Jewel seeking ‘novelty’ with new brands, says CEO

By Andrew Pentol |

Jewel Changi Airport Development is a joint venture between Changi Airport Group and CapitaLand.

What started as a project to expand the open carpark in front of Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 1 to increase the airport’s handling capacity, led to the creation of Jewel Changi Airport (Jewel) a multi-dimensional lifestyle destination, which integrates retail offerings, attractions, airport facilities and a hotel.

At the heart of the project has been Hung Jean, Chief Executive Officer, Jewel Changi Airport Development, who officially took up the position in 2016 after holding the role of Deputy CEO.

[Click here to read an exclusive interview with Jewel Changi CEO Hung Jean in the TRBusiness May e-zine].

Her experience as former Changi Airport Group, Head of Airport Operations for Terminals 2 and 3 (2009 to 2011) and later Changi Airport Group, Vice President, Landside Concessions Division, Commercial provided her with valuable insights ahead of subsequent role as Jewel CEO.

Speaking candidly and exclusively to TRBusiness, Jean reflects on the evolution of the Jewel Changi Airport project and outlines development plans for the future as the world slowly recovers from the Coronavirus (Covid-19).

What are your reflections of the Jewel Changi project, the final phases of which were completed in 2019?

Singapore Changi Airport’s handling capacity was fast running out due to increasing passenger demand. In 2019, before Covid-19 disrupted the global aviation industry, Changi Airport recorded total passenger traffic of 68.3 million. Traffic at the airport was projected to grow around 3-4% per annum.

Multiple retailing formats are present in Jewel, which include large-form duplexes, outdoor terraces and spaces within the Canopy Park on the top level.

The development of Jewel was an innovative way for us to optimise precious land use in Singapore, while adding to the travel experience of visitors passing through Changi Airport.

It has always been our vision for Changi to be more than an air transportation node, but an attractive destination in itself to capture tourism mindshare for Singapore. Hence, when we embarked on the Jewel project, there was the impetus for us to push the boundaries to create something radical and unique.

To me, Jewel is truly a one-of-its-kind breakthrough project, from the complexity of its design and construction, to fit-out, operations and retail curation. Its unique location in the heart of Changi Airport adds to the complexity of construction as we are located in a ‘live’ airport environment. Proper coordination was needed to prevent disruption to airport operations.

Given that many of Jewel’s unique selling points such as the HSBC Rain Vortex, which is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, had never been built at such a scale before, much effort was spent on producing mock-ups to ensure the final product would be as planned by the designers.

Even the tree species we have at our celebrated Shiseido Forest Valley were planted at an off-site nursery with similar indoor conditions as Jewel. This was to test their level of acclimatisation before they were eventually selected.

Hung Jean, Chief Executive Officer, Jewel Changi Airport Development, describes Jewel as a one-of-a-kind breakthrough project.

After nine years of literally sourcing the world, from designers to suppliers and attractions, Jewel dotted itself on the world map in April 2019.

On 11 April that year, Jewel opened its doors to the public for a week-long preview. It’s distinctive dome-shaped façade made of glass and steel and its iconic water feature drew an overwhelming half a million visitors, who eagerly snatched up preview slots to visit Singapore’s newest attraction.

Various measures had to be put in place behind the scenes, to ensure that both people and traffic flowed smoothly throughout the highly anticipated week-long preview.

Jewel quickly became a must-visit iconic destination for overseas visitors to Singapore, as well as locals looking for a place to shop, dine and spend time with their families and friends.

Can you please offer an insight into the function of the joint venture between Changi Airport Group, CapitaLand and Jewel — How would you describe the role of Changi Airport Group in particular?

Jewel Changi Airport is a joint venture between Changi Airport Group and CapitaLand. CAG is the majority 51% shareholder while CapitaLand owns the remaining 49%.

With its unique combination of top-notch retail offerings, attractions and aviation facilities amid a garden setting, Jewel’s multi-faceted facility demonstrates the perfect combination of the strengths of CAG and CapitaLand in their respective domains, illuminating the limitless possibilities that can be applied to enliven an airport development, with retail at its core.

In its management of operations at Changi Airport, CAG has always sought to take travel experience to new levels and entrench Changi’s position as the world’s best.

Faced with intensifying competition, the company has continually challenged itself to rethink what an airport can be — not just as a gateway for flights and a shopping haven, but as a tourism destination on its own.

Tree species at the Shiseido Forest Valley were planted at an off-site nursery with similar indoor conditions as Jewel Changi Airport.

With this vision, coupled with the necessity it saw for advanced planning to expand the airport terminals’ capacity ahead of increasing passenger demand, CAG called for proposals in July 2012 to develop Jewel. It eventually found a suitable partner in CapitaLand.

CapitaLand has a sterling retail track record, being Singapore’s largest property developer that has a slew of award-winning residential, commercial and retail developments under its belt.

The combined expertise of CAG and CapitaLand steered the development of this unique integrated lifestyle and travel experience in Jewel Changi Airport.

What were the initial aims of Jewel Changi Airport from retail and general perspectives? — What are the current short-term and long-term objectives?

Jewel’s vision for our retail offerings is to be a destination where ‘The World meets Singapore and Singapore meets the World’. Much effort was spent on the curation of the brand mix and retailing formats that aimed to captivate shoppers and diners.

The aim was to showcase the best that Singapore has to offer in terms of food and retail and at the same time, host new-to-market international concepts from around the world to Singapore and to the region.

Can you please offer an insight into the retail tenant curation process? — What was the initial thought process and why?

Offering a shopping and dining experience that is seamlessly integrated with lush greenery, the strong tenant mix of new and well-established brands, as well as Jewel-exclusive concepts and merchandise, ensure there is something for all types of shoppers and travellers.

Locals, for example, were eagerly waiting to feast at “Shake Shack” and “Burger & Lobster” when they opened their first Singapore outlets at Jewel.

On the other hand, travellers looking to make their last-minute purchases just before they depart could easily get their hands on popular local snacks such as Irvin’s salted egg potato chips, pandan chiffon cake from “Bengawan Solo”, or even have our world-famous chilli crab at “Jumbo Seafood Restaurant” for one last meal before leaving Singapore.

In addition, we deliberately created multiple retailing formats in Jewel, which include large-form duplexes, outdoor terraces and spaces within the Canopy Park on the top level.

The team went about sourcing for brands that could utilise such retail formats to their full potential. This was essential to recreating a unique experience for dining and shopping which I believe is important moving forward.

Jewel Changi Airport Development has remained committed to supporting its tenants during Covid-19.

A simple purchase or transaction can be done easily online these days online with a click-of-a-button, but to savour a unique cuisine and touch-and-feel a product in a special environment such as Jewel gives guests a reason to feel excited about a visit.

In the area of convenience, the Early Check-in Lounge is another value proposition that Jewel offers to air travellers. This enables them to check-in up to 12 hours before their flight, depending on the airline they are flying with.

They can then spend time enjoying Jewel’s offerings and attractions after they check-out of their hotel in town and before their flight.

There is even a multi-modal lounge that was specially created for the convenience and peace-of-mind of air travellers transiting onto a cruise. They can explore, shop and dine in Jewel in between their flights and cruises while their luggage is transferred seamlessly for them.

Travellers and visitors can also choose to stay at Yotelair in Jewel. The hotel is a first in Asia for the brand. With a minimum stay of four hours, Yotelair is in a unique position to offer flexible accommodation options, with day-use and overnight stays at the doorstep of Changi Airport.

What was the thought process behind the design of Jewel’s attractions?

As for Jewel’s numerous attractions, these were designed with the key element of “timeless play” in mind during the conceptualisation phase, which incorporated elements such as bouncing and sliding.

This ensured the attractions continued to appeal to visitors, especially to families with young children during the school holidays. To attract repeat local visitors last year, Jewel offered a Play-at-Jewel membership programme, offering members one years’ worth of fun, with unlimited access to play attractions and exclusive shopping and dining discounts the whole year round.

Visitors to Jewel increased more than three-fold following the first phase of Singapore’s re-opening in June 2020.

Strategically, for the long term, Jewel will continuously refresh with new experiences to enhance its offerings and programming, to stay relevant to consumer/visitors needs and preferences.

Our focus will be on working closely with our partners to deliver this. While Covid-19 has set us back from seeing more foreign visitors in the past year, we will be ready to receive more guests when the world recovers and offer a safe environment for everyone to enjoy the myriad of fun and unique experiences at Jewel.

Prior to the pandemic, how was the complex performing from a retail point of view? —  Can you please provide details of any major tweaks in terms of the retail offer and attractions designed to drive business and improve the overall experience?

With all of Jewel’s exciting offerings in-store, we were extremely delighted and encouraged by the number of visitors we welcomed soon after we opened.

Prior to Jewel’s opening, we had projected annual footfall to range from 40-50 million. Six months after opening, Jewel had welcomed about 50 million visitors in just half-a-year, with local residents making up more than half of the number.

We were encouraged by the strong interest in Jewel, which captured widespread global attention. We were cognisant that as an international destination, this was just the beginning, as overseas visitors were just starting to plan their next holiday location and transit airport as they heard and read about Jewel and were geared up to welcome even more foreign visitors to our newest and best offering at Changi Airport.

Together with our partners, we were excited to continuously enhance our offerings at Jewel so that every guest, whether a first-time or repeat-visitor, would be constantly surprised and delighted.

In order to reward shoppers, shopping promotions and initiatives such as the Jewel Tourist Privilege Programme and Free Singapore Tour to Jewel programme for stopover passengers were launched.

What changes have been made to agreements with tenants in the wake of Covid-19? — How are you working with commercial tenants to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for local visitors to Jewel?

During this difficult period, Jewel stayed committed to supporting its tenants. Jewel was one of the first mall landlords in Singapore to reach out to tenants to offer rental rebates from February 2020. When circuit breaker measures were imposed in April 2020, which further exacerbated operating conditions, further rent relief was granted till June 2020.

Jewel Changi Airport Development finally opened its doors to the public for a week-long preview on 11 April 2019.

In addition, Jewel worked with partners to introduce delivery services during the circuit breaker period and stepped-up marketing initiatives to help capture footfall when Singapore reopened.

This close partnership is something our tenants and ourselves have built and we believe it will go a long way in helping us ensure sustainable operations as we seek to ride out the storm of Covid-19 together.

The well-being of guests, tenants and partners is a top priority for Jewel and even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since February 2020, safety measures have been in place to safeguard and protect the health of staff, tenant partners and visitors. These measures include temperature screening equipment at all entry points, safe distancing, making more hand sanitisers available in Jewel and increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-contact areas.

In addition, frequently touched surfaces, including play attractions, were coated with a layer of protective disinfectant.

How has Jewel been impacted by the pandemic from revenue and overall perspectives?

After Phase 1 of Singapore’s reopening, Jewel visitor numbers increased more than three-fold. During the December 2020 year-end holidays, Jewel sales recovered to about 80% compared to the same period in 2019, despite the lack of overseas visitors.

How have you set about keeping in touch with your foreign guests during the pandemic?

We continued to push out social content on Jewel, to ensure that Jewel continues to be in the minds of overseas visitors when travel resumes. While our focus now is on the domestic audience, we remain optimistic that travel will eventually recover as the desire for people to fly and see the world has not fizzled.

The HSBC Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall is one of Jewel Changi Airport Development’s many unique selling points.

As such, Jewel continues to seek out new-to-market brands and new-concept stores which will bring novelty to the Jewel experience. Some of the new brands, for example, which Jewel introduced this year are Luke’s Lobster and Rrooll, Singapore’s very first bakery specialising in cinnamon rolls.

See the upcoming May e-zine of TRBusiness for more from Hung Jean, Chief Executive Officer, Jewel Changi Airport Development.

*All images courtesy of Jewel Changi Airport Development.

 

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