When you visit an attraction, have you ever wondered what goes on behind-the-scenes to create an excellent experience?

I travel moderately for both work and leisure – about one or two overseas trips each month. When visiting attractions, frustrations arise sometimes when service staff are not trained to answer general queries and signboards are not comprehensive, resulting in a lot of confusion.

For instance, when asked a question that they are unsure about, instead of checking it for you, the service staff may just brush if off in a nonchalant manner or simply ignore you. It is not exactly bad service, but it does leave a bad experience and a negative impression about the place.

A lot of blood and sweat goes into catering the best customer experience, but we mostly take it for granted. People are quick with complaints, but modest with compliments.

Visiting the S.E.A. Aquarium with their friendly staff

Visiting the S.E.A. Aquarium with their friendly staff

This year, Resorts World Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium is one of the finalists in the Singapore Experience Awards for their Ocean Dreams programme, under the ‘Best Learning & Travel Experience’ Category, and I had to opportunity to meet the team.

Manta ray caps for Ocean Dream participants

Manta ray caps for Ocean Dream participants

The Awards honours outstanding experiences offered by individuals and organisations that have demonstrated the delivery of an exceptional customer experience in Singapore’s dynamic tourism sector. It marks its sixth installment this year and up to 29 awards will be given out in the categories of Experience, Marketing & Media, Customer Service, Outstanding Contribution and Special Recognition.

Behind the maddening crowd one usually encounters at the Resorts World Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium is a twinkling, magical underwater world best experienced behind-the-scenes.

We had the privilege to do that one morning, two hours before the adoring public could storm the aquarium – home to more than 100,000 marine animals across 49 habitats.

Save a few parents and kids who had slept over the night before, the only other people we saw were the staff, who were busy preparing to open S.E.A. for the day.

The Manta Captains

The Manta Captains

Three young Manta Captains, Lee Kiang, Jun Hao and Diyana – who are on-site experience officers and handy with scientific tips and pointers – and the experience director of S.E.A. cheerily greeted us. The three bloggers (Asher, Rachel and I were considered one unit) were tagged to one Captain each. As we strolled through the darkened hallways lined by tanks of marine animals quietly stirring to observe our presence, the Captains were on hand to introduce the residents of each habitat.

These Manta Captains are the differentiating factor that makes an experience at S.E.A. Aquarium so outstanding compared to a regular experience at any other attraction. Excellent, committed and dedicated service staff make a huge difference towards the success of a tourism organisation. We learnt this on our excursion as we interacted more with the Manta Captains, and were won over by their dedication and excellent service.

The group’s excitement heightened as we approached the dolphin enclosure, as this was a rare chance to see these beautiful sea mammals without having to jostle with a crowd. Our anticipation was generously reciprocated when one of the dolphins came forward to greet us! Our guide explained that dolphins are very sociable creatures and were probably excited to see the first batch of visitors after a long, quiet night. This one posed for the cameras and even a selfie before swimming away into the blue depths of its tank.

The dolphin came and greeted everyone

The dolphin came and greeted everyone

Blowing bubbles

Blowing bubbles

Seeing how thrilled we were, the captains patiently waited for us to take photos, paying attention to ensure we captured the priceless moments that encapsulate the best experience at the aquarium. This was just one example of the excellent service that was provided to us throughout the tour.

Priceless picture with the dolphin

Priceless picture with the dolphin

After the dolphin enclosure, we proceeded to the manta rays section. Without a doubt, the stars of the aquarium were the manta rays. The Manta Captains were mindful to remind us that these gentle giants, which feed on plankton and krill, are drastically different from stingrays, which are predators and have barbs on their tails. Manta rays have cephalic lobes while stingrays have kite-shaped bodies.

Krill which are used to feed the manta rays

Krill which are used to feed the manta rays

The three manta rays in the S.E.A. Aquarium are named M1, M2 and M3, and are identified by the unique markings on their undersides. M1 has one black stripe on its white belly, M2’s underside is completely black, while M3 spots a black “V” shape.

These facts and introductions have been carefully and meticulously prepared by the Ocean Dreams team into digestible nuggets of information for guests, such that even the little ones like Asher can remember them. Here, we can again appreciate the attention to details to create the best experience.

Birth of a shark

Birth of a shark

After that, we were then introduced to the Aquarist. The Aquarists are knowledge masters when it comes to marine animals and their food, and one of the highlights of our visit was to watch how the Aquarists feed the rays. Contrary to our expectations, they did not have to dive in to feed them. We were brought to a place which overlooked the enormous gallery in the middle of the S.E.A. Aquarium. To commence feeding, three Aquarists hit the surface of the water with a pail tied to a long pole, to attract the attention of the rays. Once the rays respond, they will load each pail with just the right amount of krill and dispense the food in long, sweeping strokes so that each ray can vacuum up their food without wastage. The pacing and the tilting of the pail has to be just right so that the rays are not fed too quickly.

The area where the visitors can observe the feeding of the manta rays

The area where the visitors can observe the feeding of the manta rays

Rachel and Asher observing the manta ray feeding

Rachel and Asher observing the manta ray feeding

Tapping the bucket on the water to attract the manta ray's attention

Tapping the bucket on the water to attract the manta ray’s attention

Feasting on krill

Feasting on krill

Close-up

Close-up

Video of the feeding:

After observing the feeding, we went inside the kitchen to see how food is prepared for the marine creatures in the aquarium. The Aquarists handle bucket loads of food every day! They have to work fast so that every one of their charges gets its food on time. I got the chance to try out the food preparation, chopping fish, pulling apart squid and cutting off sharp edges from shrimp.

Learning on how to prepare food for the marine creatures

Learning on how to prepare food for the marine creatures

Krill

Krill

The different seafood to feed the marine life

The different seafood to feed the marine creatures

Nasi lemak fish

Nasi lemak fish

Prawns and squids

Prawns and squids

Demo

Demo

Me getting hands-on

Me getting hands-on

the prawn heads have to be removed

the prawn heads have to be removed

How to chop fish gracefully

How to chop fish gracefully

The sharp edges are removed from the shrimp in consideration for the guests who will be feeding them to the marine creatures. Small details like these are what contribute to making S.E.A. Aquarium an award-winning tourist destination. You may not even have noticed it if it was not pointed out, but weeding out all the potential for small little bad experiences like this is what contributes to creating a seamless experience for all guests.

Group picture with the individual basket of seafood which each of us had chopped up and prepared

Group picture with the individual basket of seafood which each of us had chopped up and prepared

My three-year-old son, Asher, particularly benefitted from the experiential learning trip, as he was converted to becoming a big fan of the manta rays (his all-time favourite marine creature is the giant pacific octopus, which also resides in S.E.A. Aquarium) by the knowledgeable Manta Captains. True to their calling, these young captains gamely responded to his badgering and chatted with him about his favourite marine animals. Despite having woken up a tad early for the excursion, he was quite energetic and was up to all sorts of antics with the Captains’ loudspeaker.

Rachel and Asher with two of the Manta Captains

Rachel and Asher with two of the Manta Captains

Later on, I learnt that their patience in managing children is part nature and part nurture: As the Manta Captains are in charge of  the Ocean Dreams programme, they have to keep them engaged, yet disciplined!

When we pulled out a manta ray plush toy from one of the goodie bags we were given, we felt compelled to check its underside for hints as to how we should name it. It had a completely white belly, so we decided to call it “M0”, or “Mo”. Yes, we already absorbed all the knowledge on manta rays that the Captains have imparted to us!

M1

M1

For the last stop, I had the chance to play the role of the Manta Captain for a few minutes, together with the other two bloggers. We did an introduction and shared some marine facts to a group of parents and kids who attended the sleepover. I also led the kids in some fun and games while sharing fun facts with them, and made them fold and keep their sleeping bags (which was no easy task!).

I enjoyed being a Manta Captain for a while, and I strongly believe that it is only when you enjoy your work that you can do a good job at it. However…. I am not sure if I can keep up the high energy level and enthusiasm week after week!

Zhiqiang, another blogger, sharing tips on the manta ray with the kids

Zhiqiang, another blogger, sharing tips on the manta ray with the kids

Another blogger folded blankets with the kids

Another blogger folded blankets with the kids

I played games with the kids. Asher joined in too.

I played games with the kids. Asher joined in too.

Everyone had fun

Everyone had fun

Not to mention, there is also the issue of difficult customers. This is part and parcel of any service profession. Difficult customers probably constitute less than 1 per cent of all visitors, but they are the most challenging to deal with. I have done some part-time service jobs during my teens, and getting yelled at for the smallest of things, which may not even be your fault, is really a harrowing experience. Professional service staff are still able to smile and defuse the situation in such cases. I am sure the aquarium team is definitely trained and adept at handling these difficult situations. Hence, I have the utmost respect for them!

Thank you for the great experience :)

Thank you for the great experience 🙂

Next time, when you visit an attraction in Singapore or during one of your travels to anywhere in the world, do observe what goes on to create the top-notch tourist experience you enjoy. If you can, read the name of the exemplary service staff off his or her name tag and thank the person by his or her name at the end of your visit. This will bring a big smile to their face because it is what they are working for – your appreciation.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Visit the official website @ Singapore Experience Awards to find out more and to see the full list of awards and criteria. You can also share the experiences you’ve enjoyed by tagging #yoursingapore, and your posts could be reposted on the @Visit_Singapore Instagram page.