Where can you find one of the world's newest and most state-of-the-art airport terminals? One that exudes style and leisure, rather than the normal commercial claustrophobia associated with modern day travel? One whose shops are spacious and elegant? That not only stocks the best international brands, but also insists on retaining an overwhelming sense of its national identity?
Singapore? Copenhagen? Sydney? Dubai? The answer is none of the names normally associated with world-class airport shopping, but Istanbul, Turkey, where one of the world's best airport retail complexes was officially opened last month.
What makes the development at Atatürk International airport even more impressive is that it was built in a record 22 months by the developer, the TAV consortium.
However, that speed did not prevent a careful planning of the retail offer which has been skillfully integrated into the design of the terminal - a far cry from the afterthought status that most airport suffers from around the world.
"It is the first time we have ever had enough space at an airport, and it's a great location," says director of German firm Gebr Heinemann Claus Heinemann.
Working with Turkish partner Unifree, in which it has a 50% stake, Gebr Heinemann is management and supply partner to airport retail operator ATU at Atatürk International airport.
Some 4.100 sq m (44,000 sq ft) of retail area includes a 1,170 sq m (12,000 sq ft) duty-free store in addition to several smaller shops and a 700 sq m (7,500 sq ft) shop-in-shop area called "The Golden Touch". The latter features top international brands such as Bvlgari, Versace, i Santi and Ferragamo, while the retailer area includes strong Turkish names such as Vakko, Urban Travel and Navigator. The stores are part of an 8,000 sq m (86,000 sq ft) food and shopping area that present a concerted effort to highlight the country's image and products.
"People should leave Turkey knowing that they bought something in Istanbul , not London, Paris or Frankfurt," says Heinemann.
Adds operations manager of ATU Ersan Arcan: "We have tried to implement the idea for both Turkish people and international travelers that they can buy special Turkish products as gifts that are competitively priced and top quality. We are being very selective about our Turkish products."
||World first: a special barcode scanner allows ATU's customers to convert the local price into their own currencies
That Turkish character is especially manifest in the Bazaar area, a far cry from the tacky souvenir or destination merchandise offerings found in many airports. Passengers enter the Bazaar from an area designed to resemble the famous Istiklal street of Beyoglu, complete with street signs and lamps, banks and telephone booths. The Bazaar sells carpets, ceramics, jewellery, glassware and a wide range of gift items in an environment that is designed to make the customer think he or she is in downtown Istanbul.
Other highlights includes one of the worlds biggest walk-in humidors in the House of Cigars store and a strong designer label presence that includes Bvlgari and Versace. There is also a special barcode scanner in the duty-free shop that allows customers to convert the retail price into several currencies, which is believed to be a world first.
The opening itself was an impressive affair, with suppliers and partners of the Atatürk retailers and authorities flying in from all over the world. The evening culminated in a cocktail party on the banks of the Bosphorus, the mighty stretch of water that separates Asia and Europe. This physical manifestation of East meeting West that symbolises this great city is brilliantly reflected at Atatürk airport. It should be a compulsory stopover for anyone who sees airport shopping as an integral part of the travel experience instead of a homogenized, stateless retail environment.