Covid-19: Crowds return to Jewel Changi Airport, but some shops still struggle without the tourist dollar
SINGAPORE — Weekend crowds have begun to return to Jewel Changi Airport more than a month after Singapore entered Phase 2 of its economic reopening, though stores in the mall say that business is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
- Though weekend crowds are returning, businesses say sales cannot match pre-pandemic levels without tourists
- Retailers were the hardest hit, with sales margins falling by half
- F&B establishments are seeing business picking up, mostly due to local customers
SINGAPORE — Weekend crowds have begun to return to Jewel Changi Airport more than a month after Singapore entered Phase Two of its economic reopening, though stores in the mall say that business is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
The fall in business has been attributed to the absence of tourists in the mall after the authorities closed Singapore’s borders to travellers on March 23 as part of measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
TODAY spoke to more than a dozen stores and F&B outlets in the mall. Many of them said that about seven in 10 of their customers had been tourists, and that the lack of travellers has caused sales to fall by more than 40 per cent for some.
Responding to queries on the number of visitors to the mall, a spokesperson for Jewel Changi Airport Development said that the number had tripled during Phase Two — compared to Phase One — but declined to share visitor figures before the pandemic.
In an emailed response, the spokesperson said that the mall was committed to working with tenants and partners to attract more locals to spend their recreational time in the mall.
The spokesperson added it would do this by offering promotions such as the sale of select ticket packages for unlimited access to the mall’s attractions, and 55 per cent off all tickets for mall attractions in August to celebrate National Day.
RETAILERS HARDEST HIT
Retail stores seem to be bearing the brunt of the dearth of tourists visiting the mall.
“Since the closing of the country’s borders, there have been large drops in our sales margins of up to 50 per cent,” said Mr El Rehaimy, assistant manager at the Footlocker store in Jewel, who added that tourists made up 35 per cent of its customer base.
“Though they may be a smaller part of our base, they actually have greater spending power as they are more willing to spend,” said Mr Rehaimy, 30. He added that the buying of last minute gifts and ease of getting tax refunds at the airport contributed to this.
His sentiments were shared by Mr Ming Lu, 34, the manager of men’s apparel at the Zara store in Jewel. Though locals do come and spend, he said, most buy only end-season sale items instead of new arrivals, which mean less sales takings despite more units sold.
According to Mr Lu, this has led to sales dropping by 30 to 40 per cent as tourist shoppers make up 70 per cent of his customers. Tourists also buy in bulk as the prices in Singapore are lower compared to their home countries after the tax refunds, he added.
Other retailers, such as Mr Edwin Low, founder of local craft-maker Supermama, said that despite tourists making up more than 60 per cent of his customers, his store at Jewel has seen considerable local support. Total weekly sales are now about 30 per cent less than before the pandemic, compared to the 70 per cent slump during Phase One.
F&B OUTLETS NOT HIT AS HARD
Food outlets in the mall seem to have been spared major dips in business, largely because most of their diners are local.
“Business is actually better post circuit-breaker, with three to five fold increases on weekends compared to before,” said Ms Melissa Kweh, marketing manager at 1855 F&B which operates the Perch restaurant at Jewel. Ms Kweh added that this was likely because the restaurant opened in February when the pandemic had already hit Singapore and that it was hard for things to get worse from there.
Ms Kweh said that the customer base for Perch is 60 per cent local and consists of mostly families. That, together with partnerships with dining apps like Entertainer and Burpple Beyond, has contributed to the positive showing.
For cake shop Lady M, safe distancing measures may have led to less revenue, but according to Mr Vijay Pillai, executive director of Caerus Holdings which owns the brand’s Singapore stores, business has “picked up in Phase Two, though not yet at the level before the pandemic”.
Though he declined to share sales figures, Mr Pillai added that customers were “primarily locals”, with tourists only making up about a third of his base. That, combined with promotions by the mall to attract mall-goers, explained the steady increase in sales, he said.
A spokesperson for A&W Singapore also said that less than a third of its customers at its Jewel outlet were tourists, and that it was able to make up for the shortfall through making use of delivery platforms and offering self pick-ups.
WHAT SHOPPERS SAY
Several mall-goers approached by TODAY said that the shopping and F&B options, location as well as crowd situations were key considerations for them when deciding to visit the mall.
For Mr Haikel Fahim, 34, and his wife Emma Rashid, 31, it was their second time visiting the mall in July after avoiding it since February due to the pandemic.
“(Today) we wanted a quiet place outside of home to work, and also to have a good lunch at Burger & Lobster,” said Mr Fahim, who is the regional head of a media company. Ms Rashid, a homemaker, added that she enjoys going to Jewel as she misses travelling and that the mall was “as close as she can get to the airport experience”.
Both Mr Fahim and Ms Rashid quipped that the mall had everything from shops to restaurants, making it a good alternative to town which is often too crowded. However, the couple also said that they would stay away from the place on weekends to avoid the crowds for safety’s sake.
Similarly, retiree John Tan said that the mall has a large variety of shops, so much so that he and his wife “rarely need to head down to the city” to purchase things. The 58-year-old added that this is also due to the fact that they live in nearby Simei.
For Mr Tan and his wife, visiting Jewel has become part of their lifestyle. They visit the mall twice a week to shop and eat in their favourite restaurants such as Perch and Yun Nans. Mr Tan added that while he and his wife do not go to the mall intending to shop, they usually “end up leaving with something”.