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Business trends

Singapore's Changi and rival hubs wage battle of airport megamalls

City-state's greenery-filled Jewel complex looks to make layovers fun

Changi Airport's Jewel mall features a 40-meter-high waterfall and plenty of plants.

SINGAPORE -- Singapore's Changi Airport and other Asian hubs are building large commercial facilities to generate extra cash, in addition to expanding runways and other aviation infrastructure.

Changi faces stiff competition from other regional hubs, such as Hong Kong International Airport, which relies heavily on Chinese passengers. The Hong Kong airport's SkyCity complex includes a hotel due for completion in 2020 and commercial facilities set to open after 2023.

The opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge to traffic last October -- linking the two special administrative regions and Zhuhai, Guangdong Province -- has enhanced the Hong Kong hub's role as a gateway to mainland China and the popular casino destination.

Southeast Asian airports are also jumping into the fray. Near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, for example, a joint venture between the airport operator and Japanese real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan has expanded its shopping mall.

In April, Changi opened Jewel, a $1.24 billion commercial, entertainment and garden complex.

Changi has long had other attractions on top of the standard airport fare, including a swimming pool and sunflower garden near the boarding gates. The idea is to draw more connecting passengers through Singapore, which has a small domestic aviation market. Comfortable layovers are key to this strategy. Jewel is the airport's latest gambit in the never-ending effort to stay ahead of the competition.

While demand for air travel is growing in Asia, earnings from commercial and other nonaviation facilities are also attractive to airport operators. Airports Council International, a trade group, said such earnings will become an important source of funds for future airport investments.

Jewel is a huge glass-walled building surrounded by Changi Airport's terminals and has a total floor area of 135,700 sq. meters. It has 10 floors in all, five above ground and five below. The complex is the size of 20 soccer fields and features a 40-meter-high artificial waterfall, along with abundant greenery reminiscent of a botanical garden. It is already a popular spot for tourists and Singapore residents alike.

Layover times are longer at Changi these days because of the growing number of discount airlines with takeoff and landing times in the late-night and early-morning hours. Jewel has 280 retail shops and restaurants, as well as attractions such as a multiscreen movie theater and huge mazes.

"Many airports around the world are now going beyond providing just efficient services to passengers," Changi Airport Group's managing director Jayson Goh, who is in charge of airport operations, told reporters in April. "Passenger experience is our key focus," he added.

With tens of thousands of passengers flying in and out of Changi every day, the airport is a juicy location for retailers. The Pokemon Center located in Jewel is the first overseas outlet for goods associated with the popular Japanese animated character.

"Since Changi is the hub airport of Asia, we can reach customers from various countries in the region by setting up a shop here," Kenjiro Ito, chief business officer of The Pokemon Company, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "This will help us when we enter other Asian markets."

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