Last call for Singapore’s Crazy Horse

Financial Times
John Burton
30 Jan 07

The opening in Singapore of Crazy Horse, the Parisian topless cabaret, in late 2005 was intended to persuade the world that the city-state was a global centre with buzz as it sought to rid itself of its prudish image.

But the nightclub will close its doors this week because of poor attendance, which it blamed on state restrictions on advertising to protect public morals.

The episode reflects the conflicting forces at work within the Singaporean government as it seeks to reshape the city’s image to lure both more visitors and the educated migrants it wants to attract to halt a declining birthrate.

The closure of Crazy Horse in Singapore also serves as a warning that the city-state’s two planned casino resorts could suffer a tough time if officials insist on micro-managing their operations.

The Crazy Horse venture had been endorsed by the government’s Singapore Tourism Board as well as Lee Kuan Yew, independent Singapore’s founding father and the man largely responsible for fostering the city-state’s squeaky-clean image.

However, the ministry for information, culture and the arts imposed strict curbs on advertising for what was meant to be a prime tourist attraction along the Singapore River. The club was not allowed to advertise at Changi Airport and its advertisements were also off limits for television, radio, bus stops and taxi tops.

Restrictions were also placed on newspaper and magazine advertising.

The curbs had a crippling effect on business, said Goh Min Yen, managing director of Eng Wah Organisation, the local cinema operator that had licensed the Crazy Horse franchise.

“Even well-known names like Prada, Gucci or Nokia spend a lot of money on advertising,” she said.

“If there is no top-of-the-mind recollection of Crazy Horse, hotel concierges and tour agents will not recommend the place and people will not come here.”

Eng Wah said it would write off S$5.7m (US$3.7m, €2.8m, £1.9m) in costs after it reported operating losses of S$3.1m in the first half of the current financial year.

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