Project Jewel must really glitter

Project Jewel must really glitter
Artist's impression of the Jewel hub.


The dimensions of Changi Airport's upcoming Project Jewel complex bear grand testimony to plans to preserve the airport itself as a Singapore icon.

The project, costing $1.47 billion and slated to be ready in 2018, will integrate airport, retail and leisure facilities to offer tourists an experience rather than merely a location when they travel to Singapore.

The attractions are intended to draw Singaporeans as well to the complex with their families and children. The glass-and-steel building will transform the area around Terminal 1 into an innovative showcase of how Changi is trying to keep up with constant challenges to its attractiveness.

These challenges come from regional airports such as Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi, which will want to compete with Changi on the quality of their service and on their geographical advantages as alternative air hubs of South-east Asia.

As Changi gears up for an intensely competitive future, it is looking at a range of proactive measures. Terminal 4, which will open in 2017, will cater for up to 16 million passengers a year.

Terminal 5, up by the mid-2020s, is envisaged as an entire airport by itself, as big as today's Changi but connected to it so that they can operate together as one mega-entity.

In spite of these ambitious plans, Changi still needs a game-changer, and Jewel could play that transformative role.

The stakes are not small given that the airport and its related services provide 163,000 jobs across society and account for 6 per cent of gross domestic product.

However, precisely because the stakes are so high, and the project could be expected to have a substantial impact on Changi's attractiveness, it is essential for a dispassionate eye to be kept on its viability.

Questions have been asked about the chances of creating sufficient demand given that nearly 70 per cent of the complex will consist of retail space.

After all, Singapore is not short of malls, so Jewel will have to really sparkle to draw the crowds. Indeed, it will have to be singularly attractive to entice arriving or departing passengers, whose first priority is to get to the city or catch their flights.

Yet, the imaginative daring and attention to logistical and aesthetic detail that are apparent in the plans for Project Jewel are qualities that Singapore needs as it tries to stay ahead in the aviation game.

Merely adding capacity to the airport will not do.

Once the project takes shape, a global marketing campaign which focuses on Jewel's contribution to Changi as a total experience, and which is stylish and suave enough to appeal to the discerning traveller, would help to draw traffic to the complex.

The Jewel must then live up to its shiny promise.

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