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Singapore's Changi bets on $1.3bn mall as Asian airports up game

'Jewel' to open next week as state strives to attract travelers

At the heart of Jewel Changi Airport is an impressive 40-meter waterfall. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- Singapore's Changi Airport has invested over $1 billion in a new 10-story shopping and entertainment complex that will open next Wednesday as the Asian hub faces rising competition from peers including Hong Kong, Incheon and Bangkok.

The Jewel Changi Airport will open on the site of what used to be an open-air car park and house a hotel, 280 shops and restaurants, a cinema, as well as a 14,000 sq.-meter indoor park. Stores such as Muji, Zara and Nike will open there, as will restaurant chains such as Din Tai Fung and Shake Shack.

Architecturally, the complex also strives to impress. At the heart of the dome-shaped building is a 40-meter waterfall, surrounded by greenery, not unlike the domes in Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.

Jewel was created by airport operator Changi Airport Group, which is owned by the government, and state-backed developer CapitaLand, at a total investment amount of 1.7 billion Singapore dollars ($1.25 billion).

As air travel grows in Asia, airports are investing heavily to attract passengers, win accolades and become destinations on their own merit.

Changi is a key hub in Asia, serving as a gateway for further travel into the region and to Australia and New Zealand from Europe and the U.S. It is also a key business hub that handled 64 million passengers last year, up 5% from 2017, according to data from the Airports Council International.

Those healthy figures belie the fact that Changi's ranking in international passenger traffic dropped one notch to seventh in 2018 from a year ago, as it was surpassed by South Korea's Incheon Airport near Seoul.

Singapore remained behind the global No. 1, Dubai International Airport, and No. 3 Hong Kong International Airport, which handled 88 million and 74 million passengers last year respectively. Dubai has become a major competitor to Singapore as a point of connection for Asia-Europe routes.

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport is at ninth place while Kuala Lumpur International Airport takes 12th position.

Passengers can check in at Jewel's machines. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

While the Jewel may not bring in more passengers, Changi is keen to provide an enhanced experience for travelers. Other Asian airports are doing the same: Hong Kong International Airport, for example, is developing a similar complex called SkyCity.

"Many airports are now enhancing for the passengers either departing, arriving or transiting," said Jayson Goh, managing director for airport operations management at Changi Airport Group, during a media preview Thursday. "Jewel would be a clear example of how Changi Airport moves quickly in this area and enhance what we have always been working very hard to provide our passengers with the best experience."

To boost passenger traffic, airports are also ramping up capacities. Changi Airport plans to add a fifth terminal by 2030 and a third runway in the early 2020s. Major airports in Southeast Asia, including in Bangkok and Jakarta, are also rushing to expand capacity.

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