Destination Branding: How to Create a Sense of Place in Airports

Times are over when airports were just faceless transport nodes with an efficient processing of passengers and baggage as their prime “raison d’etre”. Today, airports have become destinations in their own right. They are created  employing the concept of airport customer experience and treating travelers, business and leisure, as their guests.

The latest generation of airports heavily invests in the destination concept, recognizing a new reality determined by social changes and technological advances. The importance of customer experience as part of the airport value chain has grown exponentially in the last decade.

Airports have become complex transport and service ecosystems, comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders with a clear understanding that a seamless and stress -free travel experience opens a wide window of opportunities for non-aeronautical revenues.

Research shows that calm and unstressed passengers are willing to spend more of their time and money in the airports.

No one argues that efficient and safe services, related to the journey itself, remain the top priority. Airports are heavily investing in new technologies towards more automated processes, which are able to offer speed and convenience (remote check-ins, electronic passports and bag tags etc.) as well as advanced solutions such as queue management. For example, Dublin Airport has recently started displaying the queue time through the security search on screens, which helps passengers to manage their time better.

The huge chunk of future revenues – to be shared between the service providers and airlines – will come from a new demand driven by future passengers’ needs: sense of belonging to a community and minimized anxiety from passenger routine.

These insights have recently lead to the rethinking of the whole airport experience. State of art swimming pool and top notch gym facilities, golf courses and skating rinks, museums and exhibitions, haute cuisine restaurants or immaculate shopping areas – you don’t need to be a passenger anymore to experience the diverse airport offering – and you are not even supposed to be.

Trying to make their facilities look more like destinations, airports treat all their visitors as guests, regardless of their purpose of visit.

The evolving “destination” status helps to validate airports’ essential impact on local economies and to strengthen their role as an important place stakeholder.

Foodmarket Copenhagen Airport - sense of place
Food market deli in Copenhagen International Airport (Photo credit:

Furthermore, this trend is calling for a completely new marketing strategy, which can be naturally developed under the place branding umbrella of the local destination.

Creating a sense of place within and through the airport is a popular concept, since airports are the natural gateways and often the first point of contact with the local destination.

Showcasing the local essence through design and creating a feeling of physical and social connection with surroundings are some of the points helping to celebrate the place atmosphere.

A recent Amadeus Survey showed that, by the year 2025, 56% of airport visitors will vote for further personalisation of the airports and for creating more culturally sensitive and authentic experiences tied to the location.

Airports are really great places to exhibit the local values and the spirit of the destination.

Creating sense of place in airports: examples from Scandinavia

Scandinavian airports promote local values through creating a memorable experience using local design and motives – airport services, retail and F&B concepts tie in with current national trends such as “Sense of Place”, “The Sharing Economy”, “Sustainability” and “Transient Spaces”.

The decoration of the Relaxation Area at Helsinki Vantaa Airport reflects elements of Finnish nature, such as ice and snow.

Relaxation area Helsinki International Airport
Relaxation Area in Helsinki Vantaa International Airport (Photo credit:

Gastronomy has always been one of the strongest trademarks of Denmark. Nordic Dining concept is reflected through the whole Kastrup Copenhagen Airport’s F&B area and presented on every level from Foodmarket deli to a Michelin-level pop-up restaurant, giving travellers a taste of the very best of what Copenhagen and Denmark have to offer.

Indianapolis International Airport, named the best in North America for the four consecutive years, created a sense of place inside the Colonel H Weir Cook Terminal. Civic Plaza, an ample space with curved ceilings and glass walls is a perfect stage for installations by local artists, jazz performances supporting the local Indy Jazz Fest and race cars exhibition promoting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The new Terminal building is also a remarkable example of a sustainable airport building. The roof has channels for the rainwater collection with water further used inside the terminal. More than 7000 tons of old roadway material were recycled and used for the construction.

Featured image: Indianapolis International Airport (credit: Indianapolis International Airport)

Svetlana Masjutina, Research Manager Bearing ConsultingAbout the author

Svetlana Masjutina is an independent researcher and adviser based in Monaco with a focus on urban innovation, territorial marketing and the branding and promotion of places and destinations.

Connect with Svetlana on LinkedIn.


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