Friday, December 29, 2006

The Day The Music Died

My relatively new Dell PC has just refused to boot up last night and this morning, and I suspect that there is a hard disk failure. Of course, this meant that I can't blog or participate in anything online - heck anything that requires a PC. I can't even get into the CMOS/BIOS thing by pressing Del or F9 which means something big time is screwed up inside. It could be something related to the rain, power surges (although my adaptor is supposed to have protection), or maybe even physical damage related. Grrr.....

After the initial hyperventilating, stewing and steaming, going into denial, uncontrollable sobbing (Ok I exaggerate), I started to see things in a more philosophical manner. The good thing (yes, there is a silver cloud in the lining) is that I am rediscovering the joys of spending time away from the screen, playing with my son, and admiring God's green earth. Also, I guess I will read more - I still owe Ivan that book review!

The last time my old PCs hard disk died, I remembered taking an online hiatus for about a month or so. Life changed then for me. I spent more time talking to my parents, more time exercising, and more time reading. In addition, I rediscovered the joys of the simple things in life like a walk in a park, and just plain ol' staring at the ceiling daydreaming.

What's your PC/hard disk failure experiences like?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What Makes an Event Great?

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William Troy Taylor's wedding-inspired masterpiece at the Singapore Garden Festival.

What are the secret ingredients behind a successful show able to attract the masses and become the talk of the town? How does one stand out from amongst the busloads of events, all competing for one's share of mind, time and wallet? Are all festivals the same or are some destined for greatness while others, doomed for failure?

My recent visit to the Singapore Garden Festival triggered some fresh insights on what makes an event or exhibition delightful and memorable. Much of it, as you may have guessed, comes from months and weeks of hard behind-the-scenes work.

I have conveniently labelled them the 8 "A"s of Winning Events.

1) Aesthetics - Pay close attention to the design, look and feel of the exhibition to stimulate one's senses. Increasingly, design and other experiential elements (sound, light, scent, etc) makes all the difference between a successful event and a mediocre one. Having high quality, wide variety or low prices alone will not cut the ice.

2) Audience-first - Its all about your audiences, visitors and guests when it comes to events. Think ahead about how you can make it more convenient and comfortable for them. For example, are there sufficient rest points? Are the rest rooms accessible? How about signages pointing them to different exhibits and locations?

3) Advancement - Focus on what's hot and relevant in this day and age, and be one-step ahead of your customers. For example, environmental issues are all the rage now and it is good to take a leaf from there (pun unintended) when organising an exhibition on gardens, like what the Singapore Garden Festival has done. Similarly, if you are doing a fashion festival, look towards the cutting-edge fashion capitals like Milan, Tokyo and Paris.

4) Adherence - Ensure that there is a consistent theme that flows through your exhibition and choreographed experience. In other words, there should be synergy and harmony between the different components. Having something out-of-whack with the rest of the show will stick out like a sore-thumb and not be kindly remembered.

5) Alliances - Work with value chain partners to leverage on their strengths and competencies when putting up a show. They could be suppliers, distributors, or channel partners. For example, while the public sector has the ability to seed ideas and undertake massive events, they will need the market savvy of private sector players to improve commercial sustainability.

6) Advocacy - Get your volunteers, partners, board members, the media and others into the action. Leverage on their networks and reach to interest others in your value proposition. Look at directly marketing and reaching key stakeholders. No man is an island and you just can't go it alone in getting the word out. A good way to reach your audiences is through blogs and other Word Of Mouth channels too.

7) Advertising - It is useless to have a premium event if nobody hears or knows about it. A certain amount of marketing is needed, be they through traditional advertising channels (newspapers, TV, radio, outdoor), new media or media publicity. This is especially critical for large-scale public events where you need to compete for attention, interest and participation.

8) Agility - Finally, as anybody in the events business will tell you, you always have to be on your feet once the curtain raises. Be prepared for any contingencies and last minute surprises that may befall your way. The more high-tech and newly fangled your equipment is, the more likely they may fail you at the critical juncture. Murphy's law does apply, especially the hour before your Guest Of Honour arrives!

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Nice from far, but thorny up close. From the Singapore Gardening Festival, specially for Ivan Chew.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Hanging Gardens of Singapore

Merry Christmas dear visitors! Hope to add some yule-tide cheer with some greenery here.

I was recently invited for the Singapore Garden Festival as part of the delegation from the Association of Singapore Attractions. Despite only having an hour-and-a-half to do a whirlwind tour, I was left gushing after the amazing experience. The National Parks Board has done many things right this time around for the festival.

Here are some highlights of the show for the benefit of those who missed it.

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Exotic orchids featured prominently. Here are some award winning hybrids which my dad (who was formerly an orchid farmer) would have been proud of.

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An orchid-led garden display put together by Shangri La Hotel.

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Vegetables and crops that you can still find in Singapore. Looks yummy!

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Mini ornamental plants in glass aquariums and bottles. Truly works of art!

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Water is the essence of all plant - and animal - life.

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Fantasy garden offering a view from a prison cell. Now I wonder if convicts had them so good!

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Tropical oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle.

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A dark and dank gold award winning landscape, showing what would happen if we continue to ignore the Inconvenient Truth.

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Dazzling blue lights worthy of an Orchard Road Christmas display.

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What do Singaporeans like best? Free talks (this one's on using spices in cooking and traditional therapies)....

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... shopping.... and last but certainly not least....

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...lucky draws! This is probably the most popular exhibit in the festival!

Up next, some key lessons on how to make your event spectacular.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why Japanese Service is Ichiban


Even fish mongers treat you like a god!

A key reason why I enjoyed my recent vacation to Hokkaido so much was the customer experience. Let's face it. Japanese service quality is light years ahead of ours. Almost everybody I know who visited Japan raved about it. However, they do also have certain chinks in the armour as you would see later.

First, let's talk about what great service is. Delightful service goes beyond being polite and courteous. It looks at ensuring that every single touchpoint to a customer is taken care of. It emphasises being quick and responsive to customer's needs. It empowers staff to be flexible and to take quick remedial action in service failures. It pays close attention to the fine details and little nuances.

On most accounts, Japan has scored well in the service stakes.

The Japanese style of service quality comes very much from their culture and upbringing. From young, kids in Japan were taught religiously - at home or in school - to observe being respectful to their elders and to think of others before themselves. Most Japanese households do not have maids, and the main task of bringing up junior goes to the wives, who are usually homemakers. Without maids fussing over them, kids are taught to be independent and to pick up after themselves at an early age.

The philosophy of kaizen or continuous improvement means that every single opportunity for mistake, rework or error is rectified at the earliest instance. This same sensibility permeates every single aspect of Japanese society, commerce or industry. Their obsession with developing the perfect process is well known.

Delightful service encounters in Japan are fairly universal. You can get it not only in the most posh 7-star hotel, but also in the little family eateries tucked away in the allies. It doesn't matter if you are Japanese or a foreigner. In fact, the whole spirit of Japanese service is so strong that you don't even need to worry about knowing the language. Just gesticulate as much as you can and eventually, help will be on its way.

Unfortunately their strict adherence to policies, rules and processes leads to greater rigidity. It also makes them less able to cope with extraordinary circumstances.

As an example, our otherwise pleasant holiday experience was slightly tarred by long queues in Japan. This happened a few times - going into immigration, checking in at the Japan Airlines Counters from Itose Airport to Tokyo's Haneda, and again from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Singapore. Despite seeing long queues, staff at the counter (and there were a lot of them) merely smiled at us serenely, as if oblivious to our pain.


The wait is looooonggg.....

Somehow, the obsession with processes and systems leads to lower flexibility. The high degree of homogeneity and uniformity in Japan makes them less adept at out-of-the-box and creative thinking. Hence, exceptional requests or specially customised products and services are often met with a quizzical look.

How are your encounters with Japanese service and hospitality like? Are they mostly pleasant, mostly sour, or bittersweet?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mark Twain The Blogging Guru

Came across this quirky bit of thinking by Copyblogger about how the legendary Mark Twain (the artist formerly known as Samuel Langhorne Clemens) will make an excellent blogger.

Try to apply these gems to blogging - heck, any form of writing - and you will understand the wisdom of the man.

“Whenever you find you’re on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”

“The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.”

“Great people make us feel we can become great.”

“The difference between the right word and almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

“It is no use to keep private information which you can’t show off.”

Link

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Clever Copy Writing

Think that your investment in a wraparound Straits Times or TODAY ad is going to save your business? How about that huge poster in the MRT station, where gazillions pass by every day. Well, think again. Without good copy, the most in-your-face, eye-popping, jaw-dropping advertisement is going to just go down the drain.

Seth Godin puts it very elegantly in this post:

Top Two Best Times to Invest in Good Copy



Time 1: When you're going to spend more than $100,000 on a newspaper ad, it's probably worth spending a few hundred bucks to write a good one.

In case you're having trouble reading the small white print against the faded blue background, here's an excerpt, "It’s time to truly experience high definition. It’s time to finally understand what 1080p really means. The Blu-ray® Disc way. The Sony Way." I won't even try to decode the headline.

Time 2: When you are only spending $50 on a Google AdWord or $100 on a direct mail campaign, if it works, it'll pay for itself. And then you can buy more.

Either way, copy pays.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Walking in Winter Wonderland

As promised, here are some photos of my recent holiday in Hokkaido, with a short one-day trip in Tokyo. It sure was a wonderful wintry experience in near or sub-zero temperatures. Will blog about some key learning points next.

PRELUDE AT TOKYO

Statue of liberty in Tokyo
Tokyo was our first stopover en route to Hokkaido. Whom did we meet? Well, none other than the lady of liberty herself.

Humungous pink cat outside pet shop
Saw this huge inflatable pink cat outside a pet shop. Japanese pets sure have it good I tell you!

Giant Ferris Wheel @ Tokyo
Giant ferris wheel at Tokyo. Err....so what's so unique about the Singapore Flyer?

In Hokkaido itself, there were many different high points which I have (neatly) divided into categories below for your viewing pleasure.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!

Fresh King Crabs - Yummy
Fresh king crab (Kani) in a market at Hokkaido. Absolutely finger lickin' good!

Barbequed Lamb
Barbecued lamb done Mongolian style. The taste was simply awesome, juicy and tender without any strong mutton-like smell. Even Tina, who normally won't touch this, ate with relish.

Sashimi and steamboat galore
Raw foodies delight featuring fresh halibut, abalone, conch shell and salmon. Just minutes ago, these were all swimming in the aquariums so you can imagine how fresh they were.

Cheers!
Give that man a couple of Asahi beers and see how widely he smiles!

HEAVENLY SNOWSCAPES

Frozen (almost) lake near Akan View
Partially frozen lake near Akan View Hotel. Several ducks were swimming in the icy waters, looking totally nonchalant while we were freezing our behinds off.

Noboribetsu volcanic mountains
Volcanic ranges at Noboribetsu, with sulphurous fumes being emitted. Smelled worst than it looks!

View from the mountain
A lovely view near the Okhotsk area, which is the sea at the north of Hokkaido.

Ski Resort
Rutsutsu Ski Resort near Sapporo, where we had lots of fun sliding down in a little yellow toboggan.

Snowmen (not ours though)
Tina and I shamelessly posing with somebody else's snowmen. These snow folks were created by a very diligent father and son team, who toiled for more than an hour!

ENCHANTING MUSICAL TOWN

Otaru Music Box Factory
At Otaru, we were mesmerized by the lovely chimes and music coming from the town square. It really sounded as if we were in a magical musical kingdom. Here is a picture of the largest music box shop in Asia.

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Aren't these music boxes simply gorgeous? They sounded pretty good too.

Otaru Music Box Museum
Popped by the Otaru Music Box Museum but unfortunately, it was already closed. Managed to catch a glimpse of music boxes from the past to the present though.

SIGHTS IN URBAN SAPPORO

Santa doin' a Mission Impossible act
Spotted this Santa trying to make a quick getaway at the Asahi Beer Factory. Had one too many and tryin' to escape from the scene ol' Saint Nick?

Trees in clothes
No, these are not botanical equivalents of the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, the straw mats covering them are supposed to protect them from the harsh winter weather. See, even plants have it good in Hokkaido!

Sapporo city at night
Finally, a lovely night scene in Susukino, Sapporo's shopping district. It is as modern and sophisticated as you can get, dispelling images of Hokkaido being just about snow and seafood.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas in the Tropics

Despite not having an inch of snow, Christmas in Singapore has always been celebrated in grand style. Scintillating lights adorn our shopping streets, year-end sales fill the newspaper pages, and lovely Christmas trees all outdo each other. Age-old carols blast through the airwaves, while people make plans for parties, short getaways and breaks. Giving, feasting, celebrating and rejoicing in the reason for the season.

An idea just struck me. Why don't we get Singaporeans and visitors to blog about their festive-related experiences in Singapore and highlight noteworthy ones to the world? After all, Word Of Mouth is one of the strongest ways to sell a destination, and nothing beats a blog in doing that. Maybe I should suggest that to the Singapore Tourism Board?

Meanwhile, let me help to usher in the spirit of Christmas - Uniquely Singapore style!

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Christmas lights along Bras Basah Road, just outside the Singapore Art Museum.

Orchard Road Lights
A view from inside my car of Orchard Road's mesmerising (and traffic stopping) lights.

Tanglin Mall - Christmas Lightings
Tanglin Mall's beautiful decor of Christmas trees, lights and presents galore.

Christmas Tree @ Paragon
A blue, star studded beauty of a tree outside Orchard's Paragon Shopping Centre.

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A giant 3-storeyed Christmas tree in Ngee Ann City. See how it dwarfed us mere mortals?

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A smaller, more traditional looking yule-tide fir at Hotel Rendezvous.

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Another photo from Rendezvous, this time of a ginger-bread house. Sorry, I didn't test to see if its as tasty as it looks!

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Disney's world famous animals meeting and greeting shoppers at Takashimaya. The icons of consumer culture!

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Tina and Ethan diving into the thick of the action at Ngee Ann City Basement.

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"When I grow up, I want to be just like him and make billions from licensing!"

Coming up next - my adventures in a real winter wonderland!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Replace Without Question

Just got back from a fabulous holiday in wintry Hokkaido. Will blog about it soon.

Meanwhile, another brilliant example of how service should be from Seth Godin. No questions asked and no serial number, receipt, warranty card or other forms of authentication needed. Just what we need here in "black and white" Singapore.

Laurie writes, "amazing customer service from le creuset, the french enamel on cast iron cookware people

i dropped something on a pot cover while it was in the sink and the knob shattered
i called ...

"give me your shipping address and we'll send the replacement knob for the pot cover"
no questions asked ... i've had that pot 10 years ... lifetime warranty really does mean lifetime warranty ...

while i had them on the phone, i mentioned that i had another pot of theirs that got a chip on the enamel on the inside, and i had been wondering about getting it fixed

no questions asked ...

"we don't repair, we replace; here's the address to send the pot and we will replace it, and here's your confirmation number ... just put it on the inside of the package"

that pot is at least 8 years old ...

and here i am telling you all about it"

Link

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hokkaido Hiatus



Will be going off for a holiday in the wintry wonderland of Hokkaido for next week or so. Do pardon the tardy updates and I will try to access the Internet if I can.

"Sleigh bells ring..... Are you listening....."

How Resorts World Can Succeed


Aerial view of Genting's winning bid Resort World, courtesy of Channelnewsasia

By now, the news would already have been out. Genting International and Star Cruises, the widely-anticipated front runner in the $5 billion plus Sentosa Integrated Resorts stakes, had won the bid.

While the design of their Resorts World may not match the architectural statement and drama of Frank Gehry's light and glass creation for Kerzner International, it had most of the right ingredients. This included the combination of Universal Studios theme park, Dreamworks Studio, record breaking aquarium, water theme park, and maritime museum. Add to that Genting's expertise in the Asian tourism market (with 20 million annual visitors to their Genting Highlands Resort) and ability to keep to the nature focus of Sentosa (70% green cover) and it is clear why they won.

With that first major hurdle out of the way, how can an attraction like Resorts World do well in Singapore's market? Here are some thoughts from an operator's point of view:

1) Do not neglect the locals. Long-term sustainability of major attractions depend very much on local acceptance. We not only make up a big percentage of customers, but also help to promote the attraction through Word Of Mouth (WOM).

2) Partner tour operators, tour guides and hotel concierges. Right from the word "Go", identify who the major movers and shakers are. Get in touch with the big inbound tour operators like RMG and SH Tours, and establish sweet deals (commission and kickbacks) with hotel concierges. Educate the tour guides and make it worth their while to become your ambassadors.

3) Work with grassroot bodies. The CDCs, Community Clubs, People's Association, and schools are key local stakeholders. Invite them for tea and show them the educational and enrichment value that your attraction provides. See also if specially tailored programmes could be developed with an edu-tainment focus.

4) Smoothen transportation channels. Make it a point to work with airlines, bus and rail operators early. See if they could assist in providing new transport services, directional signs or other guides to show people the way. Provide maps, easy guides and orientation sessions for taxi drivers so that they know how to bring their passengers there.

5) Quality service is a must. What makes Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags tick is more than just the hardware and software. It is also the heartware. Start training all your employees and associates early, especially if service orientation isn't in their lifeblood. All it takes are a few bad apples to drive away customers.

6) Think long tail (or many long tails). Do not bank entirely on your biggest blockbuster shows or most important customers. Look at ways to generate multiple streams of income beyond ticketing - such as merchandising, shows, tram rides, and function rentals. Be nice to your niche customers even though they may not necessarily be your big rollers. To recover the huge investment and operating costs, you will need smaller pipelines beyond your mainstay.

7) Reinvent and rejuvenate constantly. Ultimately, an attraction is all about flash, dash and splash. Identify and plan for multiple opportunities to create and generate news beyond the initial hype and hoopla. Constantly seek to reinvent yourself and your product offering, as well as the visitor experience. Space them out so that they do not crowd each other.

8) Pay attention to operational details. Don't let equipment failures, accidents and thefts ruin your guest's experience. Make sure that daily checks are made on your rides, exhibition displays, and lightings. Safety is a key prerogative, and do not ever compromise on the rules and regulations governing this. Finally, take note that technology - no matter how state-of-the-art - may and do always fail during critical junctures. Ensure that you have Plan B ( C or D).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

VivoCity Adventures

We recently went to VivoCity together with my parents, my niece Mandy and nephew Isaac.

While we generally enjoyed ourselves, the entire experience would have been a lot better if certain attention to customer details were made. For a start, the air-conditioning was butt freezingly cold, and exiting from the carpark took eons.

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Our first stop for the night was at Earl Swensen's for dinner.

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Here is a picture of our main courses.

While my steak looked sizzling and savoury, I had a shock when I tried to cut it and it was bloody. Yes, I didn't know medium-rare now meant raw-and-gore (not the Incovenient Truth variety). Good thing they changed it for me before I turn vampiric!

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The salad buffet was mediocre at best. Note the friendly reminder not to share your salad with fellow cheapskates.

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Our next stop? Mini Toons, to indulge the kids.

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Here's Ethan looking at his 8-year old cousin Mandy amidst the soft toys.

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4-year old Isaac looks longingly at the snacks at Mini Toons.

Sometime shortly after that, a shop assistant interrupted me and said no photography is allowed here. I told him that I was taking photos of my kid, not his products. Anyway, we left shortly thereafter, without buying anything. Thanks for driving me away pal!

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I liked the decor put up by Tangs. They seem to be getting their act right these days.

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Another shot of the Christmas "chandelier" outside Tangs. A mesmerising assortment of festive shapes, colours, textures and patterns.

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"Jingle bells jingle bell, decorate your home!"

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China's founding father Mao Tse-Tung becomes the latest pop icon in resplendent technicolour. Now that's what I call cultural capital!

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Ethan, Isaac and Mandy having a ball of a time at Toys R Us - where kid's dreams and parent's nightmares come true simultaneously!

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Ethan toying with a T-Rex figure. Note the winter jacket that he was wearing in sunny Singapore. It toook quite a while before we could pry him off the object of his affection.