daniel-baronThere seems to be an emerging class of Transumers in Asia. What sort of travel experiences are they looking for and how have brands stepped up to serve them?

Asia is too huge and diverse to lump into one category, so let me focus on Japan, since that’s where I live. The Japanese have been drinking Transumer coolaid cocktails for quite a while. Many consumers here embrace the travel mindset, even if they never leave the country (and most do not). There are, for example, several hundred thousand Japanese studying hula. There are hula-related schools, magazines, seminars, clothing, and performances throughout the country. These Transumers embrace a lifestyle of unique experiences that transport them, but not necessarily physically.

The Japanese domestic travel experience has also been tailored to the Transumer mindset for quite a while. Each train station (and there are thousands), from big cities to small, sells a unique “obento” boxed meal, plus literally counter after counter of food products labeled with that city or region’s name. The inventive packaging sometimes makes the content irrelevant, but consumers buy these souvenirs because they define their journey. Along the way, travellers can connect with local brands via their mobile phones in the form of special sites and bar code activated discount coupons.

Can you explain the term “budget luxury” and what it means to the Asian traveller?

Historically, when many Asian economies had a comparatively small middle class, consumer choices were neatly divided into two categories: luxury for the very rich and super low-end for the rest. The rise of the middle class throughout Southeast Asia plus China and India has resulted in the birth of new categories. An example is long-haul budget airlines based in Asia that provide AVOD (audio/video on demand) and a la carte pricing for onboard products.

The Japanese market, being predominantly middle class for a long time, is rather different but still offers some interesting examples of “budget luxury.” For years there have been overnight bus services between Tokyo and Osaka, which were cheap and basic. Now consumers have new entrants offering plush, wide, fully reclining seats at a price point that is still much cheaper than the bullet train or airplane. Upon arrival in Osaka, you might stay at First Cabin, a budget property positioned between capsule hotel and traditional hotel. The semi-private guest spaces feature a small but chic environment inspired by first class suites on long-haul

Modern interpretations of traditional Chinese masterpieces in the first class and VIP lounges at Taoyuan International Airport.

Modern interpretations of Chinese masterpieces in the China Airlines lounges at Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei.

How does the inflight entertainment on Asian airlines reflect peoples’ media consumption habits?

IFE is often a balancing act that may be initially driven by consumption habits but is ultimately shaped by economic realities. The Asian airlines were some of the first adopters of AVOD and the content is both vast and diverse. Expectations are high and many airlines here do a superb job. At the same time, sudden economic shocks force a massive, urgent rethinking of the product offering. The need to reduce weight has seen carriers temporarily or permanently remove all paper except for the inflight magazine. Also keep in mind that many Asian airlines with large hub operations cater to an incredibly diverse audience in terms of language. This also influences the program mix.

In many areas of Asia, mobile phones are ringing throughout the cabin the second the plane’s tires hit the runway. In other words, consumers are hungering for communication as well as entertainment. So the future will be a mix of connectivity (WiFi, mobile access) plus traditional offerings (movies, magazines) and it will be interesting to see how airlines bring them together. For example, an airline’s AVOD system could offer an exclusive “this flight only” travel coupon activated via bar code on your iPhone.

As an aircraft cabin designer, how do you balance brand aesthetics with utility and cost?

Cabin interior design is the art of creating the perception of space where there isn’t much, while also reflecting the essence of the brand, whether it’s high-end luxury, cutting-edge chic or fun-n-friendly. But regardless of the brand’s positioning, the spaces are small and costs are high. With long-haul business class seats there are big trade-offs when deciding creature comforts such as stowage spaces, privacy dividers or control panels. One of my jobs is to help the client prioritize the gizmos without losing sight of the big picture.

Oasis Hong Kong Airlines' "dynamic streaks of light" identity was inspired by the constant movement of goods and people in Hong Kong.

Oasis Hong Kong Airlines' "dynamic streaks of light" identity was inspired by the constant movement of goods and people in Hong Kong.

What do you expect airplane cabins look like 10, 20 years from now?

New materials and manufacturing methods will help create lighter seats and structures, which in turn will help airlines keep fares at an affordable level. There will also be more pronounced differentiation between classes, and perhaps classes differentiated by aircraft (as opposed to three or four classes packed into a single aircraft).

Is there anything you’ve learned from airplane cabin design that can be applied to non-travel environments like living rooms or offices?

Aircraft cabins really push one to find creative uses of space. An aircraft galley must house literally thousands of items. In urban environments, where living spaces are small, the airplane cabin can provide lots of hints on how to adeptly hide everything at a moment’s notice.