Bad Fengshui?

Interestingly, in July this year, the Flyer folks actually admitted to not doing their homework – checking with Fengshui guys before spinning the wheel.

Says a July press release

The Giant Observation Wheel’s initial modus operandus – showcasing to visitors, first, Singapore’s financial centre before descending with panoramic views of eastern Singapore – drew observations from feng shui geomancers that the Flyer was taking fortune and ‘qi’ (energy) away from the country and turning its back from ready fortune – the financial centre.

Now being Christian, I don’t really believe in fengshui save its original and practical aspects. But man, you’re in Singapore where even the Merlion has to be fengshui-ed for optimal placement.

Modern as we are, most locals have not let go of their traditional beliefs. It’s common sense with most major local projects that you should always check with the geomancers first.

Still, never a bad thing to admit such things and “remedy” it. But the price tag!!! According to the Flyer’s MD, it apparently cost a “six figure sum” to change the spin!

Of course, a lot of people have forgotten that this fengshui thing happened.

Actually, since the reversal was done, everyone’s fortunes have coincidentally gone downhill – we’re in an economic crisis, and Flyer’s traffic hasn’t shot up and it has gotten stuck several times.

Okay, perhaps Singapore’s economy is more sheltered from the storm than most other economies but it’s safe to surmise from the above that our economy has little to do with the fengshui of the Flyer.

Future of the Flyer?

I have no idea what the balance books of the Flyer look like today, and hope everything is good. But common sense throws up a few wet blankets.

  1. Recession means people spend less on luxury items and services. The Flyer is a non-essential visit for many people right now and costs three times more than a movie for a 30min experience. 2009 will be a really tough year to attract visitors.
  2. Tourism keeps dipping in Singapore. The tourism folks would have us believe that a major reason is the global downturn, but let’s face it, Singapore has limited options for travellers and is really too expensive for budget travellers. And we can’t possibly air-condition the whole island.
  3. The Flyer site is too dislocated from other parts of town. Sure, it’s a few minutes walk to the Ritz, but most people don’t go beyond Suntec and Marina Square unless they drive. And there aren’t enough road signs pointing to the Flyer.
  4. The Flyer is better seen than to see from. Locals need to be given a great reason to patronise it, and so far there isn’t.

You know, as a guy who works in the private sector and is affected by PnLs, I really hope the Flyer business works out for its staff. After the millions spent, and all the blood and tears that went into this massive project, Singapore indeed has a beautiful addition to its skyline.

But if no drastic measures are taken to do massive damage control over yesterday’s incident and restore people’s confidence in stepping into the capsules, the Flyer risks becoming Singapore’s biggest white elephant. If it does, it’ll be a really sad thing to drive past along ECP.

Question: Would it have been more successful if the Flyer was a real amusement park type of Ferris Wheel?

13 Replies to “Singapore Flyer – this wheel needs a new spin”

  1. I fully agree with “The Flyer is better seen than to see from. Locals need to be given a great reason to patronise it, and so far there isn’t.” Another nail to its coffin will come when the Marina Sands Integrated Resort is up next door. Its 3-Block Tower Roof top will be a taller, better facilitated and safer option to the Flyer for locals and tourists alike. It seems foolish to put so much money into this project.

    Wonder who the shareholders are and which banks finance it?

  2. ” Its 3-Block Tower Roof top will be a taller, better facilitated and safer option to the Flyer for locals and tourists alike. ”

    But don’t worry, the government will start charging entry to the top of building, and it will price in par with the Flyer. Gov is not stupid to let go a money-making business. You need $100 dollars for Singaporean per entry for casino, $2000 season yearly pass., therefore $35 will be the predicted price to visit the pathetic root top. However, if you are a foreigner and tourist, you are in a better luck because it is free.

    You see, the gov is building these infrastructure using taxmoney, and ironically charge on citizen who is shareholder to use it, and it is not cheap.

    I hope that Flyer is sign of omen for the end of dictatorship and oppression.

  3. I have trashed the idea of the Flyer from day-one for the very reason that there is precious little of interest and excitement to see from the wheel whichever way it spins since it does not depend on how high your vantage point is but WHAT is there to see? In fact, I think you will see mostly water -the sea.

    If you have the wheel on Bukit Timah Hill, now that’s going to be very very different!

  4. Hi David, I believe the Flyer is mostly privately-funded, not with taxpayer funds, though it is backed by the Gahmen as a tourism attraction.

    Now come think of it, our ERP gantries, which are paid with our monies, can be a cool tourist attraction too – world’s fastest revenue generating cash registers.

  5. “Hi David, I believe the Flyer is mostly privately-funded.”

    It is not. Definitely not. You have to consider marketing cost, promotion cost, rental cost, tax cost, infrastructure cost that is beared using the taxmoney. Gov’s support means they forking out money and providing financial support, not just “moral support” alone.

    Take note, whenever the gov says that they will support the initiative or whatever, bear in mind, it means inancial support as well (which is definitely hidden and likely to report to the public). How do I know ? Clue: because I’m not new to how the gov works here. There is no free lunch.

    Do you remember about the our QuickSand casino ? In the end, who fork the money to continue building it ? Taxpayers or the casino builder ? Notice that the gov quickly move on about this QuickSand’s financial support ? Is there something gov hide from us ?

  6. Correction:

    “it means financial support as well (whose info definitely hidden and unlikely to report to the public. They don’t have to report to the public if they private limited (If you understand how business work.” and that is where third-party can come in even if it means nepotism.)

    If you ever get government backing and support for your project, you will know what I mean.

  7. Where is the DHL Balloon when the flyer screwed up? So they have killed off the DHL Balloon because of this overhyped flyer?

    We in Singapore need no alternative, just like they say we need no opposition party.

  8. I happened to know “a little” about this Singapore Flyer (SF) project and would like to share.

    The SF project is funded by a few German banks and built by a privately owned company known as Great Wheel Corp. a German company with HQ in Singapore.

    Singapore govt. supported them by making the land available to them – for free!

    The marketing company of SF is part of NTUC, known as Adval Brand Grp Pte Ltd.

    The group operations director is Mr. Ray King, a British national. In order to “save cost” on operation, they recruited a young Singaporean engineer, coincidentally also named Ray …something.

    This young chap Ray is given the title of Operations Manager to take charge of “operational and safety issues”. Obviously, he is not up to task in carrying out his role. He reports to the Great Wheel Corp.

    The poor fungShui, 3 stoppages of wheel in the past, and poor marketing, the SF is obviously not learning.

    The current General Manager is the 3rd guy being hired for the job at SF. Within a period of less than 1 and a half year, the SF management has fired 2 GM!

    There are many stories about SF, such as ghost spotted in one of the capsule and so on that I don’t think is appropriate to share here 🙂

    Regards
    John

  9. 30 minutes ride? wow…
    Or maybe include the waiting time, while others get inside their capsules.

    Yeah.. i agree, sure flyer just like mountain. It was beautiful when you see it from distant 🙂

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