Let's create a sense of place

Let's create a sense of place

Let's create a sense of place

Using technology to be smarter at every step of the journey is one way to heighten the passenger experience. So too is the ability to create a ‘sense of place’.

Technology and the senses

By Carlos Kaduoka, Director, Airports, SITA

Information and communications technology is an integral part of the airport. Today, it’s right in the front line: used to engage with passengers and create a great connected travel experience. Travelers fully expect this connectivity along every step of their journey. That’s why IT investment remains a top agenda item for airports.

It's in the design

But there’s now also a crucial focus on heightening this experience by creating a ‘sense of place’ throughout the airport. The phenomenon is about conveying lifestyles and traditions, making the airport  a destination in its own right, so it’s not just a place you fly to and from.

Zürich Airport is a great example. Going from one terminal to another, travelers notice cow noises, yodeling and an animated Heidi, giving them a flavor of Switzerland.

In another example, Los Angeles International Airport uses video walls  to create an immersive multimedia system to give passengers a real LA feeling.

And at Mumbai’s airport, the ceiling designs of the Terminal 2 building portrays the feathers of a peacock, India’s national bird.

Think technology

In designing such airports, technology must be thought about at the outset. Planning and factoring in all aspects of IT is crucial if airport operators want passengers to enjoy the sense of place that they’ve invested to create.

Get the IT wrong, and you’ll fail. No matter how much the airport appeals to the senses, if the IT infrastructure can’t support every step of the journey, travelers will leave dissatisfied and with a poor perception.

Enhanced experiences

That means creating an advanced IT and communications infrastructure that’s part and parcel of making the total travel experience enjoyable and seamless – from self-service check-in to biometric identification, allowing travelers to get through border security quicker and proceed with their onward journey.

So while the physical infrastructure of the airport building is important, technology holds the capability of ‘breathing more life’ into the airport environment.

Critical to this is the traveler’s ability to stay connected throughout the journey (from both a departure and arrival perspective), which creates a lasting impression.

In fact, you don’t necessarily have to rely on a massive infrastructure to use technology intelligently to help create that sense of place. 

For example, integrated with business intelligence and beacon technology, wayfinding at the airport  enables travelers to enjoy their dwell time. In doing so, it’s capable of adding significantly to a great sense of place that passengers will enjoy. See our Miami and Nice airport app stories on pages 00 and 00.

Connecting people and cultures

A sense of place is about connecting people and cultures. It’s about making the airport a destination and treating the passenger as a guest, giving them a lot of information and welcoming them.

Technology can help to deliver that by enhancing the airport experience, reducing the stress through self-service and faster connectivity.

It's a sensory journey

By Robert O’Meara, ACI Europe’s Director Media and Communications

Robert O'MearaHuman beings process information through both their senses and feelings. For travelers, an airport is a sensory place.

From final goodbyes as you depart through security gates, to wayfinding announcements and the sheer scale of the airport – each aspect of an airport is experienced differently by each of us.


Closely linked to the sensory experience are our emotions. This could range (at any given time) from sad to happy, to pure frustration about a queue. It all adds to our overall airport and travel experience.

But how can our sensory journeys, and our sense of place, be improved upon? One definition of a sense of place explains it as “a factor that makes an environment psychologically comfortable.”

To expand, when creating a sense of place, we can consider three factors: 

  • Cultural resemblance and resonance
  • Geolocation, or insights 
  • Support and reassurance

Cultural resemblance and resonance

Cultural resemblance and resonance deals with how an airport uses its local flavor to create a sense of place for their travelers.

Munich Airport has its very own beer garden; so, the moment you’re spending any time at Munich, you can enjoy a glass of delicious locally brewed beers. And it’s the only airport in the world with its own microbrewery.

Geolocation, or insights

Geolocation, or insights, relate to whether and how we empower travelers with geolocational insight at the airport, or even before and after arrival and departure.

That includes complete information on shops and restaurants, wayfinding, parking, schedules for public transport and more.

It’s estimated that an average of about 950 million passengers potentially have access to that information. And don’t forget, the information available to passengers has the potential to be personalized so that it relates to a particular area of interest.

Support and reassurance

Support and reassurance considers how communications can be used in adding to the sense of place for travelers. This can be physical face-to-face communication and digital media communication.

From a digital media perspective, social media is seen to be a key enabler for airports in providing support and reassurance to passengers and the local community.

Social media has disrupted the conversation that was happening purely between the passenger and the airline. Now, airports are right there and they’re in the conversation too.

The most predominant conversations deal with customer service, relationship building, crowd sourcing, reports on minor happenings at the airports, Q&A, lost and found, how can we help and crisis communications.

What’s great about social media is that it’s a good leveller, which in some cases allows a small airport to punch well above its weight in terms of interactions, engagement or followers.

In conclusion, if airports take these three factors into consideration when evaluating their sense of place, they’ll be at a good vantage point for ensuring they cater for all the relevant emotional aspects that could impact the traveler’s sensory journey.

Collaboration, premises, processes, products

By Piet Demunter, Director Strategic Development, Brussels Airport Company; and Pedro Casimiro, Manager of Ground Product and Ground Processes, Brussels Airlines

Collaboration. Premises. Processes. Products. These are the key aspects that determine the success of creating a great sense of place for travelers.

Creating a sense of place is very much about collaboration, as you can’t do it on your own, which is why Brussels Airlines and Brussels Airport have been working closely together.

Previously at Brussels Airport, to travel through the Schengen zone, you’d need to leave check-in, exit the departure hall, go through a tunnel and then through security again and back into the departure hall.

With the view of improving the premises, we’ve added a connector which links the departure hall with the Schengen Pier.


An example of premises improvement is the addition of automated border control at the airport, enabling those with European passports to clear themselves through immigration.

Looking ahead, Brussels Airport and Brussels Airlines are in the process of running trials for automated boarding. These trials will be done in the Schengen zone, with the look to extend this to non-Schengen flights.

This will greatly impact the traveler experience in a positive way, allowing travelers to be in control of a new aspect of their journey.


In addition to this investment, passenger comfort is important, of course.
We have a program addressing passenger comfort, ranging from improving lounges used by high-end, business or frequent travelers, to the seating available in the departure hall for both travelers quickly passing through or those with longer stopovers.

The aim is to cater for all and not just for a select few.


In addition, Brussels Airlines are continuously developing and improving their products to match the needs of their travelers. As part of this process, they’ve recently developed specific products to meet their traveler needs and pockets.

This has allowed the airline to reach a wider range of passengers from those looking for the cheapest cost to those looking for a little more comfort. In a way, they’ve created a type of tailored product for their travelers.

The human factor

There will come a time when for travelers the norm will be to have complete control of their journey process.

But there’s one factor that technology can never replace – the human factor. Brussels Airport’s premises aim to put passengers at ease.

We’ve looked into the processes which are very much technology-driven, so that passengers can take control and we can speed up things.

Despite all the technological improvements, there will always be the human touch point that can never be replaced. It’s the ability to see a friendly, helpful face instead of an electronic screen that makes all the difference.

People want to be helped and they like to find someone who can help them. One of the important elements for Brussels Airport has been to have more airport crew on the floor as well. 

All in all, creating a great sense of place for travelers entails taking a number of factors into consideration and ensuring that what’s done is applicable to the passengers experiencing it.

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