Retail takes off at airport terminals and Jewel amid looming headwinds

Jewel had significantly more people than at the two terminals. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Shops at the airport terminals and those at Jewel Changi Airport mall are starting to see some signs of life again, bolstered by the easing of social restrictions and the launch of vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs).

But the looming threat of the Omicron variant has some retail staff concerned, even though there has not been a significant drop in foot traffic.

When The Straits Times visited Terminals 1 and 3 on Wednesday afternoon (Dec 1), some restaurants were already half full at 5.30pm.

Mr Martin Lee, who works at Le Shrimp Ramen, said: "The lunch crowd is a hit or miss, but the dinner crowd is definitely busier. On weekends, it can be a full house and the waiting time can stretch up to 20 minutes."

The restaurant, which is located at the basement of Terminal 3, started to see a spike in traffic about two weeks ago, when up to five people from different households were allowed to dine out.

While customers are still mainly locals, some shops are also starting to see travellers trickling in, with the launch of air VTLs.

Singapore has so far announced a total of 27 air VTLs. Countries on the scheme include Indonesia, Australia and India.

Mr Priyara Singh, manager of TGM & Root98 at Terminal 1, said the restaurant has extended its operating hours by about three hours to cater to the increased number of travellers and the school holidays.

It saw about five tables of guests between 6pm and 7pm on Wednesday evening, some of them travellers. This was seldom seen before the launch of the VTLs and the relaxation of measures, Mr Singh said.

At Jewel, the mall had significantly more people than at the two terminals.

Queues and small crowds were already forming at the entrance of some restaurants at about 6pm, and seats around the mall were also mostly taken up by families with young children.

But retail staff are wary about how long this momentum in foot traffic can last, given the emergence of a new variant, Omicron, in the past week.

Singapore has two imported cases which tested preliminary positive for the variant.

"Jewel would definitely be affected if the new variant starts to spread more widely. It would be one of the first malls to get hit," said Ms Lisa Mannuel, a retail store assistant at Timberland in Jewel. She added that the store had just started to see more customers last weekend.

Ms Regine Amoyo, manager at Andes by Astons at Terminal 1, said the new variant is indeed worrying, given how the airport had been shuttered after a large Covid-19 outbreak in May.

Terminal 2, which is currently being renovated, and Terminal 4 were closed after a steep decline in passenger traffic due to the pandemic.

But despite the uncertainty surrounding the tourism sector, some old and new tenants still see a value in having a presence at Jewel.

Mr Dellen Soh, chairman and chief executive of Minor Food Singapore, said the company is set to open two new outlets - Mamma Mia Trattoria E Caffe, and Poulet Bijou - by February next year.

The two outlets cost about a million dollars in total, and despite the Omicron variant, things will still go as planned.

Mr Soh said: "The carparks are easy, they have attractions for families. Jewel's design with the waterfall, you don't see that anywhere in the world. It is an iconic landmark for overseas visitors as well as locals."

Another tenant, Sift & Pick, an online marketplace, opened its second physical outlet in Jewel earlier this August, after its first outlet in Terminal 3 in 2019.

The store is still seeing healthy sales and is expecting sales to pick up with the year-end holiday season, its spokesman said.

Mr Howard Lo, the co-owner of Empire Eats Group which owns Tanuki Raw, said the school break and the holiday season have resulted in "encouraging turnout", after crowd levels dropped significantly when Covid-19 heightened measures kicked in earlier this year.

He said: "I believe people are still enjoying being allowed to dine in groups of five again, and since there is still much unknown about Omicron, they have adopted a wait-and-see approach."

Changi Airport Group's general manager for landside concessions, Ms Phau Hui Hoon, said there has been increased footfall to Terminals 1 and 3 since the start of the December school holidays, together with festive activities by the airport.

Jewel Changi Airport will also continue to reach out to more local residents until it is able to welcome more tourists, its head of corporate and marketing communications, Mr Nigel Chia, said.

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