Pedestrian Nights on Orchard Road have had no real impact, retailers say

VALERIE KOH Today Online 4 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — As the second run of Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road comes to an end on Saturday (Feb 6) — with no immediate plans for another round — hospitality and marketing experts, noting the lacklustre impact so far, said more will have to be done by all stakeholders, if the event is to become more than just a novelty and deliver a real boost to businesses.

Most retailers interviewed by TODAY saw no real impact to their earnings following two six-month runs of the event, which sees the stretch between Scotts Road and Bideford Road closed to cars for one Saturday night a month and play host to themed events.

Experts said the novelty wore off quickly after its launch. “There was initially quite a bit of buzz over it. Subsequently, there wasn’t a lot of promotional materials to remind people, and consumers tend to be forgetful,” said Mr Amos Tan, a marketing lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic (SP).

With different themes — including mass tennis and yoga — for each night, visitors could not keep up with the changes, added Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s (NP) senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam. “Every month the theme changes, it’s difficult for people to know what the event is for. If you’re going to have a concert to showcase local talent every month, everybody will know it’s a venue for concert,” said Dr Chiam. “I think that’s where the gap is.”

The initiative, organised by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, started in October 2014, and returned for another six nights in July last year. Last year, the October and November editions were cancelled due to the haze.

Despite the event drawing in over 50,000 visitors on average — twice the regular Saturday night footfall — in the first installment, this did not appear to translate to more sales for retailers TODAY interviewed. Visitors tend to be attracted to the fanfare on the road, away from the malls flanking the streets. “People are here for the event; they’re not here to buy,” said the assistant branch manager of accessories store Sinma at Lucky Plaza, who only wanted to be known as Mdm Chua.

Some shopping malls such as Tangs extended their opening hours from 9.30pm to 11pm on Pedestrian Night, but House of Condom general manager Yee Chun Fei shunned the move. “With the economy like this, most businesses have been affected. If we extend, we have to pay our workers extra. There’s no point,” he said.

ORBA executive director Steven Goh said that feedback from stakeholders and shoppers will be reviewed, as organisers mull over the next steps to take. “As of now, there will not be another Pedestrian Night after the February run until we decide on the future of the initiative,” said Mr Goh.

The feedback accumulated so far and the experience of organising Pedestrian Night in different formats will help OBRA and the authorities evaluate whether the initiative should be continued, he said.

Following the first run, the organisers had introduced improvements, like ramps added at access points and in-mall activities and promotions “so that the street level buzz extends to the rest of the precinct”.

SP’s Mr Tan suggested bringing street performances into malls to create the impetus for visitors to wander in, and decorating malls in tandem with the theme of the night.

Success hinged on the collective efforts of mall tenants, he added. “If you only have a few shops that are opening, it’s going to create the image that not a lot of people are interesting in participating. And you cannot blame the customers for not patronising you.”

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, who teaches marketing at the National University of Singapore (NUS), hoped to see entrepreneurs plying their wares along the pedestrianised street. This would inevitably lead to competition with mall tenants, but it could also incentivise the shopkeepers to be more enterprising, she said.

NP’s Dr Chiam pointed out that there was also the misconception that the area is closed off, and some shun it completely.

Moving forward, the organisers would have to think very hard about ensuring their ideas remain “fresh”, said NUS real estate Associate Professor Yu Shi-Ming. He expressed scepticism over the viability of Pedestrian Night as a permanent feature. “Closing the road brings a lot of inconvenience. Do you have enough activities to ensure the whole street is buzzing? The space is huge, and honestly, we don’t have the people to fill it up,” he said.

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