Airports are the primary transportation hubs of the twenty-first century, at least in the US, and in many other places as well. Most travel between countries and distant cities occurs by air today. Airports are the first things that travelers see when they arrive in a new place. And they are the first things that residents see when they arrive home.
So airports become a critical element in place branding. While the design of the airport itself can be distinctive and aesthetically appealing, that is not enough. The airport should also communicate the essence of the place. When one arrives in Orlando, there should be some excitement around theme parks, children’s characters and entertainment. When one arrives in Nashville, there should be some reference to country music. When one arrives in a western town such as Jackson, Wyoming, there should be some sense of the West. Resort community airports should communicate a sense of leisure. If an airport provides access to beaches, mountains or ski resorts, people should have some inkling of that at the airport itself. And when one arrives in a major metropolitan area, there should be some sense of its thriving business environment, culture and arts.
While hub airports must have some amenities that are not nearly as critical for non-hub airports, still the minimum expectation of airports has increased today.
While all contemporary airports should have a variety of restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and free Wi-Fi, many also have wine bars, massage establishments, water features and different types of entertainment venues. Further, many have sections that trace the place’s rich history, public art galleries, art installations from local artists and high visual impact overviews of their areas’ cultural and other attractions.
From a branding perspective, the airport should communicate whether the place has a rich history, unique geography or natural features, strong sports franchises, rich cultural attractions, unique outdoor attractions, a constellation of prestigious universities or something else.
Taking my hometown, Rochester, NY as an example, we might consider reinforcing any or all of the following at our airport:
- Our rich civil rights history with Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and the Woman’s National Hall of Fame
- The Finger Lakes wine trails
- The world renown Eastman School of Music, the Rochester International Jazz Festival and our numerous other museums, festivals and cultural amenities
- The Strong National Museum of Play
- University of Rochester, RIT and our sixteen other universities
- That we are the US photonics hub (with an explanation of what photonics is)
- Art installations from our famous artists such as Albert Paley and Wendell Castle
- Our rich golfing heritage, with 100 regional golf courses and country clubs, such as Oak Hill, that have hosted the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, LPGA Championship, US Open, US Senior Open and Ryder Cup
- Our numerous bodies of water – Lake Ontario, The Finger Lakes, Genesee River, Erie Canal, etc. - and their unique recreational opportunities
Every place has some proof points like this. Make your place interesting and exciting from the moment a person gets off the plane. Make the traveler want to slow down and learn more about your place as he or she makes his or her way from the plane to ground transportation.
My point is to not limit the promotion of the place to a visitor's information booth with brochures from the various local hotels and attractions. That is so 20th century.
I know this is asking a lot of airports, but having integrated this thinking into airport design will pay rich dividends in helping reinforce a place’s unique value proposition. After all, an airport creates the very first impression of a place and it is the first thing that welcomes the weary resident home again.