Merlin strikes in Singapore… and I am impressed.

For those who know me I have a strong opinion about Merlin Entertainments and usually I tend to be rather critical. But for the first time I am really impressed. Let me share my thoughts after visiting their recently opened operation in Sentosa: Madame Tussauds Singapore & Images of Singapore LIVE.

The new attraction is located in the former Images of Singapore building in the Imbiah Zone in Sentosa Island, for which Merlin Entertainment won the bid a year ago. I was really curious to see what they’d done since we participated in the bid too with one of our clients.

Merlin took a different approach than ours as they decided to split the building in two to accommodate a 2-in-1 attraction with Images of Singapore LIVE and Madame Tussauds Singapore. It turned out to be a very smart approach, which allowed them to win the votes of the Sentosa board.

In the RFP document, Sentosa was asking for an operator to “redevelop and operate IOS with the option to operate F&B, retail and/or any other supporting provisions”. Merlin’s approach to keep part of the Images of Singapore exhibit (the pre-show remains unchanged) and to rearrange existing decors and props into a series of a dozen of scenes featuring live actors and special effects works very well. Evidently it is inspired by their Dungeons concept but where Merlin managed to impress me is for once they decided not to plug an existing brand/concept but to create something new and culturally relevant using their existing resources.

In my opinion this could be the sign of a shift in Merlin’s strategy, which could potentially open up a whole new world of opportunities. What if Merlin started to redevelop under-performing attractions in prime locations around the globe? Imagine all these science centres, museums, etc left dying by government-lead bodies and suddenly marketed by the world’s second largest attractions company…

But where Merlin really strikes is by squeezing a relatively small size Madame Tussauds attraction into the building, allowing them to jack up the admission price from S$10 for Images of Singapore to S$35 for the combo! And that’s where the money is. Madame Tussauds is a very strong brand and appeals to the Asian audience obsessed with photo taking, and now selfies.

As an ‘educated’ visitor who would normally bad-mouth any Madame Tussauds museum located in a shopping mall (Bangkok, Shanghai, etc) I have to say I had a really good experience in Singapore. We bought the combo and so the visit started with Images of Singapore LIVE. For 45min we were taken through a quick summary of Singapore’s history and it was very entertaining. The scripts are well written, the actors rather convincing and the recycled props of Images of Singapore very well suited. At the end of the 45min we should have gone on the Spirit of Singapore boat ride (currently not working) taking us to the beginning of Madame Tussauds.

The Madame Tussauds exhibition is quite standard although I would say the section on the history of Madame Tussauds and how wax figures are made is better than usual (they might have been inspired by Grevin’s new museums in Montreal and Prague!). The mix between local and international celebrities is good; I was with a Singaporean friend and it was clear she was enjoying pointing out to me the different local celebs and what they did for Singapore.

Here is a short video of Madame Tussauds (filming at Images of Singapore LIVE was not allowed).

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