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For any forward-looking airport company, taking the best of the city or region it represents and translating it faithfully to its own travel environment is both aspiration and challenge. And not that many airports get it right. Some add touches of local flavour in the shopping or food offer but little in the way of relevant design cues; others deliver Sense of Place in the textures and furniture but fail to effectively mirror the city in the store or restaurant concepts.
From what I saw on my visit to Melbourne this week (for the T2 luxury and dining zone opening), the airport has gone further than most to deliver distinctive, locally-themed flavour while mirroring the look and feel of the city. That’s important: locals here are proud of what their city has to offer, so the gateway to that city has to meet certain expectations.
For example, Melbourne has been voted the world’s ‘most liveable’ city for seven years in a row. It’s big but has enough green space that you don’t feel smothered. The tram system offers easy access around town. And unlike some cities activity here isn’t just concentrated on the central business district; it has many vibrant areas from Carlton to Fitzroy to South Yarra to St. Kilda. Each of them (and others such as city centre Chinatown) have their own ‘foodie’ culture, whether it’s modern Australia or Vietnamese or Italian or others.
Not only that: go to any bar in town and the variety of superb locally made ales puts the offer in most European cities in the shade. Once upon a time the choice was Carlton Draught or Victoria Bitter. Now, England fans flocking to Melbourne for the Boxing Day cricket test match can drown their sorrows with a Fat Yak or a Moondog as they suffer another thrashing by the Aussies.
How does the airport’s new T2 airside zone represent the Melbourne of today? Well, there’s the striking ceiling of the new luxury environment, which we covered on Tuesday, inspired by the architecture of downtown locations such as Federation Square or areas in the old laneways.
There’s the addition of Brunetti’s, the famed coffee shop run by the Angele brothers, or Movida and Café Vue, both also downtown Melbourne institutions. Or Two Johns, a bar that houses some of those great local ales and a flavour of the city in its own food menu.
We liked Lagardère Travel Retail’s interpretation of the city at The Melbourne Store, complete with the front of a local tram – a real one, not a replica. This and other destination stores also focus strongly on quality, not just on cheap souvenirs, though these have their place.
We were also struck by the efforts of other partners such as WHSmith to bring the city to life. The use of wood and brick carries echoes of old Melbourne, but are done in an imaginatively modern way, even in the futuristic tech zone.
Will the space achieve that the airport aspires to and ‘make Melbourne proud’? The customer will decide of course, but having spent last weekend with some Melbournian friends, I found that first anecdotal impressions are pretty positive. For them, the airport today is unrecognisable from five or even three years ago; the experience a more positive one, and the restaurants (always a touchstone of local opinion) places they’d now choose to take their families to eat.
Speaking to the airport retail team (full interview coming soon), there’s so much more they would like to accomplish with local partners, and many more names that they believe can deliver in this environment. What’s happened so far is exciting: the future could be spectacular.