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PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of Jewel Changi Airport

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 18 October 2019

Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of Jewel Changi Airport on 18 October 2019. 

 

Mr Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of the Changi Airport Group, Mr Ng Kee Choe, Chairman of CapitaLand, Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chairman of Jewel Changi Airport, and all of you here this evening, good evening to all of you.

I am delighted to be back at Jewel. I have already been here twice, this is my third visit. I came first in July soon after you were newly opened, and Mun Leong and the CAG team showed me around. I came back in August to record my National Day Message here, with the spectacular Vortex waterfall in the background. I am glad to see that since then, the queues for Shake Shack and for A&W have shortened a little bit. Now that Jewel has been operating for six months, I hope that the CAG and Jewel teams can take a bit of a breather. You have made a huge effort, and not just since the soft opening.

Jewel has been almost 10 years in the making. The story of how it came about has been well known. The original intent was to replace the old open-air car park and increase the number of parking spaces. But an idea was seeded: why settle for a car park, when the area had so much potential? So your planners, engineers and architects began to study the possibilities, and came up with a retail and entertainment concept that transformed the idea of what an airport could be.

Along the way, you had to convince many stakeholders. There were innumerable doubts about whether this concept would work. Singapore was not short of shopping centres, including many in the east. There were concerns whether a shopping mall would distract CAG from its core mission of running an airport. You worked hard to persuade me and my Cabinet colleagues.

We met your team, who were serious and professional, you made a good pitch, and you convinced us that you had studied the options carefully, and had the passion to make this idea work. We discussed it, decided the risk was worth taking, and took the plunge to back you. I spoke about the project in 2013 at the National Day Rally, and here we are today.

Jewel was completed on time and within budget, with the help of many partners, including CapitaLand. It is a huge achievement considering the ambitious concept. Moshe Safdie, who is here today, said that in terms of difficulty, constructing this dome rated 9 out of 10, and he has designed many spectacular and very difficult to build buildings, such as Habitat 67, and of course Marina Bay Sands.

Jewel has become one of the instantly recognisable icons of Singapore. Every facet of it is brilliant. Foreign leaders I have spoken to have gushed over it, and the New York Times recently featured Jewel in an article describing how visiting Singapore was “a trip to the future”. This is remarkable, because usually tourists want to leave the airport as soon as they can, but in Singapore, Changi Airport is a tourist attraction in itself, and Jewel has enhanced that reputation and appeal.

Most importantly, Singaporeans are proud of Jewel, and rightly so. It resonates with us, because it reminds us that when we dream big and apply ourselves, nothing is impossible. Many people have come here just to see and enjoy Jewel. There was plenty of buzz and excitement among Singaporeans young and old. When Jewel opened for pre-opening visits, more than half a million of us signed up. Since then the number has grown hugely: around 50 million visitors by now, many of whom are repeat customers, like me. One MP told me that a nursing home in his constituency makes regular excursions here, because the patients enjoy the garden and the free air con.

Jewel has undoubtedly also made Changi Airport more competitive. Last year, 65 million travellers used this airport, including those on transit. I am confident that with Jewel, this year Changi will break that record.

Indeed, Changi is special to Singaporeans. We have watched how our airport has grown and developed. Who would have imagined that when we decided to shift our airport from Paya Lebar to Changi, that one day we would make it the best airport in the world. It is a reflection of our journey from Third World to First. Each time we come home after a long trip, get off the plane, pick up our luggage, pass through immigration, and see the sign ‘Welcome to Singapore’, we are filled with a warm feeling, and we are reminded how fortunate we are that Singapore is our home.

Let me share a back story with you. In 2013, when I was considering whether to talk about Jewel and our plans for Changi at the National Day Rally, we did some message testing, but the focus groups were not enthusiastic. Some thought it was unwise to end the speech with infrastructure projects – too cold, impersonal. I weighed the views, and eventually decided to press on.

I wanted Singaporeans to understand that Jewel and Changi Airport were not only an infrastructure story. Instead, they represented an idea; they were a symbol. They epitomised how Singapore, here, we must dream boldly to create possibilities for ourselves. It was an act of faith to believe that Changi could do this, and that Singaporeans, working together, could make amazing things happen. In the end, Jewel was the one thing that people remembered from that National Day Rally. Now we have done it.

Let me congratulate the CAG team, your partners, and each and every person who helped to conceive, cut and polish this beautiful gem at the centre of Changi Airport today. You have shown again that what we say, we will do, and we will deliver.

May Jewel long continue to sparkle and bring joy to Singaporeans and visitors alike, and may CAG continue to create new experiences, uncover new possibilities and take Changi Airport to new heights. Thank you very much.


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