Incheon right on key, Heathrow strikes the wrong note

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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One of the reasons, I am sure, that Incheon International Airport keeps being rated the world’s best airport in ACI’s annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) awards, is its commitment to consumer engagement.

I have commented many times on the excellence of Incheon’s Korea Cultural Traditional Experience Center (pictured below), which brilliantly combines retailing with customer participation and education about the country’s splendid history and heritage.

incheon kcc

Incheon interactive

But Incheon is far more than that. It’s also a whole lot more than the only airport with a Louis Vuitton store (faboulous though it is) and about an intense focus on shopping.

incheon l vuitton 2

Incheon panorama

There’s also a whole museum experience, a ‘Korean Wave’ store, a ‘street’ of Korean restaurants, daily cultural shows in selected areas and even on the open concourse, and much, much more.

incheon museum

I travelled back to London Heathrow via Incheon last month and noticed a simple but critical difference between the two airports. One struck a chord, as it were, one didn’t. Take a look at the two pictures below. I snapped the top one at Incheon Airport, the second one on my return to Heathrow T3.

incheon perfomers piano

heathrow piano 2 photo1

The Incheon shot shows a female pianist, backed by a string quartet, entertaining passengers with a beautiful mid-afternoon performance. Note all the passengers who have stopped, entranced, engaged, entertained, excited about seeing this in an airport.

Now look at the rather joyless, roped-off piano above at Heathrow’s post-immigration airside arrivals zone. And here’s the thing. It plays itself! Yes, it’s got one of those pre-programmed mechanisms that makes the keys tinkle away to a prescribed musical selection. Now I like the welcome sign (featuring a Covent Garden florist) but don’t you think the piano is a bit… well, sad?

And there’s more. Here’s a picture of the landside arrivals hall. Another piano! Talk about unaccompanied music…

All on its own, standing as gloomily as a waiting relative who’s been told that their loved one is being strip-searched by Customs. Why is it here? When is it played? Is it played?

Heathrow piano photo

However, it’s not all bad at Heathrow. I do like this themed gate lounge below, commemorating the London Olympics,which embraces the original ‘London park’ theme and features of the purpose-built Games Terminal of the 2012 event. One of those features was a ‘memory tree’, that allowed athletes to leave their thoughts and souvenirs.

heathrow the park

heathrow park 2

heathrow park entrance

Heathrow tree

When I  used that lounge, I noticed the change of mood among travellers. If nothing else, it was a talking point, as well as signifying that the travel experience had already begun. Not the strongest evocation of Sense of Place that I have seen in an airport but a good first step. More please.

Ah, Sense of Place. I seem to have talked about that concept ad infintum down the years but oh so few airports really deliver.  So back to Incheon, which does. Take a look at the images below and you’ll see why I, like so many others, enjoy this airport.

incheon sop 1

Incheon SOP 2


Incheon SOP foods

incheon rice fab

[Above: A Korean ‘riceteria’]

Incheon SOP

incheon interative

incheon interactive 3

Incheon interactive 4

incheon interactive 5

Incheon interactive 6

incheon korean wave store 2

[Above and below: The Korean Wave store at Incheon International Airport]

Incheon Korean wave store

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