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Singapore's new icon 'Jewel' wins 2020 Nikkei award

Sleek complex burnishes airport image and lures locals amid COVID pandemic

Singapore's Jewel Changi Airport features a 40-meter waterfall at the center of a dome-shaped facade. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- A dome-shaped commercial complex in the heart of Singapore's gateway airport has been named one of the winners of the 2020 Nikkei Superior Products and Services Awards.

The new landmark burnishes the airport's already sterling reputation and has enchanted overseas visitors and local residents.

Developed as a joint venture between airport operator Changi Airport Group and property developer CapitaLand, the 1.7 billion Singapore dollar ($1.3 billion) Jewel Changi Airport opened in April 2019 on the site of a former parking lot.

With a total floor size of 135,700 sq. meters and five above ground and five basement stories, the complex is home to 280 shops and restaurants, a hotel, airline check-in kiosks and a 14,000-sq.-meter indoor park. The unique design is impressive: At the heart of the glass and steel dome is a 40-meter waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.

Jewel soon became the city-state's new landmark, drawing 50 million visitors in the first six months along with uncountable Instagram moments featuring the impressive waterfall.

While international travelers declined significantly after COVID-19 erupted, the unique facility continued to attract locals. The complex is connected to airport terminals and is separate from passenger-only areas, so anyone can visit.

Retail shops include Apple Store and Muji as well as renowned restaurants, such as Taiwan's Din Tai Fung and U.S. burger chain Shake Shack. A supermarket caters mostly to locals.

The Jewel complex was the latest addition to Changi Airport, which has continuously improved its facilities to become one of Asia's major international hubs. The airport handled 67 million international passengers in 2019, according to Airports Council International, sharing ranks with Dubai at 86 million, Hong Kong at 71 million and Bangkok at 52 million.

The new facility already has a global reputation. U.K.-based consultancy Skytrax described it as "a multidimensional destination filled with inspiring attractions, unique retail and dining concepts," when it named Changi Airport as the World's Best Airport for the eighth consecutive year in 2020.

Singapore's air travel industry has not been spared the ravages of the pandemic. Passengers at Changi Airport for the 11 months through November stood at 11.6 million, down 81% from the same period in 2019. A large part of Jewel was temporarily shuttered in April after the government closed all but essential businesses, including the supermarket.

But as the economy started to recover, Jewel focused on local residents through a series of marketing campaigns, such as three months of unlimited access to the indoor parks and "glamping" -- luxury camping events -- at the higher levels of the complex. These efforts paid off, drawing locals eager for some kind of diversion as borders around the world closed.

In late 2020, Singapore and other countries approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, generating hopes for a recovery in international travel. Singapore is also looking at setting up leisure "travel bubbles" with low-risk countries and regions, which would be great news for Jewel.

Nikkei recognizes the latest outstanding products and services through the annual award. A total of 36 products and services from Japan and elsewhere were selected for 2020.

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