SINGAPORE – The shine has returned to Jewel Changi Airport, after two difficult years of forced closures and languid sales as the Covid-19 pandemic paralysed the aviation sector and kept local shoppers at bay.
With the easing of pandemic restrictions and the resumption of international travel, the $1.7 billion retail complex has made a strong recovery, with footfall more than doubling in 2022 compared with 2021, said Mr James Fong, chief executive of Jewel Changi Airport Development.
Nearly 345,000 people visited the mall on Christmas Day in 2022 – the highest number recorded since Covid-19 struck in 2020.
Before the pandemic, Jewel received about 300,000 visitors daily.
Mr Fong told The Straits Times that retail sales at Jewel in December 2022 were 8 per cent higher than in December 2019, the strongest-performing month for that year.
Between July and December 2022, ticket sales for attractions such as the Canopy Park were also up to about 80 per cent of 2019 levels, he added.
Coach, Foot Locker, Nike and Pokemon Centre Singapore were among the top-performing retail shops at Jewel in 2022, while Beauty In The Pot, Burger & Lobster, Jumbo Seafood and Shake Shack were some of the eateries at the top of the sales charts.
Mr Fong also cited an increase in occupancy at the 130-room Yotelair at Jewel.
The hotel’s occupancy rate from April to December 2022 was more than 95 per cent, higher than in the same period in 2019.
Mr Fong said Jewel continues to see a significant proportion of local visitors, and he expects foreign visitor numbers to grow in tandem with the increased passenger traffic at Changi Airport.
“We are encouraged by the rebound and foresee a positive outlook, especially with key markets like China also starting to ease travel restrictions,” he added.
“December 2022 was a good season for our retailers as many achieved record sales... We hope to see a steady increase in visitor numbers and sales in 2023.”
In 2019, Jewel opened to large crowds and much fanfare, but the mall went dark as Singapore entered an eight-week circuit-breaker period between April and June 2020 to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
A year later, Jewel was closed again for a month due to a surge in Covid-19 cases linked to a cleaner at Changi Airport.
Several retail and food and beverage (F&B) shops called it quits during this time, including d’Good Cafe, jewellery shop Risis and optical retailer Vision Lab Eyewear.
But with patrons, both local and foreign, returning to the mall, Jewel welcomed 74 new tenants in 2021 and 2022, with 54 of them setting up shop in 2022 alone, said Mr Fong.
New eateries include international chains such as Kei Kaisendon and local ones such as The Hainan Story.
On the retail front, sneaker brand Converse opened its flagship store in April 2021, while online fashion brands such as Lovet and The Tinsel Rack set up their first outlets at the mall during the pandemic.
Basement 1 of Jewel was also given a facelift during the lull, with Japanese lifestyle brand Don Don Donki opening a new 18,000 sq ft outlet there in December 2022.
Mr Fong said Jewel currently has more than 250 retail and F&B stores open, and he expects the mall to reach full occupancy across its more than 280 shops in the coming months.
However, he did not say how many tenants left the mall during the pandemic, and whether there are tenants that plan to leave despite the recent recovery.
Earlier in February, retailer Marks & Spencer said it will close its Jewel outlet after almost four years of operations.
Staff at The Better Toy Store and luxury watch brand Franck Muller also told The Straits Times that their shops are leaving the mall.
In a Facebook post on Friday, The Better Toy Store cited skyrocketing costs of manpower, materials, freight and rental for the decision to shut its Jewel outlet after March 26.
For some other shops, it is still a mixed picture as the impact of the pandemic continues to linger.
Ms Foo Ai Fong, 37, an assistant supervisor at Chomel, said the jewellery brand’s previous outlet at Jewel closed during the pandemic as the company did not renew its tenancy contract.
It later reopened a smaller pop-up shop in a different location at Jewel after borders started to reopen.
“Business is better now, but it’s not quite as good as before Covid-19,” Ms Foo said, adding that Chinese tourists used to make up about 90 per cent of the shop’s clientele.
“Some days can be very quiet – it depends on the number of customers in the restaurants and shops nearby during lunch hour.”
Ms Koo Soo Geck, 47, a supervisor at Kei Kaisendon, agreed: “There was an increase in tourists in December 2022, but this month, we have fewer customers. In December, we had around 300 people coming to the store in one day. Now, we seldom go above 100.”
Still, most shops said they are buoyed by the return of crowds, citing an expected increase in Chinese tourists as a reason for their optimism.
Ms Miko Khoh, 30, a supervisor at the Converse outlet, said: “Last time, there could be no one passing by the store at all. Now, you can really see the difference.”
A Shaw Theatres spokesman said sales at its Jewel branch are still 20 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, but credited the removal of Covid-19 restrictions, support from Jewel management and more blockbuster films being made available as key factors in its recovery.
At The 1872 Clipper Tea Co, sales in January 2023 were up by 65 per cent compared with January 2022, said outlet manager Pravin Nair.
“Now that travel has opened up fully, especially travel from China to Singapore, sales have been improving consistently over the past few weeks,” the 32-year-old said.
Online marketplace Sift & Pick said footfall and sales at its Jewel store rose sharply after borders reopened in mid-2022.
“We are optimistic that we will see a similar uptick with China’s reopening,” said a spokesman.
Mr Fong said Jewel plans to unveil a wellness cluster on Level 4 of the mall, which will offer regular fitness activities, spa treatments and health screenings.
The mall will also work closely with Changi Airport Group and developer CapitaLand to draw more overseas visitors.
He added: “2024 will mark Jewel’s fifth year, and we hope to roll out exciting campaigns to thank all of our fans for their years of support.”