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Travel Retail Tales from TFWA Singapore 2019 – Part 1: WITR Jewel Tour

Kicking off the first in our new blog series of Travel Retail Stories from TFWA Singapore 2019, Blackjack’s Head of Experiential and International Operations Fiona Rayner talks us through her Women In Travel Retail (WITR) tour of the spectacular new tourist destination which opened earlier this month.

  • Sunday, 12 May from 10:00 to 13:00
  • Jewel Changi (starting at Terminal 1 Arrival Hall)
  • Organised and led by Chandra Mahtani, Changi Airport’s vice-president for Commercial Airside Planning and Leasing

It’s the morning after my first long haul flight (13 hours!) and I woke up feeling excited, apprehensive and inquisitive all at once; having never been to Asia before, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the people, the culture and the upcoming Women in Travel Retail Tour (WITR) to Jewel. Who would I meet and where would the tour take us exactly?

First order of the day was to jump into a taxi and make my way to Changi Airport where I quickly realised that life in Singapore means moving from a humid 35 degrees into fridge-like temperatures. As I made my way to Changi, the journey was like most other airport approaches; a variety of directional signs, digital information boards and large numbers of vehicles collecting and delivering people. Then from out of nowhere the most beautiful gem appears out of what used to be the old Terminal 1 car park…

Four years ago, Changi Airport embarked on building a modern engineering marvel and just a few weeks ago, it opened the doors to the Jewel, a re-imagined public realm attraction that offers a range of landside facilities all under one roof. With a distinctive roof façade, supported by 14 columns, each measuring 12 metres, this beautiful glass and steel structure continues to add to Changi Airport’s appeal as one of the world’s leading airport hubs!

The stats are staggering and I had done some reading before the tour to try and familiarise myself with the retail offerings and features of this exciting space. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my first glimpse of the Rain Vortex that forms the centre of the Jewel itself.

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At 40 metres high, this impressive Rain Vortex is now the world’s tallest indoor waterfall (a record previously held by Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay) and it does not disappoint.

I noticed the huge numbers of people mesmerised by the Rain Vortex – many posing for selfies, some taking videos and sharing the experience with friends. The noise of the water thundering down from the oculus at the top was deafening and occasionally some spray would escape, leaving you with a cooling mist on your face. What I was surprised by, however, was the number of locals that had travelled to Jewel to share the experience.

Chandra Mahtani from Changi Airport shared stories of how local care homes bring elderly residents to the Jewel to take a walk around the vortex most mornings for therapy. As I looked around I could see whole families sitting together; some posing for photographs, others sharing the experiences with their loved ones, both young and old. Today was International Mother’s Day and as families shared flowers with each other, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something almost spiritual about this place.

With over half a million visitors each week since its opening, the Jewel has certainly wowed the locals and tourists alike. Chandra Mahtani spent time explaining some of the defining features at Jewel and pointed out some of the key retail concepts that make this Retail Hub unlike any other. The key for her was to create retail outlets with a twist so that visitors experienced something different to what they were used to in their local shopping area.

During our tour, we saw Asia’s first Yotel Air – a vending machine style hotel concept that offers customers what they need and not what they don’t, clearly a new concept in this region and something that Chandra confirmed was received well by visitors and transiting passengers who were looking for convenience and value.

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As we continued our walk, I came across a very different looking Starbucks. This was not Starbucks as we know it back in the UK, this was a premium Starbucks experience that was focused on sustainability and clean living – the huge living wall, vast choice of reusable drinking vessels both nod towards Starbuck’s move towards a more sustainable future.

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We soon arrived at the Pokémon Store – the first one outside of Japan! This was clearly a hotspot for families and part of Changi’s strategy to create a ‘kids zone’ within the Jewel. Once I fought my way past the queue I managed to catch a glimpse of customers frantically grabbing the latest toys and souvenirs!

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What struck me as we continued our tour was the amount of local brands that were trading at Jewel. Not only had Changi secured some of the world’s most famous and influential brands, but they had also ensured that local, Singaporean designers and retailers were present throughout the customer journey. Notably, lifestyle retailer Naiise Iconic was showcasing some beautiful designs from local designers.

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The local Singaporean style didn’t stop there – we continued into Violet Oon, a local owned restaurant and then into Changi’s very own brand store.

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As you venture inside the Changi Store, you are met by a wonderful team of advisors; all immaculately dressed and professional but with the most welcoming of smiles. I was so pleased to meet Farah who was keen to show me the new Changi room fragrance – a product that visitors can take home as a reminder of their visit; one of the many bespoke, local products Changi have successfully created to capture the essence of Jewel.

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As we walked through the various levels (there are 10 in total!) and worked our way through the huge open spaces, I met one of Changi’s fabulous ambassadors. As today was International Mother’s Day, the Jewel team were handing out flowers in celebration. Not only was I surprised by this simple offering but delighted to see that the entire team was all suitably dressed in a casual, relevant uniform.

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As our tour came to an end, I started to reflect on the time spent in Jewel, what this meant for the UK and how I would try to take a little piece of Jewel home with me.

Despite the impressive architecture, huge crowds and incredible local retailer offerings, I was left reflecting on the smiles and people of Jewel. How is it that such a vast, complex hub with thousands of employees can be so consistently welcoming and friendly? Having worked in the TR industry for six years, I know how difficult this can be to achieve on a large scale. How have they created such a warm, hospitable environment when from a design perspective everything appears to be glass or steel? How have Changi married the world’s largest indoor waterfall with an elevated retail experience that somehow creates something spiritual and awe inspiring? I don’t have the answers, but am sure that the extraordinary vision driven by Chandra and her team has a lot to do with it.

What I am sure about is the renewed focus airports such as Changi are putting on human experiences. The Jewel is an impressive, feat of architecture, design and retail but, above all, I believe a great example of how to connect people together in an unforgettable space and creating unforgettable memories… all while doing a little shopping of course!