June 11 Wheel of misfortune: Flyer's troubled history

Fireworks bloomed in the sky and lasers streaked across Marina Bay when the Singapore Flyer opened in April 2008.

The spectacular opening was perhaps an apt metaphor of the country's high hopes for the $240 million attraction.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as much during that opening: "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."

Fast forward five years, and the wheels seem to have fallen off the initial grand ambitions. Last month, the Singapore Flyer went into receivership.

Details of its problems are scarce but the fact is that observation wheels can find it difficult to survive on revenue alone. Even the most famous and arguably most successful wheel in the world, the London Eye, has had to depend heavily on sponsorship.

Most people outside Britain probably don't know that its full name is the EDF Energy London Eye, after having entered a three-year sponsorship deal with the energy company in 2011. Before that it was sponsored by British Airways and Merlin Entertainments.

Perhaps one reason why depending mainly on revenue is difficult - and which appears to be the case for the Singapore Flyer - is that the novelty of a giant observation wheel wears off really fast.

Unless you're a die-hard fan of slow, giant ferris wheels, you wouldn't take the ride more than once.

Of course, all tourist attractions must deal with the inevitable loss of novelty. But it is harder to regenerate excitement and repeat visits for a wheel compared with other attractions.

A zoo or an amusement park can continually bring in new displays or new rides, build new sections and expand, or even have an entire overhaul of the place. That can be tough to do for an attraction which consists of one huge and heavy 42-storey-tall wheel.

Efforts were made to revamp the tenant mix in the Flyer's building over the years to widen its offerings, including converting a driveway into a large food court. But these moves did not do much to increase the Flyer's draw and were evidently too little, too late.

Bad timing might have been to its detriment too.

Construction began shortly after its owners secured financing in 2005 - the year the Government decided to build integrated resorts and opened a tender for them.

Just two years after the Flyer's opening, Marina Bay Sands was up and running, immediately dwarfing the Flyer and offering a higher and arguably better view of Singapore and more options for visitors - a casino, restaurants, shops, nightclubs and a museum.

That said, the Flyer has firmly entrenched itself as an iconic part of the Singapore skyline, and it has a part to play in providing a wide range of attractions to visitors.

One can only hope that the Flyer's new buyers will overcome the challenges and get it to soar high once again.

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