Attractions fight to stay attractive

SINGAPORE - Embattled attractions here are reinventing themselves in the face of dwindling visitors and a changing tourism landscape.

At least three - Sentosa 4D AdventureLand, Skyline Luge Sentosa and the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom - have either undergone or will embark on massive revamps. One has set aside $6 million to do so.

A team has also been formed at Singapore Tourism Board to look at revitalising its Chinatown Heritage Centre, and the Singapore Philatelic Museum will discuss an overhaul this year.

Each attraction tells a similar story of why change is needed: fewer visitors, tour agencies no longer herding customers their way, competition with new attractions and the need to appeal to locals and repeat visitors.

The Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA) said that half of its 50 members - mostly owners of older and smaller attractions - are embarking on or considering a similar path.

"Pain is a good motivator," ASA chairman Kevin Cheong told The Straits Times at an industry seminar.

"They are all wondering if they should ship out, reinvest or change themes. Many are finally putting in the money to upgrade and are thinking out of the box."

Singapore's tourism industry is at a crossroads. Growth is expected to slow by about half over the next decade after years of breaking records on the back of major projects such as the two integrated resorts and the Singapore Grand Prix.

In April, the Government urged the industry to create more unique content. It also launched a series of seminars and masterclasses to nudge rejuvenation along.

Attractions are now going back to the drawing board, said Mr Cheong, who runs 4D AdventureLand - the former 4D Magix - which completed a $1 million revamp two months ago. Visitor numbers have fallen by 35 per cent in the last year.

"Tour agencies used to bring visitors to us. Now, many travel free-and-easy and must actively choose us," said Mr Cheong.

"In the past, there was no regional competition. Now countries like the Philippines and Cambodia are all fighting for a slice of the pie."

The Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom is aiming to take on new nature attractions - like Gardens by the Bay and Marine Life Park - after a $6 million overhaul.

The park's largest upgrade since it opened in 1984 is set to be completed in 2015. Visitor numbers have been declining steadily since 2010, the year Resorts World Sentosa opened, said its business development director Chiang Zhan Xiang.

He added: "The new mega-nature attractions are competition. We hope the hype will be gone in two or three years. We want to be ready to present our new product then."

Skyline Luge Sentosa will erect four new buildings and two more tracks by 2015.

The number of rides sold from April to June this year fell 7 per cent from the same period last year - the first drop since it opened in 2005, said its general manager Danny Luke.

Mr Stephen Greenberg, who was invited by the STB to speak at the industry seminar on Tuesday, urged the industry here to find "the story you want to tell the world".

The creative director of Metaphor, a London-based company specialising in planning attractions, added: "Everybody is in search of a bigger audience.

"Part of getting more visitors is knowing what you want to say to them and calling them to the experience."

Three Sentosa attractions reveal how they plan to woo tourists back.

Sentosa 4D AdventureLand (former 4D Magix)

The theme park offers simulated experiences, such as a log ride down a crocodile-infested river, and was opened in 2006. A $1 million revamp was completed in May.

Number of visitors today: Currently about 25,000 people a month, 70 per cent of whom are tourists with the rest being Singapore residents.

Number of visitors in 2011: About 38,500 people a month, with tourists making up 90 per cent.

What has changed?

Before its revamp, there were three separate rides, each costing between $14 and $18. There was no theme and the rides had not changed since 2006.

Now there is one large park with three simulated rides and a flat adult ticket price of $38.90 for unlimited rides.

Two new rides will be introduced - one in October with a Halloween theme and another during the year-end school holidays.

New rides will be introduced every six to nine months thereafter. The park will have an adventure theme.

Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom

Opened in 1984. A $6 million revamp has been budgeted for and is due to be completed by 2015.

Number of visitors today: Fewer than 250,000 are expected this year, made up of 70 per cent tourists and 30 per cent Singapore residents.

Number of visitors in 2011: About 300,000 visitors with the same 70/30 split.

What will change?

The attraction's main draw is its aviary of 1,500 live butterflies - though several recent reviews on travel websites including TripAdvisor describe the attraction as "run-down".

However, under plans pending approval, it will be changed completely with new immersive experiences including an ultraviolet light scorpion pit and a beehive that visitors can walk into.

Workshops in insect photography, for instance, will be offered. The current aviary and animal exhibits will also be renovated. The current $16 adult ticket price is likely to rise.

Skyline Luge Sentosa

The action ride opened in 2005 and a $5 million revamp is due to be completed by 2015.

Number of visitors today: About 300,000 rides were sold from April to June this year, 62 per cent of which were to tourists.

Number of visitors in 2011: About 325,000 rides were sold from April to June, with 45 per cent going to tourists.

What will change?

The attraction currently has two rides and is housed in two buildings which will be renovated.

After refurbishment, there will be four new buildings comprising two ticket offices, a maintenance office plus a queueing and guest seating area. There will be two new tracks with tunnels and bridges over other tracks.

Three-dimensional landscapes will be created alongside the tracks - such as kampung homes to give the tracks an old Singapore touch.