Singapore FECs Flourish, Despite Pandemic
Pare Swartsenburg credits her children for her decision to enter the family entertainment center (FEC) business.
“When my girls were young, I realized it was hard to bring the kids out to an indoor playground, where parents could just relax,” she says with a chuckle. “Everywhere we brought the girls, we would have to run after them, to make sure they were safe, or continue to entertain them. It was exhausting. We really wanted to have something where it’s just kind of calming and relaxing for play.”
In 2013, Swartsenburg opened The Tiara Society, a dress-up playground for girls. Following a two-year hiatus focusing on pop-up children’s parties in local clubs, she relaunched the attraction in April as Once Upon A Time. The new location, inside a venue in Singapore’s East Coast Park, is larger, caters to both boys and girls, and features an escape room in addition to role-playing areas. There are also enrichment classes for preschool students and “master classes” in martial arts, archery, yoga, cooking, and more.
As in China, education is a key draw for FECs in Singapore.
“Parents can bring kids to play anywhere. What makes them want to bring them to one park more than another? It could be that educational element, where you see that they don’t just play, they learn something as well,” says Carolyn Chia, general manager of the DreamUs Group, which operates three FECs in Singapore, two based on Korean intellectual properties and a third that has Finnish roots.
Chia is currently planning a new attraction that combines a play space for children with a workspace area for their parents, where they can plug in their laptops and use Wi-Fi. DreamUs also plans to expand overseas once the pandemic subsides.
Birthday parties meanwhile are a major revenue generator at FECs throughout the city.
“When we launched 2013, I thought I was opening a playground, but before I knew it, I became a party organizer,” Swartsenburg says. “I’ve run over 1,000 birthday parties.”
Even though party size is limited by pandemic rules, she says she currently has birthday party bookings almost every day.