Hong Kong aims to turn airport into destination centre

An artist's impression of Skycity, which will be built on a 25ha waterfront plot and has a first-phase completion date of between 2022 and 2025.
An artist's impression of Skycity, which will be built on a 25ha waterfront plot and has a first-phase completion date of between 2022 and 2025.PHOTO: HONG KONG AIRPORT

Plans for Skycity, territory's answer to Changi's Jewel, are under way in fight to be Asia's premier air hub

Singapore's Changi Airport may be building Jewel, its retail and lifestyle complex, but Hong Kong is answering with its own gem.

Plans are afoot to develop a 25ha waterfront plot beside Hong Kong International Airport into a lifestyle, family and entertainment centre, the latest salvo in the intense fight to be Asia's premier air hub.

Airport Authority Hong Kong set the stage for a third-quarter tender of the site this year when it began inviting expressions of interest from developers last week.

The first phase of the project, Skycity, is touted as "one of the largest retail, dining and entertainment development projects in Hong Kong".

Taking a page out of Changi's playbook, Airport Authority Hong Kong said the development aims to transform the airport into a destination in its own right, while capturing "broad opportunities in tourism and business".

The Skycity project represents an important facet of the ongoing development of Hong Kong's airport, said Dr Jimmy Chiang, associate director-general at InvestHK, the city's investment promotion agency.

Dr Chiang said the agency is helping to draw foreign investment to the project, which, in the development phase, presents opportunities in design, architecture, engineering and construction.

However, Jewel Changi Airport will get the first-mover advantage.

Skycity's projected completion date for the first phase is between 2022 and 2025, while the $1.7 billion Jewel, a mainly commercial development designed by Mr Moshe Safdie, the architect behind Marina Bay Sands, is slated to open in early 2019.

For travellers like businessman Du Jiangang, 46, an airport's retail and food offerings are important factors in deciding where to fly through.

"I find myself looking forward to flying to Changi Airport because of the wide variety of branded and duty-free goods I can buy at the airport, which are often cheaper than in Orchard Road," he said.

"And unlike most other airports, you can also check in early and walk around without getting bored."

But this is not just a battle of glitzy new malls to attract frequent flyers. It is also a battle of connectivity. Analysts point to two connectivity projects that Skycity - and Hong Kong airport - will benefit from: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link, both under construction.

Both road links, expected to be completed in the next few years, will increase Hong Kong's attractiveness as an air hub, especially for travellers going between the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong and the greater Hong Kong area.

The Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link will cut travel time from the New Territories to Hong Kong Airport from 30 minutes to 10 minutes, while the bridge will cut travel time from the airport to Macau by half, to 30 minutes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'HK aims to turn airport into destination centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe