Sense of Place:

How atmosphere lighting can boost travellers’ moods

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Airports around the world are placing an increased emphasis on atmosphere lighting, says MK Illumination. Delivering a global-local – or ‘glocal’ – approach can drive Sense of Place, reflecting the individual space and locality of an airport.

Chandeliers hang throughout Zürich Airport and, accompanied by strings of lights, help put travellers in the mood to enjoy the stores and services.

Airports worldwide are at a pivotal point in their evolution. Once considered merely the start and end point of a journey, they are becoming destinations in their own right.

It’s now more important than ever to enhance traveller satisfaction and control the flow of people through airports to encourage them to stay longer and take advantage of the experiences on offer. But how can airports create an atmosphere that reflects their space and locality, and that boosts the mood of international travellers at the same time?

Airport atmosphere lighting provider MK Illumination’s goal is to provide an answer to that question. “We’ve been successful in helping airports enhance their Sense of Place using atmosphere lighting and design because we understand the local environment and support that knowledge with 22 years of global experience,” says Head of Sales & Communications Titina Probst. “This global-local – or ‘glocal’ – approach enables us to offer solutions that resonate as much with local travellers as with international ones.”

With local teams in more than 40 countries, MK Illumination’s aim has been to develop its ‘glocal’ credentials into an art form, bringing its global expertise to bear on every project in which the company involved.

At Perth Airport, 3D light sculptures of kangaroos and a 6-metre high indigenous baobab tree greet travellers and promote a Sense of Place.

Projects in Perth Airport in Western Australia and O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, are examples of atmosphere lighting concepts that build on both local insights and international expertise.

In Perth, 3D light sculptures of kangaroos and a 6-metre high indigenous baobab tree greet travellers and create a warm, inviting, and distinctly Australian atmosphere that leaves travellers in no doubt as to where they were.

O.R. Tambo International is often a traveller’s first stop to destinations across Africa and, over the recent holiday season, the airport wanted to both welcome travellers and make it clear that they had arrived on the continent. In response, MK Illumination South Africa created two lighting concepts: a Southern African baobab tree and another of a mother rhino with her child.

Both projects combined an intrinsic knowledge of local needs with an understanding of traveller behaviour, according to MK Illumination.

Two lighting concepts welcome O.R. Tambo International Airport passengers to Africa: a baobab tree and another of a mother rhino with her child.

More than just lightbulbs

The company has a track record of using light and design, often incorporating interactive or animated elements, to create environments that resonate with locals and visitors alike. Some of its inspiration for airports comes from domestic projects: in New York, Saks 5th Avenue’s annual Christmas lighting extravaganza combines both light and an animated light show, for example, while Taikoo Li Sanlitun’s 2018 Chinese New Year interactive lighting display in Beijing featured floating lanterns and a tree filled with lights that came to life when a visitor struck a gong.

Marek Kolasinski, from MK Illumination’s Airport Development team, says the ultimate goal is to improve the customer experience. “Using atmosphere lighting to create Sense of Place doesn’t simply make travellers happier, it also boosts traveller satisfaction, and that’s no small thing.

MK Illumination draws inspiration from domestic projects such as this one at a Saks Fifth Avenue department store.

Taikoo Li Sanlitun’s 2018 Chinese New Year interactive lighting display in Beijing featured floating lanterns and a tree filled with lights that came to life when a visitor struck a gong.

“Recent research by m1nd-set into the correlation between traveller satisfaction and spend uncovered startling results: for every 0.1% increase in the ‘Overall Satisfaction’ score of an airport, we can witness an increase of 13% in average spend per airport buyer. Multiply that by passengers per day, and it’s clear to see that investing in atmosphere lighting makes commercial sense.”

Kolasinski notes that it is impossible for one lighting concept to work effectively in all airports. In addition to each space being unique, cultural expectations vary wildly from place to place, and different spaces demand different approaches.

An impressive lighting project at Stuttgart Airport encouraged relaxation and passenger flow.

In Germany, for example, MK Illumination transformed Stuttgart Airport with elegant, distinctive lighting that built on the architecture of the airport itself. Its cathedral-like pre-security areas were turned into inviting spaces for people to check-in or to rest and relax before going through security.

Street lighting leading visitors to and from the airport outside was instrumental in subtly adding atmosphere before and after travelling, and a combination of lights and decoration also encouraged passenger flow once travellers passed security checkpoints.

Switzerland’s Zürich Airport also played with their high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, creating a sophisticated ambiance before and after check-in with chandeliers hanging throughout the airport and strings of lights adding a festive touch to balustrades. All of these touches aimed to put travellers and visitors in the mood to enjoy all aspects of the airport.

A similar approach was taken at Zürich’s main railway station, where MK Illumination installed a completely different chandelier featuring pre-programmed colours and patterns that travellers could activate using an interactive touchscreen. The chandelier is Europe’s largest, and creates an “unparalleled atmosphere in the station whilst also creating a consistent experience for passengers travelling to the airport from the station and vice versa thanks to the continuity created by a design DNA,” MK Illumination said.

Another key is the sharing of information from one country to another. “Although we’ve been in the business for over 20 years, we still learn from each project and we actively share what we learn internally so that each of our local offices can apply that knowledge to their own projects,” says Probst.

This remarkable chandelier hangs prominently in Zürich Hauptbahnhof, and features 23,400 light points.

Working together

Offering a ‘glocal’ approach is also about having flexible working processes, Probst says. MK Illumination, for example, says it offers a “360° design-driven approach” that starts with consulting and ends with installation and maintenance.

There must also be an understanding of the particular set of rules and regulations at an airport, some of which apply globally and some of which are enforced locally. “It often makes sense for airports to use their own suppliers for different parts of an atmosphere lighting project and we can work seamlessly with one or many other suppliers as needed,” MK Illumination says.

An example is London Heathrow Airport, where the company simply supplies products for the airport’s annual festive lighting projects but isn’t involved in design or installation. Another example is the lighting in Zürich Airport, which is the result of a partnership with Swiss-based 3-dimensional communication agency Aroma. MK Illumination transforms Aroma’s designs into productions which they then install in both Zürich Airport and Zürich’s main railway station.

“We know that airports are under incredible pressure on all fronts: they need to drive revenues, manage the complex tasks that keep an airport running safely and efficiently, move people from one place to another, and keep travellers happy, all the same time,” says Kolasinski. “Our job is to implement solutions that deliver ROI and that make it easy for our airport customers to get the best results possible, and flexibility is part of that.”

“Using atmosphere lighting to create Sense of Place doesn’t simply make travellers happier, it also boosts traveller satisfaction,” says MK Illumination.

The importance of innovation

New and innovative ideas are key to engaging travellers, especially over longer periods of time as airports take ownership of their roles as ‘destinations’. MK Illumination’s aim is to “constantly challenge the status quo”. At a trade fair in Frankfurt in January 2019, the company presented a selection of lighting concepts and individual products custom-designed by their worldwide designers and brought to life in a number of their international production facilities using diverse materials, colour, and light.

The ‘Magical Lounge’ concept, for example, could create a cozy but classy decompression zone from the largest of airport spaces, while strategically placed light art like ‘The Winter Unicorn’, ‘Mystic Stag’, or ‘Paradise Tree’ could be used as beacons to move travellers from one part of a terminal to another, according to the company, allowing them to explore individual stores along the way.

It could be that these concepts and products will be picked up by airports around the world, but for MK Illumination it is clear that many are putting increased emphasis on the concept of atmosphere lighting.

“We’ve found that a flexible, customer-centric, ‘glocal’ approach works best when it comes to creating atmosphere lighting for airports,” concludes Probst. “Sometimes the airport wants ‘elegant and traditional’, sometimes ‘cutting-edge and trend-setting’. Sometimes it makes sense for an airport to work with us from start to finish, sometimes it’s better for them to work with several suppliers. As long the end result makes travellers happy, gets them moving, and positively affects revenues, we know that we’ve done our job.”


The Moodie Davitt eZine | Issue 258 | 26 March 2019