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High operating costs not unique to Singapore

Developers who say that they have no choice but to charge high rents because of hidden costs imposed by the Government should consider other leasing schemes such as revenue-share with tenants who can make a qualitative difference to their property (Hidden costs drive up rent, price smaller shops out of Orchard, by Cathay Organisation; May 7).

High operating costs are not unique to Singapore. They also characterise other major global cities such as New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Yet, these cities have more range and depth to their shopping experience than Singapore.

Costs are clearly not the only issue hindering Orchard Road's development; the cookie-cutter malaise also afflicts our suburban malls, where rentals are much lower.

To remake Orchard Road into a world-class leisure destination, it is necessary to tackle its root challenges head on, including eschewing quick fixes which just paper over the cracks.

For example, is it not time to ask whether Singapore has any real competitive advantage as a shopping destination vis-a-vis the great fashion cities with their critical mass of world-class local designers, artisans and products as well as sizeable domestic market?

A high-cost shopping destination can gain only so much mileage from selling other countries' merchandise in a largely brick-and-mortar format, when the same products are also widely available elsewhere, especially on the Internet.

To uphold its status as a prime leisure belt, Orchard Road must evolve beyond shopping for shopping's sake, and into a gallery for only the best lifestyle concepts, especially those unique to Singapore.

This fresh direction may require re-zoning and segmenting the 2.2km strip to cater to different tastes and experiences, as well as giving shopping centres which are way past their sell-by date a new lease of life with creative re-adaptation.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'High operating costs not unique to Singapore'. Subscribe