Large international airports have been destinations in their own right for many decades now, the brand amplified visually by the duty-free shopping bag. I remember vividly the ‘See Buy Fly’ messaging of Schipol Airport and its many accomplished peers globally, including London Heathrow and Changi. While the more progressive airports have invested in building experiences, the fullest potential of travel transit becoming an inspiring branding destination, influencing living, is yet to be realised.
In a world where experiences rule the roost, the airport is truly the ultimate Convergence Brand, making the world a smaller place both literally and figuratively. The notable hubs we know so well are actually independent nation states, uniting folks from every nation under a protective and dynamic umbrella, its sovereign stature actually insignificant. It is thus a celebration of humanity, the fleeting nature of their tenure in this space an inverse metaphor for the permanence of civilisation, a constantly renewing corpus of people ably representing the cycle of life. Much has been expressed in cinema and literature on the terminal and its associated experiences but not much has been done to make it a truly influential brand, a potent force of unification. As opposed to being a merely attractive point of transaction, convenience and comfort, driving passengers to a certain location and not the other.
In fact, if Starbucks as defined by Howard Schulz was indeed the Third Place above work and home, then the airport can well be defined as Place Zero, where life exists in its most fundamental form. To facilitate the movement of people and goods from one point to the other, like the great trade and travel routes of yore, where genuinely no boundaries exist between people and there is a common nationality bound by unique rules and regulations. There is as a result no room for traditional norms of hostility and instead a uniform civil code must be observed for any movement to occur. Quite naturally, filled with cultural trappings that resonate deeply with every passenger, particular perhaps to that region yet appealing to every region.
If New Delhi airport were to become a Place Zero then how would the experience be crafted? Firstly, we must define an Integrity Statement for the real estate, rooted both in compelling realities and convincing ambitions. Which can most certainly be the ‘Inspired Union of Diversity’, the story of India borrowed by the hub of this great nation. It will start with the policies of recruitment, designed to be a global magnet for this virtue, the airport staffed with folks from everywhere. The interiors, instead of just being the canvas for a single artist or two, will inspire the finest art from everywhere, as long as genuine and ethical. Global airlines will be invited to make this a mini-hub for operations extending beyond India either direction, with check-in counters adopting cultural dimensions of every nation, a true universal village.
Then, imagine its vast interiors becoming a live demonstration of performing arts, every nook filled with a valuable performer, freelance artists in organised chaos like the metro stations of modern cities. A popular culture fiesta in continuous sequence, to be embellished by food from every region, as well as symbols of graceful living, be it art or not. It will also be friendly to the environment, paperless by design with digital tickets and boarding passes, all things renewable immediately consigned to a logical cycle. The airport will be blessed with a resident patron saint, not political or religious, but instead a digital character representing the finest of our intrinsic diversity and bigness of human character, not the miniature pettiness of normal being.
Thus, the airport in our capital will become a fine embodiment of a universal global spirit, a new form of socio-cultural identity, separated distinctly from traditional political or religious divisions. It can thus become a model for global development, the duty-free bag no longer the most potent branding mnemonic being replaced by something far more valuable. Currently a point of transit for passengers most definitely becoming a point of transition for the urban human, Place Zero taking us back to our truest integrated origins.
(ShivajiDasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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