By Yasmeen Banu
It was an event of merriment and joy as the symbolic beat of the drum sparked a dazzling laser and fireworks display across Marina Bay. It marked the official opening of the Singapore Flyer on the 15th of April 2008 by Guest of Honour and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The $240 million project had an optimistic future, and a go-getting vision. During its opening, the Flyer’s Chairman, Mr. Florian Bollen said, “As the world’s largest Giant Observation Wheel, Singapore Flyer stands for Singapore’s vision to progress into the future on the highest levels”.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also expressed his keenness with the completion of the project. "We have a beautiful city and this is a remarkable view of it," he said. "The Singapore skyline is constantly growing and changing. The Flyer is an addition to that skyline, as well as to view the city around us."
“I’m very happy with the project… We are optimistic it will do very well (with regard to) passengers, and become one of the busiest flyers in the world,” Mr Lee added.
However, Prime Minister Lee’s happiness and Mr. Bollen’s vision was to be short-lived as the Flyer ran into a financial storm last year, just five years after it opened.
Although one of the Flyer’s milestones was surpassing 1 million ticket sales mark in 2008, that probably did not continue for subsequent years.
The Flyer, towering 165 metres above the city, was envisioned after studying similar attractions such as the London Eye in Britain, and the Empire State Building in New York.
Boldly described as “Asia’s most visible iconic visitor attraction”, the Flyer was not warmly welcomed by some, as it did not seem to have any originality to it, often being compared to Britain’s London Eye.
Mr. Clement Wong, a Managing Director from SocialMetric, said on Singapore Business Review, a magazine that covers an array of the Singapore business landscape said,
I believe Singapore Flyer struggled because its entire position was to compete with the London Eye. Singapore must come out with their own unique and iconic attractions that capture the imagination of tourists and its citizens. The mindshare of "Giant Ferris Wheel" is given to the London and competing with that mindshare could be possibly perceived as a lack of originality.
Besides lack of originality, reasons as to building an iconic observatory attraction for both countries are worlds apart. The London Eye was built to welcome the millennium. The idea of an observation wheel was submitted by architectural duo David Marks and Julia Barfield- sent in as part of a competition to design a landmark for the new millennium.
Singapore Flyer, on the other hand, was built for it to be a tourist attraction, and a landmark that will put Singapore above its Asian counterparts with regards to iconic attractions.
More recently, the Flyer has been under scrutiny over the series of glitches it has experienced over the course of five years.
In December 2008, two separate occasions of bad weather and a short circuit trapped about 70 and 170 passengers respectively. When the episode of short circuit happened in late December, the passengers were trapped in the capsules for nearly six hours, before being rescued. The flyer closed indefinitely until it received the safety certification report from the Conformity Assessment Board, after which, $3 million additional back-up systems was installed to the Flyer.
On July 18 2009, the Flyer was shut down again, after one of its electrical cables was struck by lightning. Around 200 passengers had to be evacuated. Two days later, the Flyer reopened after repair works were completed.
The series of hiccups only led to the public questioning the adequacy of the Flyer’s emergency contingency plans and the appeal this would have for the rest who haven’t experienced the tourist attraction.
Since the Flyer’s financial woes came to light in May last year, and the flyer being placed under receivership, it has since brought up alternative theories from the public on why the Flyer became a flop, which ultimately led it to its bankruptcy.
While some cite the challenging business environment, others said it is neither at a convenient location, nor is it within the vicinity of other major attractions.
Perhaps it is also due to bad timing that led to its flop. Two years after the opening of the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands opened its doors to the public, enticing and keeping more customers coming back, especially with its casinos.
According to TODAY, a spokesperson for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said that they “had been closely engaging the various parties involved to ensure the best possible outcome that enhances the tourism sector”.
Merlin Entertainments, the British firm behind the London Eye and LegoLand theme parks has recently abandoned talks to acquire the $240 million attraction. Merlin had initially considered buying the Flyer to expand its presence in Asia, but that soon changed.
In May 2005, Mr Lim Neo Chian, Singapore Tourism Board Chief responded to scepticism of the idea of the Flyer by saying that while domestic demand is only one part of the puzzle, he had no doubt, whatsoever, that the domestic market will be very interested.
People will have the opportunity to see their city. Not everybody has a wonderful view in Singapore.
What the Singapore flyer is today is probably an example of how the leaders don't always place the right bet.
*Photo Credits: Home Team NS