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To truly soar, one must first unfurl – Marie Boyle, Artist
I’ve arrived in South Korea, which as I write (Saturday afternoon), is any minute due to come under attack from North Korea for alleged anti-Pyongyang propaganda on the border between the two long-divided countries.
The North has threatened to launch “a strong military action” if South Korea defies its ultimatum, warning last Friday that it is prepared to engage in “all-out war”.
I’m looking out my window (view pictured below) from The Moodie Report’s Interim Seoul Bureau at the Grand Hyatt Hotel but, based on the sanguine reaction of the locals, I’m not too concerned.
South Koreans are used to what they call the “sabre-rattling season” from their northern neighbour. They’ve heard all this before. But certainly the war rhetoric has racked up tensions to the highest level in recent years. Remember that the two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. They have been divided, tragically, ever since.
Korean travel retailers will, of course, hope that war talk doesn’t dominate the headlines for too long. South Korea is only just starting to recover from the impact of the MERS health crisis which saw hotel occupancy rates in some of Seoul’s leading hotels fall as low as 7% in July and which even now are struggling to get above the 60% level. I arrived at my old (and wonderful) Seoul haunt, The Grand Hyatt, at around 09.30a.m. this morning (Saturday) and there was no problem (for the first time I can recall) in getting an early check-in.
Travel retailers here are also keeping a close eye on other headlines – those pertaining to the recent devaluations of the Chinese Yuan and, more particularly, to what appears to be a very sharp slowing of the Chinese economy. The market here is almost unhealthily dependent on Chinese tourists – 43.6% of all visitors, compared with just 16.6% in 2007 – and any downturn in that sector (as seen in June and July due to MERS) can have a devastating impact.
I arrived at Incheon International, one of my and the world’s favourite airports this morning and was as always impressed by the sheer courtesy of the staff. After a prolonged wait in immigration (almost to the minute from the time I reached the sign below, which had taken me 5 minutes to reach), I was greeted with a warm smile by the immigration officer which broke into a beam as I said “Ahn-young-ha-se-yo” (hello) and “Kamsamneda” (thank you) in my tentative Korean.
[What a nice feeling to see our brand upon arrival in Korea]
I probably wouldn’t have had to wait 15 minutes if I hadn’t stopped to admire a display of children’s art in the walkway from my arrival gate. ‘Children’s eyes are a window to the world,’ read one sign, an admirable sentiment.
The display is called Art Miles, an educational and cultural project involving over half a million people from 125 countries and there was some really lovely art on display as you can see.
That got me to thinking about the role airports can play in promoting the art and culture of their respective cities, regions and countries. I flew to Incheon with British Airways out of Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. As I’ve mentioned before in this Blog, the landside T5 Gallery is one of my favourite places, let alone stores, in any airport in the world.
[The wonderful work of Marie Boyle, whose quotation begins this Blog]
It’s one of the very few permanent commercial fine art galleries in the world at an airport and provides a wonderful showcase for the works of British artists – established and emergent.
I’ve bought a couple of pieces there in the past, one for a former business partner and one for our office. The service and follow-up is marvellous, the curation of the art and sculpture world-class.
Airports as art galleries. Now there’s a thought. During my last transit through Miami International Airport, which I’ve sometimes been critical of in the past, I stumbled across an outstanding display of art and made a mental note to myself to champion that concept as part of our increased focus on the great notion of Sense of Place. Watch this space.