Written by, Elisabeth Anne, Regional Managing Director at Imagination Middle East.

Waiting. It used to define the airport experience. Passengers queued for boarding passes, endured security, and idled at gates. But the tide turned with airlines and airports recognising the attention economy's potential. Lounges and online services improved, transforming airports from transit hubs to destinations.

Airports now mirror their cities, offering hospitality, retail, and entertainment - Schiphol Airport being a clear example of this. It's a social space fostering connections and belonging.

Founded on our expertise in developing airport and interface destinations, we’ve identified three key principles grounded in user-centricity to create end-to-end experiences that make sense.

Understanding the traveller

How much time does the passenger have to spend on experiences? Something so simple yet fundamental that’s often overlooked. Diving into traveller profiles and behaviours allows us to create realistic user journeys with a greater chance of being noticed and engaged. Do they always rush through the same section? Are they typically holding bags at this exit? What’s their emotional state at this stage of the experience? Would the ‘brand activation’ be more annoying than enjoyable?

Creating personas based on research and evidence gives us the best insights into creating genuinely memorable experiences for all users, whether landside (meaning airport spaces everyone can access) or airside (airport spaces exclusive to ticketed passengers and employees).


The best airport experiences in the world - Changi Airport, Seoul Incheon, and Dubai Airport, to name a few - have one thing in common - they are staples of the city they are based in. They feel like you landed in the city from the moment you step off the plane - they’ve channelled the essence and spirit of the towns into the airport itself.

Moreover, the best airports consider themselves more than ‘just an airport’. This relatively novel term, ‘airport city,’ elevates the purpose of the travel facility into something more—into a place that users go to even when they don’t need to travel. It’s a gathering hub and cultural spot beyond the usual passenger needs.

For residents, their airport should be a symbol of pride and innovation, of reinvented tradition, and a snapshot of the best the city has to offer. For travellers - the airport should be easy, seamless and simple to navigate, but also a taste of what’s to come - a preview of the location they just landed in.

Seamless technology integration

Lastly, one of the most useful components is the use of cutting-edge technology, which is used to make the journey easier and more comfortable for the passenger. Logic is that the less concerned a passenger is with logistics, the more interested they’ll be in brand experiences and activations.

These are some of the technological advancements that are becoming commonplace in airport projects globally - ushering in a new age of passenger and cultural experiences, and solidly positioning airports as destinations, instead of logistical transit locations.

At Imagination, we’ve worked with some of the most prominent master planners and developers globally to help bring to life the most ambitious visions for future airports - both in live projects and through competitions at various design stages - and are keen to keep pushing for better, more connected and meaningful experiences, regardless of destination.