For people at the Singapore Airshow early this week, a transport matter of a non-aviation kind became a talking point.
Local or foreign, exhibitor or visitor, military or civilian without the precious SA2016 car label, the conversation centred on the fastest (and cheapest) way in/out of the venue for the world's third largest airshow.
Much of the conversation on sinuous queues for shuttle buses and even longer ones for stealth taxis was unflattering to Singapore's reputation for efficiency and good planning.
Singapore's mainstream print and broadcast media chimed in too. In the past few days, we have seen at least one television report on the evening news and two articles by Singapore's newspaper of record.
The dozens of public relations consultants vying to have their news releases carried by the local media must have been flabbergasted when their pitch was bested by the Singapore Airshow's transport woes.
What a pity.
Same venue, new problems
The transport woes forced upon airshow exhibitors and visitors are an unnecessary inconvenience.
The venue for the biennial event has stayed at the same site at Changi since 2008. This means the organiser, Experia Events Pte Ltd, did not get off from a standing start. It had years of experience managing the situation for the airshow in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 to learn from. So where did all those years of institutional knowledge and customer feedback go to?
For exhibitors who set up shop at the Changi Exhibition Centre over the past week, the sour experience with transport arrangements on Tuesday - the airshow's first Trade Day - must have put them off going to work at the show venue for the rest of the week. But they had no choice, did they?
For airshow visitors, the wait for taxis - reportedly 2.5 hours long at its peak - must have tested the patience of more than a handful of people.
These wretched experiences are takeaways that Singapore could do without.
Every year, when Singapore stages its National Day celebrations, the way the National Day Parade (NDP) unfolds with clockwork efficiency (key events on the NDP timetable are timed to the second) is a point of pride. The NDP reflects all things positive: Thorough planning, close coordination between stakeholders and effective leadership at all levels that results in a good show.
Could airshow visitors caught in the immobile queue line for taxis which are more elusive than the stealth fighter say the same?
An airshow venue that bursts into life every two years must run the extra mile to court taxi drivers, many of whom may not have been behind the wheel of a taxi at the last show. And when you have a cab rank in a remote part of Singapore, the effort to build mindshare among taxi drivers becomes even more critical. If this is not done, do not expect cab drivers to show up at the airshow site magically.
Experia may put on a brave front by saying airshow visitor numbers (which it has not disclosed, and which are unaudited anyway even if it did...) exceeded expectations. Is that such a big surprise that caught planners blindsided, particularly since airshow season has chalked up good visitorship numbers since the Asian Aerospace series took off in the early 1980s?
If you were Experia, would you not up your game plan for growth? Rocket science it is not.
When the Singapore Airshow 2016 draws to a close tomorrow, it is likely Experia will publicise the take-up rate for the 2018 edition and the amount of space already committed.
Success not guaranteed
While the airshow's continued success is good for Singapore, one should never assume visitors will automatically flock to such events like migrating birds. The airshow's success hinges upon gaining continued support, and therefore critical mass, from foreign exhibitors who make it worth the while for the aviation community to fly here to talk shop.
Singapore is not a cheap destination. And there are rival airshows waiting to pounce and steal our lunch.
And by the way, that junior or mid-level executive who wasted his or her time in the queue line is tomorrow's decision-maker whom the Singapore Airshow needs to count on for its success. When budgets are cut and tough decisions need to be made on which airshows to support, one hopes budget-conscious planners will continue to see value in coming to Singapore.
Even if the exhibitors and visitors continue to support the event, Experia must do better to improve its customer service mindset to avoid a repeat of the Singapore Airshow 2016 transport debacle.
It took years for Singapore to establish itself on the airshow circuit.
It will take hardwork and a sincere commitment to serve customers even better to keep it there.