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Bangkok's $1.6bn megamall opens amid tourism downturn

Apple Store and Takashimaya make their debut in Asia's shopping paradise

Iconsiam's exclusive tenant list, upscale atmosphere and works from Thai and international artists could make for a big tourist attraction. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- Iconsiam, which opens to the public on Saturday in one of the world's most competitive retail landscapes, already has something to worry about: slowing tourism.

The new megamall, located on the west bank of Chao Phraya River, houses 525,000 sq. meters of retail floor space. Its size surpasses that of another megamall, Central World, to take the crown of Bangkok's biggest.

The 54-billion-baht ($1.6 billion) project, full of artwork and big-name retailers, was developed by Siam Piwat, the owner and operator of Siam Paragon, another Bangkok megamall. Multinational conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group and Magnolia Quality Development, a CP unit, were also involved.

"It offers the best in shopping and entertainment," said Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Siam Piwat and director of Iconsiam. The development was "made possible by a collaboration of business organizations both big and small."

Notable tenants include Takashimaya, a posh department store chain out of Japan, an official Apple Store and British sports fashion label JD Sports. All three retailers are making their Thailand debut.

Chadatip said that 80% of the proposed tenants have set up shop. A food court and other key facilities will open at the beginning of December. Chadatip also said a monorail between the mall and a nearby Skytrain station is expected to go into service sometime next year.

The project includes two luxury condominium towers. At the 52-story Residences at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, prices for a two-bedroom unit start at around 85 million baht. The Magnolia Waterfront Residences stands 70 stories high.

Supoj had previously said Iconsiam expects 150,000 daily visitors, 65% to 70% locals and 30% to 35% foreigners.

The exclusive tenant list, upscale atmosphere and the placement of works from Thai and international artists could add up to a big tourist attraction. But the country has recently suffered a tourist downturn.

Iconsiam sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

In 2017, 35.3 million foreign visitors arrived to Thailand, about a third of them came from China. But the number of Chinese visitors has fallen for three consecutive months. In July, 0.9% fewer Chinese tourists traveled to Thailand than did a year earlier. In August, the figure was 11.8%. In September, it was 14.9%.

In July, 50 Chinese tourists died in a boat accident off the southern resort island of Phuket. Since then, Chinese travelers have been worried that Thais do not attach strong importance to safety and security.

"I want foreigners to come and fall in love with Thailand," Chadatip said.

The junta government has been working to raise visitor numbers. In some regard, Iconsiam's success rests on these efforts.

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