Airports are becoming ever more sophisticated in their cultural offering to passengers, with customer service king, Incheon, arguably leading the way.
At precisely 11.30am and 5pm each day, the gateway travels back to a time of kings, queens and noblemen and women as the Korean Royal Family of the Joseon Dynasty makes a ceremonial procession through the terminal.
Dressed in colourful traditional Korean costume and with heads bowed in reverence to King and Queen, it is hard to believe these are not professional actors but in fact staff from the Cultural Heritage Foundation re-enacting a scene from a bygone era.
The daily ‘Walk of the Royal Family’ is perhaps the most visible example of Incheon’s push to make Incheon more than simply an airport, but also a fun and exciting destination representing Korean society – transforming it from an airport to a ‘Cultureport’.
With transit travellers spending an average of 5.2 hours in the airport before their connecting flight, the airport decided to give them a taste of South Korea’s arts, music and culture, and began developing a number of free museums and galleries for them to explore.
They include the Korea Culture Museum, the Korean Cultural Experience centre and the Traditional Craft Gallery.
“We offer a breadth of cultural spaces that cannot be seen in any other airport,” enthuses Incheon CEO, CW Lee. “The transformation of an airport from simply a place people fly from and to, into one vested with a spirit of culture and the arts, creates a unique attraction for visitors to a country.”
Lee has first hand experience of the Royal Walk, having once taken part as a servant to the King. However, the process of transforming Incheon into a Cultureport began before he arrived in 2007, when the airport organised a committee made up of individuals from across the South Korean art world, from artists, sculptures and performing artists to get their advice on how to offer Korean culture in microcosm.
Based on their advice, the airport identified three things Cultureport should offer: experience, performance and exhibition, all with a strong passenger interaction element built in.
“In order to give our customers an exciting experience we created a new phase of development at Incheon, the Cultureport. This was also a key part of our efforts to win ACI’s ASQ customer service award,” says Hoon Choi, director of the airport’s customer service management team.
The Korean Cultural Experience, developed in partnership with the Cultural Heritage Foundation, offers visitors the chance to make hand-made traditional Hanji fans and play Korean instruments, such as the Gayageum (zither) or Danso (flute).
In the Korea Culture Museum, passengers are transported back to a Korea of palaces, fortresses and Buddhist monks. As well as showcasing some of the country’s famous ceramic work, the museum also features a Buddhist temple bell and several religious scrolls, such as the interestingly named Mugujeonggwangdaedaranigyeong or Dharani Sutra.
Meanwhile, the terminal also contains a number of cultural items, from photos, Janggus (the traditional Korean hourglass shaped drum), furniture and pottery, to reflect Korean Hanji art and culture.
For those passengers wishing to see even more of South Korea there are specially organised transit traveller tours from the airport, including a one-hour visit to the Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, a three-hour visit to Wolmido Island and a city and market tour around Seoul.
These tours are proving popular with the number of passengers going on a tour increasing from 4,000 in 2005 to 8,000 by 2008 and 13,000 by 2009, according to the airport.
The Four Season Garden contains examples of Korean flora and fauna, with several flourishing at different times of the year; yellow rapeseed flowers blossom from May to June, white buckwheat from July to September. In October, green barley.
The ‘Star Garden’, consisting of approximately 9,000 plants and water features currently resides in the airport’s Transportation Centre monorail station, where it will remain until the monorail’s opening.
Throughout the year, the airport also hosts a variety of events and performances ranging from Korean traditional, classic and popular music to exhibitions to fashion shows, which draws audiences estimated in the millions.
In 2007, world-renowned artist Nam June Paik’s media art exhibition, including his masterpieces ‘Tortoise’ and ‘Video Wall’, was displayed at the Millennium Hall, within the Passenger Terminal.
One of the most recent events was a 20-day jazz festival which drew “outstanding” audience numbers, according to Choi.
With its cultural exhibitions and a wide variety of activities in place, Incheon can be said to have achieved what few other airports can hope to do, become a tourist destination in its own right.
AIrport World 2011 - Issue 2