Singapore’s Changi Airport, consistently voted the best in the world and a core part of the city-state’s identity, is reinventing itself for the COVID-19 age and beyond.
It is offering glamping for families at Jewel, the nature-themed entertainment complex open to the public, as well as a variety of holiday promises from canopy park tours that include topiary walks and bouncing on a sky net to seasonal dining menus in an attempt to keep people engaged until life returns to normal.
“There are more people, especially on weekends,” said Jasmine Hoon, a server at Paris Baguette, a coffee shop in Jewel selling upmarket pastries and wraps. “Sales have gone up and the vaccines are also giving people hope.”
Glampcations and family time
As part of the airport’s Glampcations in the Cloud initiative people can stay overnight at the airport amid the greenery and wake to the sound of splashing water from the world’s largest indoor waterfall. Prices start from $240 and slots have been fully booked for weeks.
The camping and holiday dining deals may be temporary measures but they’re all part of endeavors aimed at spurring activity at Changi, whose importance to the tiny city-state is hard to underestimate. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was close to tears when he promised Parliament in September that “Changi will thrive again,” citing its opening in 1981 as a moment of immense national pride.
Because international visitors are such an enabler of other economic activity across the island including food and beverage, retail and healthcare, it’s tough to calculate to what degree the closing of borders has affected Singapore’s economy. According to government figures, aviation alone accounts for about 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), with tourism contributing another 4 percent.
As 2021 moves ahead, Singapore’s success in containing COVID-19 is allowing it to open for business travel adapted to virus-era life, including convincing the World Economic Forum (WEF) to move its annual jet-set meeting from Davos. While a return to pre-virus traffic is still far off, the green shoots are a welcome sign for a place synonymous with global trade and travel.
“If you think about the role of Singapore as a regional hub and the whole idea of connectivity and logistics facilitation, then Changi is quite critical,” said experts.
Changi Airport, typically Asia’s third-busiest hub for international traffic, has like all aviation centers experienced its fair share of pain. Passenger numbers plunged to 24,500 in May, just 0.4 percent of what they were 12 months prior. They recovered to 111,000 in November, but that’s still down around 98 percent on 2019 levels.
The 13 square kilometer airport (five square miles) on Singapore’s easternmost point is operating two of its four terminals and has halted construction of a fifth for at least two years. Some retail outlets in the public and transit areas remain closed due to a lack of visitors.
There have been other setbacks, too. A highly anticipated air travel bubble with Hong Kong that would have avoided quarantine was delayed after a spike in cases in Hong Kong.
After contracting 5.8 percent in 2020, the economy could expand between 4 percent and 6 percent this year, according to government estimates. However critical industries like aviation may take longer to recover, Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, has said.
Stimulus packages and innovative plans
Some S$100 billion in stimulus has been pledged to help consumers and businesses get back on their feet, with more promised in the annual budget due later this year.
But with vaccines on the way, Singapore administered its first shot recently, hopes are rising.
In December, Singapore announced a new business travel lane that will allow people from anywhere to come without quarantine for short-term stays. They’ll have to reside at Connnect@Changi, which once finished in mid-2021 will boast more than 1,300 guest rooms and about 340 meeting rooms, and be subject to numerous COVID-19 tests, including upon arrival and on days three, five, seven and 11.
And although the virus continues to rage in parts of Europe and the US, reopening negotiations continue with other countries. Quarantine-free leisure travel has already opened from New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan and China, and there are bilateral agreements with Japan, South Korea and Germany that make it easier for business travelers.
Singapore’s transport minister Ong Ye Kung compared the efforts to a “national resilience project. We’ll make sure Singapore continues to hum along even with COVID-19,” he said. “We are all ready to rise again.”