8 lessons to learn from British museums

Paris has the Louvre, Orsay and Centre Georges Pompidou. London has Tate Modern, V&A and Natural History Museum: two very different cities with two very different approaches to museums.

But they share a few common points: their museums are extremely well attended (9.72 million visitors for the Louvre and 5.32 million for Tate Modern in 2012) and are, in both cases, at the heart of the tourism offering.

During a recent trip to London – taking advantage of a few beautiful Indian summer days – I visited all three above-mentioned museums. Here I share some of my observations, trying to find the reasons for their success.

V&A Dining Room

V&A Dining Room

  1. British museums are FREE and they make it clear; it’s everywhere: in tourist brochures, posters, signage, etc;
  2. Very smooth entrance experience (security, doors, etc) and control, making the museum very inviting, almost like an extension of the public space it sits on;
  3. Access to the museums is part of the experience: Exhibition Road for V&A and Natural History Museum and Millennium Bridge for Tate Modern, ensuring a strong integration within the city and association with the destination;
  4. Visitor flow is organized around deconstructed and limited collections displayed in clearly themed rooms, keeping it entertaining with elements of surprise and the feeling of ‘flipping’ through collections;
  5. Paid exhibitions are spread-out in the building with attractive dedicated retail outlets aimed at ‘selling’ these exhibitions and allowing for last-minute impulse buy;
  6. A number of well designed donation boxes are strategically located throughout the building with ‘suggested’ donation amounts: a very clever way of substituting entrance fee by relying on visitor’s gratefulness in front of such ‘free’ content. This is probably the best motivation for the museum to look after its visitors, as the donation revenue will be directly proportional to the visitors’ satisfaction!
  7. Huge café with good looking self-service concept, taking advantage of the building architectures, views, etc – Have you seen the dining room at V&A? It’s amazing!
  8. Free wifi everywhere, which means that local creative youth takes ownership of the space; museums become cool places to hang-out with a nice all-but-stuffy vibe.

For all of us museum people, these are great lessons.  British museums are doing a remarkable job and they are rightfully highly regarded overseas.

Personally I would like to see a mix of British and French influence in the design of new museum experience in Asia. With increasing French influence and strong historical British heritage, Hong Kong could be the place where this explosive mix will happen. Watch out for M+ and the proposed project for the Central Police Station!


What Hong Kong needs to become a kick-ass destination?

So last night I watched the first episode of NewsRoom; you know the one where Will McAvoy goes on about America not being the greatest country in the world before concluding it CAN be. And I got really inspired. I started thinking about Hong Kong as a destination and how it might not be the best in the world but it definitely can be. Now, what does Hong Kong need then to become a kick-ass destination?

A bit of background first. Just a few weeks ago, Mainland China released its new tourism law to regulate the industry and give tourists more protection. This will have a huge impact on tourism in Hong Kong since conducted tours subsidized by retail commissions are no longer allowed. Tourist arrivals from Mainland China to Hong Kong will drop but, on the bright side, this creates huge opportunities for the Hong Kong destination to work harder and become better… possibly the best!

Where to start? We need a change of attitude; we can’t be complacent anymore. We have to recognize we are not the best destination in the world and in this process grow a strong collective desire to be the best. And this is possible. Hong Kong has all it takes: people, money, geography, infrastructures, etc.

Then I suggest we have a look at an article I wrote last year, Singapore v Hong Kong, which had quite a few hints on what sort of attractions could go well in Hong Kong: home-grown, nature-based and heritage.

So here is a wish list of attractions that could be developed around town for my tourism and property friends in Hong Kong to consider:

  • A private Hong Kong memories museum in Central: a contemporary interpretation of Hong Kong’s heritage and culture
  • A cool nature adventure park in Lantau: the latest in ziplines, tree-top courses, bungee jump, etc
  • A family-friendly nightly cultural show in Kowloon Park: based on food and heritage themes
  • A canto-pop indoor park for young adults in Kowloon Bay: by 4D Live Park with a hologram theatre, music experience (interactive, F&B, etc) and music complex (stage, etc)
  • An 8th Estate vinopolis by the ferris wheel at the New Central Harbourfront: a vibrant, interactive space where local residents and tourists can indulge their passion for wine, food, music, art and life

This would add to the list of other cool projects already under development: M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District, Ocean Park’s water park, Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland and the ferris wheel at New Central Harbourfront. And for a bit of fun you might even want to have a look at some of the crazy attractions projects that never went through in Hong Kong.

It is time for tourists to Hong Kong to have more choice than Peak Tram, Ocean Park, Disneyland and Madame Tussauds. I mean, Madame Tussauds is one of the city’s top 5 attractions, really!?

When Peter Lam, the new chairman of HKTB, started in May 2013 he said he was in favor of more attractions he thought the destination needed. I hope he likes my ideas. If anyone has more, please send through.

And now over to Peter Lam – our Will McAvoy – to make it happen! Always happy to help of course…

REVIEW: Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris

For the first time in Singapore, for S$15 one can see 21 paintings from masters such as Modigliani, Van Dyck and Monet. This is the Pinacotheque effect!

Shortly after signing a deal with the National Parks Board of Singapore to turn Fort Canning into the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, the French institution opened a temporary exhibition to introduce its philosophy to the local audience.

Is the private museum not close to the Curiosities’ Cabinet? It first emerged during the Renaissance and later was given the name of “Chamber of Wonders” when it dealt essentially with works of art. It finally disappeared forever in the 19th century. The museum then replaced the Curiosities’ Cabinet as an official institution.

The idea today is to renew with everything the museum has lost of its essence and its meaning. Hence the name of the museum you are visiting today: La Pinacothèque de Paris. Etymologically “pinacothèque” means “box of paintings”. That word thus emphasizes intimacy and secrecy.

So I decided to go and see for myself as I was visiting Singapore. Fort Canning is located half-way between City Hall and Clarke Quay; it’s a bit of hike but the park is beautiful and so peaceful yet in the heart of the city.

Fort Canning Park

Fort Canning Park

The building housing the future museum used to be the barracks of the British Army; it has a nice simple colonial style, which suits well an art museum.

Fort Canning Centre

Fort Canning Centre

Inside the building, the current exhibition is very small but the treatment of the room is high quality and gives a good feel for what the future museum will be like.

Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris

The curator, Marc Restellini, chose to exhibit 21 paintings from very different periods. They all work well together and the few people there with me enjoyed the close encounter with painting masters, sometimes going back to the same piece to look at a detail or an explanation they had missed before.







Do Asians like scary stuff?

This article was originally written for my column in blooloop.com

As we are entering the Halloween month I look back at Halloween events and scary rides in Asia and ask myself what is it that people like in the East.

Photo credit: Ocean Park

Photo credit: Ocean Park

For the teenagers… and the whole family

Like everywhere scary rides and events are popular with teenagers and particularly with small groups of friends who like to share this kind of experience and ‘test’ each other’s limits.

This is something Ocean Park recognized when they started their Halloween celebrations 13 years ago, mostly targeted at local teenagers with dedicated marketing platforms. Watch this video from last year to see Halloween revisited in Gangnam style.

Ocean Park’s Halloween event has become Asia’s largest Halloween themed event and one of the most anticipated seasonal festivities in Hong Kong. It attracted more than 750,000 visitors in 2012.

Other attractions in the region saw the potential of scary rides to reach out to a more demanding group of teenagers. Merlin Entertainment added its SCREAM attraction to Madame Tussauds in Shanghai (2006) and Hong Kong (2008). In Malaysia, Sunway Lagoon revealed in 2008 its SCREAM Park in collaboration with New York-based The Sudden Impact! These walk-through attraction feature live performers, themed environments and sound effects.

Beyond ghost stories and haunted houses, one reason that Halloween is being embraced in Asia is the opportunity to dress up which seems to be absent in most Asian celebrations. And this opens avenues for a more family-friendly event, which suits very well attractions and theme parks.

According to Ms. Vivian Lee, Ocean Park’s Director of Marketing, “more and more people look to the Halloween event for fun elements for the family” so for the first time this year the event will be open all day for all visitors of the park. Watch this video to see how the park is adapting its message for a family crowd beyond its strong teenager followers.

Cultural adaptation

Despite what I would have thought, there actually is a strong horror and ghosts culture in Asia.

Asian horror films, especially from Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, are quite popular and famous for their original storylines and strong psychological plots, making them different from traditional scary films. A number of them were even adapted in Hollywood.

In Japan, going to a ghost house called “obake yashiki” is a summer tradition.

Photo credit: Reuters

Photo credit: Reuters

Ghost houses are set up in amusements parks with the tradition linked to Japanese Buddhism which views August as the time when ancestral spirits may return for a visit and Japanese visit their elders’ graves.

When it comes to Halloween, Asians can relate because of its links to the supernatural. Asia has plenty of pre-existing festivals to celebrate the return of the dead. In China Halloween is celebrated as Teng Chieh, where people visit the local Buddhist temple to make paper boats to carry their deceased loved ones to peace. Japan’s Obon sees red lanterns hung in houses to guide the spirits home and in Korea the celebration of Chusok sees relatives visiting graveyards with offerings of food as a mark of respect to the dead.

According to Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, “it is very important for Halloween to be close with local culture, Hong Kong people like to see local stars in the event as well as to experience local ghost stories. I have come to realise that local people are very superstitious and somehow they loved to be scared by the local culture. They really believe in their own ghosts and ghost stories.”

The same cultural adaptation goes with scary rides and attractions. According to local sources, Merlin Entertainment is planning to introduce its brand The Dungeons to Asia with its first ‘museum coming alive’ scheduled to open in Sentosa, Singapore in 2014 with a storyline based on the ‘dark’ history of the city.

But local cultures can be hard to deal with sometimes. The best example is when Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) decided to cancel their very popular Halloween Horrors event in 2011 claiming negative feedback from “corporations, friends of the zoo, the public and the media about the event, especially over the relevance in relation to conservation” and a clash with the Deepavali festival in October. Some students from Singapore Polytechnics – involved in the organization of the event – reported that someone in the senior management even said: “We should not worship the devil”.

Coincidentally the attendance level at WRS parks have been disappointing in the last year and the new park River Safari has seen a slow start. Could it be that they lost the support of a key opinion leaders group that is the local teenagers?

And during this time, Ocean Park Hong Kong is adapting to local cultures and embracing both teenagers and families with its Halloween event, resulting in record attendance levels (over 7 million this year).

I will let you make your own judgment but one thing for sure: Asians do like scary stuff!

This could be a revolution in contextual marketing

Last week I had the visit of a friend from the UK who recently relocated to Australia to start a new digital agency called Digital Fuel.

He was telling me about a proprietary product – Social Connect – they launched last week, which simply blew me away. I thought I would share with you something that could revolutionize the way our (travel) industry looks at targeted marketing messages in a truly contextual fashion.

This is out it works. Simply export a database into the application and enter a few key words. It will then interrogate social networks to 1) qualify your database and 2) filter the people in your database speaking about your set of key words on social networks at this very moment. You can then choose to send them an email or a rich media text message, which will be absolutely relevant to the key words you entered.

Social Connect has been in Beta for a few months and one of the tests they did was for HMV for the release of a new album. They entered the artist’s name as key word and sent out promotional messages to buy online with HMV. The success rate was an incredible 25%!

Now let’s see how our industry can benefit from Social Connect. Take the new River Safari in Singapore for example, which houses two very cute pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia. Owned by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the park can tap into a very large database of Singaporeans. How about interrogating the database and see who is talking about pandas on social networks? Then send them a nice email with the latest video of the pandas having fun and inviting them to buy their tickets online now with a special discount!

River Safari

What I find particularly interesting with Social Connect is that it makes databases very relevant again; only with a whole new dimension. The recent focus on social media took us away from the importance of nurturing our databases. But really we should because, unlike fans/followers on social networks, contacts/members of a database belong to us and we have been authorized to send them promotions.

So, everyone back to our databases and let’s do some cool contextual marketing!

The 3 Steps to a Successful Digital Marketing Approach

Lately I have been doing some work with Amas, Celebrating Life’s new chief digital officer, and we’ve been looking at digital marketing strategies in our (travel) industry. Here I share with you some of our simple tips when looking at your digital marketing approach.


If you are reading this and wondering about your digital marketing model it is probably because 1) you have some problems you would like to solve, or 2) you are thinking you can do better, or 3) all of the above.

The first step is to assess your current situation by reviewing your external environment (what is happening in your destination, best practices, etc), your market position (what your competitors are doing, where do you stand in various digital platforms, etc), your current digital marketing activities and more importantly your internal resources.

This will allow you to identify where it hurts and therefore easily set some measurable and achievable goals. And remember, your business is unique and you should identify your very own objectives. Maybe you want to be a market leader, or you just want some percentage growth, etc.

If you work with consultants and agencies it is important that they listen to you and participate in this assessment process with you. If you have only limited resources (manpower and budget), are you capable of thinking outside the box and leveraging your existing strengths?


There are amazing resources out there. Digital marketing is (naturally) a very popular topic online. People share best practices, valuable knowledge and ideas. Get someone in your team or your consultants to pull these resources together and apply them to your case.

What we need nowadays is not an “expert” in each field, but a “dynamic thinker” to help you grow.  This will allow you to leverage your strengths and reduce the amount of money and efforts needed to achieve your goals. There is not point investing in an expensive media plan if you are not engaging with your audience, activating your brand and generating loyalty. You will find most agencies just emphasis on optimization by their so-called best practice, knowledge or golden rule in all their standard exercises such as SEM, media buy, banner, social, EDM & SEO, but won’t adapt to your situation, which you will have identified in Step 1. The reason is agencies tend to sell what they get used and comfortable with, but not always what you need.


Once you have done a good assessment of your situation and digested resources available, you will be ready to formulate a roadmap and decide the amount of money and human resources you are prepared to allocate to achieve your goals. You may then ask your consultants to propose different approaches within the framework you have identified.

It is important that your consultants understand your priorities and adhere to your roadmap, which should include KPIs that are both measurable data (sales, etc) and content driven (campaigns, partnerships, etc). The industry is dynamic; it is perfectly OK to reassess the situation on a regular basis with your consultants. Because of the nature of digital marketing you are learning and growing together.

I hope this helped. If you wish to ask a question to Amas, feel free to send him an email at amas.li@celebratinglife.asia