Time to reinvent Changi Airport experience

Members of the public viewing the Rain Vortex at Jewel Changi Airport.
Members of the public viewing the Rain Vortex at Jewel Changi Airport.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Architect Moshe Safdie's valiant attempt to create an Avatar-like centrepiece at Jewel is sadly not matched by the surrounding middling food and retail outlets, including quite a few that are already trading in Changi Airport and elsewhere on the island.

What is the point of launching more than 280 restaurants and shops to add to the many already available, when they are poorly curated and clustered?

To the uninitiated traveller, Jewel Changi Airport and Singapore may just as well be in North Asia, given the prominence of Japanese, South Korean and Chinese outlets in the mall over local ones. For example, I did not encounter any Indian or Malay restaurants during my recent visit to suss out the hype.

Even if food and retail are core to Jewel's business objectives, there are several novel ways to skin these as the project's unique proposition in the context of an airport, as well as Changi's attempts to showcase Singapore's multicultural and horticultural heritage to the world.

Could we not have a thoughtful and delectable feast of our hawker culture and heritage - one which we hope to list with Unesco - comprising the best of our street food vendors across Basement 2 of the building at the outset?

Changi's biggest challenge is to overcome its lack of a cogent organising principle, concept and vision to tie up the disparate loose ends across its four terminals and now Jewel, and redefine the airport experience with keen insight and taste. Commercial opportunities for its management are largely chock-a-block with chain eateries and retail, and this is really concerning ahead of Changi East's construction.

An airport should aim to be an airport for travellers first and foremost, not another congested and uninspiring mid-market mall in the city for all and sundry.

If the world's leading airport does not measure up to its core priorities as soon as possible - including the fact that it is not even ranked in the top five for airport immigration and baggage delivery in the latest Skytrax listings - the Jewel that is meant to be its so-called game-changer may just weigh it down like an unpolished stone.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'Time to reinvent Changi Airport experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe