SINGAPORE: My mum knocked on my door with iPad in hand. She had spent the past half an hour trying to redeem SingapoRediscovers vouchers for a staycation, but to no avail.
It was 11pm on a weekday night. For another hour, I tried to help while she hovered over my shoulder.
The sticking point was payment. I generated a few voucher codes via the SingPass app, but each time I entered them into the booking site, then payment details, the message was: Transaction failed.
What made it worse was the 15-minute wait in between generating each code. One had to expire first before another attempt at redeeming the voucher could be made.
By this time, I was getting very cranky. After receiving what felt like the hundredth error message, I gave up and went to sleep.
The next day, my mum, anxious about claiming her Government-sponsored staycation, called up the booking site. They told her the system was down last night due to an influx of traffic.
They handled everything for her in a jiffy. The happy ending is that my parents enjoyed themselves very much at Changi Beach.
WHAT ARE THE PAIN POINTS?
It seems we weren’t alone in our experience with technical difficulties. Netizens have reported trouble redeeming the SingapoRediscovers vouchers.
The S$100 worth of credit given to Singaporean citizens aged 18 and up to spend is not just a symbolic gesture of helping the tourism sector struggling from the effects of the pandemic. It also serves as a little gift to residents to take time out and explore our city.
So it was quite a pity that only a quarter of adult Singaporeans have redeemed their vouchers so far, even though they expire soon in end-June.
The complaints seem to coalesce around a few things.
First, there’s no central portal for SingapoRediscovers voucher redemptions. Let’s say you have a hotel in mind for your staycation.
In order to see whether you can use your SingapoRediscovers vouchers, you might have to browse the five Singapore Tourism Board (STB)-authorised booking portals through which the vouchers can be redeemed, because they may not be listed on every one.
You might experience disappointment if you realise your getaway is not SingapoRediscovers-eligible – or that the dates and rooms you want are all sold out, bringing you back to the drawing board.
READ: Commentary: I used to think a staycation was a poor alternative for being overseas. Then I took one
Second, there are quite a few steps to redeeming the voucher. Choose the package, choose date and time, add to cart, click “Use SingapoRediscovers voucher”, get redirected to SingPass, log in, generate the code, enter the code, proceed to payment.
Doing that for one person isn’t too bad. But imagine having to repeat the process for each member of your family if you’re redeeming vouchers for a group outing.
STB explained vouchers cannot be stacked to prevent fraud and resale. The purpose of the vouchers is to support as many tourism businesses as possible, rather than to expend them all in one purchase, it clarified.
This sounds like a sensible policy move. But the effect is a clunky user experience.
There are anecdotes of families not being able to get the same time slot to certain attractions. By the time they get to the final members of the family, the time slot they were intending to book got maxed out.
Possibly to discourage frivolous booking and cancellation, there’s no option to reschedule bookings using SingapoRediscover vouchers. But this only adds to the frustration.
USER EXPERIENCE HAS TO BE AT THE CENTER
STB said it won’t change the fundamental mechanics of SingapoRediscovers, as it was always designed as a “digital-only process”. This makes sense in the larger context of Singapore’s journey as a smart nation, where most everyday transactions can be done virtually.
Technology has been a boon in some aspects of our lives. The Parking.sg app has made drivers’ lives so much easier. It allows users to pay for parking on their mobile phones and adjust their parking sessions remotely if needed.
The reason this works is that the developers understood where the pain points of the old coupon parking system were and how drivers behave – like how we often run over our parking time. The fact that the GPS system picks up your location so you don’t have to key in your carpark, combined with seamless payment, makes it a breeze to park and pay.
READ: Commentary: Self-driving buses and delivery robots welcomed but who do we blame if AI goes rogue in Singapore?
It may not be fair to compare parking to the SingapoRediscovers vouchers, which are very different in nature. After all, striking that balance between function and design is no mean feat.
But poor user design can be a real bane. The teething issues around TraceTogether were a case in point. When the contact tracing app was launched, it experienced low adoption rates, ostensibly due to battery drainage among other concerns.
After an app update fixed the chief issue, over 70 per cent of the population now use the app or token, which authorities set as a requirement for Singapore to move into Phase 3 of its reopening on Dec 28.
TraceTogether demonstrates how the implementation of technology is key to public policy rollout that can help Singapore achieve big, strategic goals, and in this case of the SingapoRediscovers vouchers, the uplifting of the tourism industry. It’s essential to get these services right from the get-go, so that people do not lose confidence and abandon them entirely.
For any technology to work well, it boils down to what a user really wants to do; what motivates or frustrates him. In SingapoRediscovers' case, families want to go out with each other but they want to do it with as little fuss as possible.
COULD IT HAVE BEEN BETTER?
So what could have been done differently?
Several have suggested a single portal that can display all packages eligible for the SingapoRediscovers voucher. There’s a problem in making this happen because the point of having multiple booking partners is to allow them to compete with each other, by offering more affordable or innovative packages.
Perhaps the designers could have considered eliminating the number of layers one has to go through to verify and claim the vouchers – giving options to use multiple SingapoRediscovers vouchers in group bookings, for instance.
Finally, the use of SingPass as an online authentication tool in the redemption process can exclude the less digitally savvy, or those with limited Internet access.
While it is possible for people to visit select SingPost branches, community centres and malls to physically redeem vouchers, this is yet another tedious step just to sidestep a tech problem.
All things considered, many of us know anything free usually involves some hassle and prior planning. So not being able to spontaneously show up at the attraction and get your vouchers is somewhat expected.
It’s little surprise then there are many who say they will not use their vouchers.
Still, I have my eye on a gin distillery tour my brother and I have been talking about.
I’ve been putting off booking it so much now that the next available date I can get tickets is all the way in June.
Fingers crossed I won’t spend an hour trying to make it work.