SINGAPORE: On a typical Wednesday morning in June, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) was buzzing with people despite a moderate drizzle.
Visitors – tourists and locals alike – pulled out umbrellas and donned ponchos to visit the host of attractions within the complex. A group of students posed for a picture outside Universal Studios, while crowds of people waited out the rain in the shelter outside the S.E.A Aquarium.
But a short distance away, it was a whole different story.
The area around the Singapore Merlion was almost deserted when Channel NewsAsia visited. (Photo: Chew Hui-Yan)
Save for a few members of staff milling around, the area around the Singapore Merlion was almost deserted when Channel NewsAsia visited. At the escalator leading up to the Madame Tussauds museum, a staff member waited to give out brochures to a few passing tourists.
With the news of Underwater World Singapore’s looming closure on Jun 26, the challenges faced by Sentosa's attractions outside RWS have been thrown into the spotlight.
RWS THE “FRONT DOOR” OF SENTOSA
Smaller attractions saw a huge surge in business when RWS first opened in 2010, according to Executive Director of Sentosa 4D Adventureland Kevin Cheong, who’s also an exco member of the Association of Singapore Attractions. He explained that this was because RWS was new, and some of the attractions within the complex were not fully open yet.
But unfortunately, business has been difficult for the past three years. “It started to plateau in 2011, and the real drop started in 2013, and has lasted till now,” he said. “We have seen double-digit declining numbers.”
He added that most of the visitors to the island head straight to RWS and do not usually venture out. “RWS is the front door of Sentosa now. It seems to have overshadowed the identity of Sentosa as an island,” he said.
A tour group poses for a picture outside Universal Studios Singapore. (Photo: Lianne Chia)
This appeared to be the case for the Sentosa visitors that Channel NewsAsia approached, most of whom planned their visit around RWS attractions like Universal Studios and the S.E.A Aquarium.
“We’re only stopping over in Singapore on the way to Bali, and we don’t plan on going outside of Resorts World mainly because there’s no time,” said Ms Nadia Scheepeo, who was visiting Singapore from South Africa with her family.
Others said there was a lack of advertising and information for the older attractions outside RWS. “When we were doing research for our trip we mostly saw things about Universal Studios and the S.E.A Aquarium, but not much about the rest,” said New Zealander Megan Russell.
Australian tourist Ray Swanson made the same point. “We heard that some work has been done to the area, but we only knew about Universal Studios. When we finally got here, we saw that there were other things to do ... that might be something for (the older attractions) to work on.”
Local visitors brought up another set of issues.
“I wouldn’t mind visiting the old attractions, but the price has to be good. People will pay for what is new, but Sentosa’s old attractions aren’t reasonably priced,” said administrative clerk Mrs Lee, who was planning to head to Universal Studios with her son.
“Furthermore, I visited them when I was younger, so now I’d rather pay to visit newer, larger attractions like Universal Studios, even though these aren’t too cheap either,” she added.
And while operations manager Mrs Koh and her family were approached away from the RWS complex, they told Channel NewsAsia they were only there for a practical consideration. “We parked here because it’s cheaper than parking in Resorts World ... we don’t intend to see the other attractions.”
Despite the rain, crowds were still out in force at Universal Studios Singapore. (Photo: Chew Hui-Yan)
DRAWING THE CROWD
Singapore Polytechnic tourism and resort management lecturer Lorraine Gan puts RWS’s popularity down to the way the various attractions there are packaged and marketed to tourists. “If you look at Underwater World Singapore and Dolphin Lagoon, it’s just focused on tourists who want to see sea creatures,” she said. “RWS has the same offerings, but they are able to package multiple attractions and the different things the family can do together.”
“In my opinion, that’s why it kind of hurt them.”
But while Underwater World Singapore and Dolphin Lagoon could have been hurt because their offerings are similar to those of RWS, Mrs Gan said the other attractions could appeal to a different group of people.
“You can find some of RWS’s offerings in different parts of the world. If you’re here in Singapore for a limited period of time, you may not want to visit an attraction that you can find anywhere else in the world, but you could instead find out a little bit more about the history of Singapore, for example,” she said, pointing out Fort Siloso and the Merlion as several “uniquely Singapore” offerings.
Travel agents could also better package and market these attractions as “historical” packages, she added.
Course Manager of Nanyang Polytechnic’s Hospitality and Tourism Management diploma Shirley Tee added that older attractions could focus on culture, history and food to differentiate themselves from RWS. “RWS already has the fun and adventure so this is something else they can think of doing.
“The island has to think about what the tourists really want," she added. “RWS has recently started the Malaysian food fair and now they have a Korean one, but we need to think for ourselves, tourists are coming over and they want something truly local and authentic. Something like a Singaporean-style hawker centre, maybe?”
Close to 20 million visitors visit Sentosa every year, according to Ms Susan Ang, Sentosa Development Corporation’s Divisional Director of Island Investment and Branding. She added that more than half visit more than one attraction during their stay.
“Sentosa Development Corporation constantly looks into enhancing the offerings on Sentosa island for our guests and works closely with our business partners to attract new and repeat visitors. This entails not only the opening of new attractions and facilities, but also rejuvenation and refreshing of existing offerings.”
She added that in recent years, attractions like the Skyline Luge Sentosa have embarked on extensive upgrades, including the addition of a new track. The Sentosa Line of the Singapore Cable Car Sky Network was also opened last year to enhance connectivity to the western part of the island.
Construction for Singapore’s first bungy tower has also begun at Siloso Beach, she added, which will “further enhance the line-up of thrilling attractions on Sentosa”.
But for now, Sentosa 4D Adventureland’s Mr Cheong said older attractions like themselves are trying to "grab the crumbs of the business".
One way they have been doing that is to package and market themselves with other attractions in a combined Sentosa Fun Pass. This, he said, has helped them attract more visitors.
He added that he has also gone down the route of improving customer service. “Because of social media, people really want to have a good experience and tell others about it. So we’re going back to the basics of providing good service.”