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