In the intensely competitive Chinese retail and real estate business where copycat businesses, fickle shoppers and high land prices are the norm, property developer CapitaLand is banking on integrated developments to get ahead.
Its expertise in developing and managing assets across different classes makes it a hard act for others to emulate, said CapitaLand president and group chief executive Lim Ming Yan in a press briefing in Shanghai.
"There's a certain moat - it's not so easy for other competitors to compete," he said of the group's expertise in integrated developments.
"They can copy a mall, they can copy an office, a residential project, but it's not easy to copy an integrated development."
However, he noted that the competitive edge would last "only for a few years" and that CapitaLand will have to continuously improve.
The Singaporean property developer has the largest portfolio of integrated developments of any foreign developer in China, it said in a Singapore Exchange filing yesterday.
This portfolio comprises 23 integrated developments, which make up more than 6.2 million sq m of gross floor area across China.
Number of integrated developments CapitaLand has in China.
Its integrated developments typically include a mix of retail, commercial or residential components.
More than one million sq m of its portfolio comes from four integrated developments opened in April: Raffles City Shenzhen, Raffles City Changning in Shanghai, Raffles City Hangzhou and CapitaMall Westgate in Wuhan. CapitaLand is a dominant mall player in China, particularly in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu.
But rivals are ramping up the competition. China's largest commercial developer Wanda plans to construct 1,000 malls in China by 2025, while players such as China Resources Land and Hang Lung Properties continue to build mega malls and service apartments.
Having completed four landmark malls, CapitaLand is looking to be more aggressive in its land-banking efforts. Mr Lim declined to elaborate but added that he hoped to have "good news to announce in the later part of the year, or early next year".
In October last year, the group set up a US$1.5 billion (S$2.1 billion) fund - its third private investment vehicle in China - to invest in prime integrated developments in gateway cities in China. It still has more than US$1 billion in its coffers.
CapitaLand China chief executive Lucas Loh said the group is looking into more "mixed-use Raffles Cities" in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
The company's service apartments unit is also growing rapidly, and is becoming a "global business", said Mr Lim, adding that it is looking to increase its presence in the United States.
Mr Tan Tze Shang, Ascott's managing director for China, said that management contracts will be key in driving the growth of the business. More than 13 management contracts for over 2,000 units have been signed for the year to date, he said.
The next project of note for the group is the 24 billion yuan (S$4.9 billion) Raffles City Chongqing - CapitaLand's biggest single investment in China and the largest single investment in China made by a Singaporean company. It is on track to open in the second half of next year.