Pop-Ups that Soar
With business stalled during the pandemic and its planes stuck on the tarmac, Singapore Airlines launched a novel pop-up attraction at Singapore’s Changi Airport. For two weekends in October and November 2020, it converted one of the world’s largest passenger aircrafts, an Airbus A380 double-decker superjumbo, into a makeshift eatery. While frequent fliers could pay with miles, reservations cost the general public as much as $474 per person in business class or $40 for a meal in Economy.
Tickets sold out in 30 minutes.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic drastically reducing the number of flights operated by the SIA Group, we created unique activities that would allow us to engage with our fans and customers during this time,” explains Siva Govindasamy, vice president of public affairs for Singapore Airlines. “That remains our primary objective. While these activities would make a small contribution to our revenue, they will not make up for the significant drop in airline revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Before launching “Restaurant A380 @Changi,” which attracted significant media coverage in local and overseas markets, Singapore Airlines conducted a market study to take onboard feedback from customers and the public. In addition to exploring how the pop-up would be received by consumers, the airline also examined the environmental implications of powering up the planes on the tarmac, as well as the financial viability of the project.
Singapore Airlines is far from the only business that has been turning to pop-up attractions over the past year to generate revenue and attention. A popular Singapore nightspot called Zouk, for example, has launched spinning classes to the beat of DJs and a cinema club where drink promotions and expensive bottles of cognac are the main selling point for clubbers faced with social distancing prohibitions on clubbing.
Creating Short Bursts of Excitement
These two examples highlight a key question that a company must first answer when planning a pop-up: What is the project’s purpose? Is it intended to make money and perhaps replace lost revenue streams like Zouk’s exercise classes and cinema, or is the pop-up primarily a branding exercise, like Singapore Airlines’ A380 restaurant?
“You need to be clear about the end objective,” says Sam Chiu, business development director of Ultimate, a Singapore-based company whose pop-up attractions have included an Instagrammable Dessert Museum and an inflatable Art Zoo that attracted 70,000 visitors.
If the focus is on direct revenue generation, traditional factors like throughput, capacity, capital expenditure, and return on investment need to be taken into consideration.
“But that’s not the only game in town,” says Chiu. Pop-up attractions are a good way to attract repeat visitors, increase length of stay, and generate more retail and food and beverage sales, regardless of whether the temporary attractions are ticketed.
“Our objective is very clear: We create short bursts of excitement,” explains Jack Ong, Ultimate’s special projects and partnerships director. “Pop-up experiences can be put up for two to four weeks, then we’re gone. Next time we come back, it’s with something that’s totally new.”
“In the fast-changing consumer environment, pop-up attractions are preferred by many destinations because they enable organizers to respond better to the changing lifestyle needs of visitors,” agrees Prisca Teh, senior director of retail and leasing at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. “Consider whether it will be a unique offering that appeals to both regular visitors looking for something new, as well as a brand-new audience attracted to special events.”
Choose Partners with Similar Values
Since launching nine years ago, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore has welcomed more than 65 million visitors to explore its Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, which are located near the water and within walking distance of Marina Bay Sands. Some temporary attractions—like “Glass in Bloom,” an exhibition of American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly—are interspersed through the gardens, while others extend beyond a horticultural theme and are situated elsewhere on the 250-acre property.
In December, for example, Gardens by the Bay partnered with Visionairs in Art and the Arab World Institute to open “Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express.” The attraction, Teh notes, delivered “a slice of the world to Singapore at a time when globe-trotting Singaporeans were unable to travel.”
“External partners often approach us,” she says. “We have a rigorous process, and we assess possible partnerships on the strength of the proposed event’s appeal and marketability.” Characteristics that are important to Gardens by the Bay include prioritizing visitor experience and having a “love for the environment and family-based recreation.”
The’s job does not stop with partner selection. Gardens by the Bay collaborates closely with vendors to ensure that every pop-up attraction is high quality. “We are mindful of our brand value,” she explains.
Execute with Precision
Once a pop-up attraction concept is selected, attractions need to “plan, plan, and plan,” advises Ed Fearn, HB Leisure marketing and operations manager. “Know who is delivering what and communicate effectively so there is no breakdown or misunderstanding. Setup is generally done at night, and you don’t have the luxury of nipping into the shop if you need a screwdriver.”
Scheduling staffing to assist is also key to an easy setup and timely opening.
“A team member might have already been through your pain and know a solution to the issue or may have a fresh perspective on the situation,” he adds, “so it’s good to share the workload and the success. In the event anything happens or you need to go off for an emergency or a holiday, the show can still go on.”
And at a time when many international borders remain closed, going on with the show requires enticing repeat visits from the local market.
“Let me give you something that’s going to really bring in the locals because at the moment, there are no tourists,” says Chiu, when asked why now more than ever is a good time to plan a pop-up attraction.
Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the Asia-Pacific attractions industry for Funworld.
Caption: Gardens by the Bay partnered with Visionairs in Art and the Arab World Institute to open “Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express.”