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The World of Airports – No. 3 The Casino At Schiphol Airport

March 2, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama

When I was visiting European cities* some years ago I used Schiphol Airport at Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as my “gateway” to other places, like London or Paris or Cannes, when I used to attend the huge annual telecommunications industry show now called Mobile World Congress.

For a small country – The Netherlands has 16 million citizens packed in a total land area of 16,000 square miles (Australia has 22 million in a continent larger than the continental United States or under 3 million square miles) -- Schiphol is a showcase airport with a highly efficient mail and parcel sorting system, and for air freight of all kinds, as well as passengers transiting to other European destinations, like me.

What evolved at Schiphol airport was that the government agency managing the airport began thinking about the passenger as a customer, and the airport design should be not a cold prison-like maze but a warm inviting area that ultimately makes the passenger as a customer spending money, buying all kinds of duty-free items, not restricted to the usual liquor, cigarettes and perfume (all products with some import restriction due to luxury taxes at every country in the world).

So Schiphol became one of the earliest high-end shopping malls that happened to have an airport.

I recall browsing neckties, DVD players, all kinds of food items (cheese, sausage, chocolates, and caviar), watches, and even loose diamonds (Amsterdam is a major diamond-cutting center). I always ate a great smoked salmon sandwich at a small kiosk (the restaurants were plentiful). There were free shopping carts (again, free is the key) and people happily moving about like at Costco. Before entering customs, the Schiphol Plaza was developed for shopping by local Amsterdam residents, who have no air ticket, but wish to shop at the airport (imagine if a small shopping mall existed at the Kahului airport, so there were daily farmers’ markets for visitors and local people, all mingling together, plus Hawaiian music and hula shows).

A couple of attractions also show how the airport planners thought of the in-transit passenger and how to attack boredom: The Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s major collections of Dutch and global artists, has a small art museum at the airport, featuring both classical and contemporary art.

Harking back to my earlier blog on the Singapore Changi Airport “city tour” -- admission to the exhibits is completely free. The World of Airports No. 2 The Oh So Simple Free Bus Tour

Again, the in-transit passenger from the U.S. or South Korea or Brazil wandering about Schiphol Airport is educated on Dutch art (Van Gogh and many others) and afterwards the passenger starts planning for a return visit to Amsterdam to see the bigger art museum, just as in-transit city tour attendees would return to Singapore to see the sights again. Having a captive audience at an airport means that you can educate them in many ways, including art, sight-seeing, perhaps even literature and music . . .

Referring back to my blog regarding the Milwaukee Airport used bookstore The World of Airports No. 1 The World of Whiskies , in summer 2010, the world's first permanent airport library opened at Schiphol, providing passengers “access to a collection of 1,200 books (translated into 29 languages) by Dutch authors or on subjects relating to the country’s history and culture . . . The 968 sq. ft. library offers e-books and music by Dutch artists and composers that can be downloaded free of charge to a laptop or mobile device.” Now this is not a big library, but a small, dedicated one in the middle of a bustling airport, Europe’s 4th busiest and the world's 16th busiest by total passenger traffic in 2012. It also ranks as the world’s 5th busiest by international passenger traffic.

Why not at Kahului Airport a small art gallery featuring Maui artists, like Tadashi Sato or works on loan from Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center at Makawao, or a “library” featuring downloadable music by local Maui musicians or hula videos or “sights of Maui” short digital clips? Looking at how many iPhone or Android or iPads or Kindles carried by passengers at the Kahului Airport, an enormous opportunity exists to educate tourists about Maui and its culture, music, history, dance, sculpture, paintings, writings, and of course, its many sight attractions.

The one area that I still recall was a small casino at Schiphol airport. Now there are small gambling casinos in Amsterdam, but they do not constitute a flashy tourism attraction, like the gambling casinos of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Few even know there is legalized gambling in The Netherlands and no one that I know ever buys a very expensive airline ticket to gamble in Amsterdam. The casino was located in the “international” section, so a passenger had to have a ticket departing Schiphol to enter this gambling area (mostly video slot machines).

Let me state that I am against gambling in Hawai’i, but just wanted to relay my observation: I saw hurried international flight passengers -- over 90 percent non-Dutch citizens -- playing the machines before boarding their planes – and I realized the “gambling” was a source of revenues for the Dutch government, taken from transit passengers or tourists. How imaginative to collect revenues anywhere, is my point, especially from non-residents, in a way that no one really complains later.

*Before the euro, I used to carry Netherlands guilders, and also had other currency for other countries, like the franc in France, marks in Germany, and pounds in England. At the end of my journey back home in Tokyo, I ended up with handfuls of coins, many of I had no idea which country currency they belonged to. Once I took the bag to “donate” to a box at Narita Airport for such “orphan money”, and I felt better, since the Ziplock bag was getting bigger and bigger (coins from Asian countries, like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand also found their way into the bag). The positive advantage of the euro was that I could carry one currency throughout most countries in Europe, except for Great Britain. The negative was that I noticed that pricing in euros made many items more expensive, in countries (like The Netherlands) where I thought prices were a bit more reasonable and the euro brought the prices up to German and French higher levels.

See also The Greek Election and Economic Crisis – Something Happening Far Far Away

** Since October 2006, couples can also get married at Schiphol Airport. Of course, wedding ceremonies bring people to the Airport for celebrations (and more liquor purchases).


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