Transit to another world. Rise of the airport hotel
The past decade has seen the rise of a new style of airport hotel. A luxurious, resort- style haven that takes the weary traveller from airport scramble to an unexpected sanctuary in a matter of steps. These uber convenient hotels are in growing demand as timepoor business travellers find they can be both productive and relaxed, without leaving the airport.
Step inside the new-look airport hotel
With the heightened focus on airport security over the past 10 years, 'transit' has taken on a new meaning. Corporate travellers, at the mercy of airline schedules, can find themselves having to fill anything from two to 10 hours between connecting flights.
Spurred by this trend, the airport hotel has undergone a dramatic transformation in look, feel and function. No longer located near airports – these modern and unique properties are inside the terminal.
Today, we're seeing a new style of accommodation, created specifically for the corporate traveller who wants to use their time efficiently. For some travellers this means work productivity, while for others, it means leaving the bustling airport environment for a place of relaxation.
What characterises the new airport hotel?
Many of the world's major airports have hotel properties located next to them or in close proximity. However, the new airport hotel sits within the physical boundary of the airport. Connected or located adjacent to an airport terminal, it allows travellers to step directly from their arrivals gate, in some cases via Immigration, into a different world.
The majority of these hotels are five-star properties that blend luxury with convenience. In contrast to the sterile airport hotels of old, these newer properties exude the local culture, beauty and style throughout their design. They acknowledge that they are providing the traveller's first experience of a country. From room furnishings, to artwork, and even panoramic views or plane spotting advantages, the new airport hotel design immediately reminds the traveller of which country they are visiting.
Rooms are of a high quality with an emphasis on comfort, and noise levels associated with the airport are minimised through effective sound proofing.
Airport hotels offer excellent facilities for the travellers who need to work, including in-room Wi-Fi, meeting rooms, business and conference facilities, and ambient lobbies. Travellers working for multinational companies can meet face-to-face with peers or clients based in the city where they are transiting, away from the hustle of the airport terminal.
Leisure facilities also abound in these properties, allowing travellers to dine in relaxed settings, work out at the gym, enjoy a massage or soak up a rehydrating skin treatment.
What's on offer at major airports?
According to Peter Hook, General Manager Communications at Accor, the airport hotel product has changed dramatically and helped create a new market. "They are now meeting centres, places to enjoy fine dining, and places to relax in indulgent spas you would expect at a luxury resort. Airport hotels have never been more popular because they offer so much more," he said.
Mr Hook refers to Accor's Sofitel London Heathrow as a design-led hotel that is a destination in its own right. The hotel provides direct access to Terminal 5 via a covered walkway and to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 via the courtesy Heathrow Express/ Connect rail. It offers the largest meeting capacity in the Heathrow area, as well as spa and relaxation facilities, a hair salon, and an on-site car park with 'Park & Fly' packages. The Sofitel also features a range of quality dining options, including the exclusive French restaurant, Vivre.
"In Bangkok, our Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport has packages such as '24 hours occupancy from the time you arrive', recognising that guests can arrive at any hour of the day or night," Mr Hook said. "The Novotel is a virtual resort right next to the airport because it is so often used by people to re-set their body clocks after an extended stay in Europe. It offers 24 hour breakfast, a resort-style pool, large spa centre and extensive restaurant facilities. It's not unusual for guests to stay a couple of nights to reacclimatise themselves."
Tom Rosepick, General Manager of the Marriott Houston Airport Hotel, which offers free shuttle services to/from the airport via underground tram, says there are several reasons why the US has less airport hotels directly connected to the terminal than Asia.
"Older infrastructure is one of the reasons, but there are also issues around airport security and regulations relating to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the US," he said.
Mr Rosepick believes one of the biggest changes in airport hotels over the past decade has been technology.
"At Marriott Houston Airport we're providing more free and reliable wireless access in the hotel lobby and upgrading the capacity of our network to allow for several devices per guest to connect," he said. "We're also providing more outlets in the lobby for charging devices, as well as boarding pass printers and flight boards so guests can check their gate and departure information."
Michael Johnson, General Manager of the PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport, says that as a hotel located next to a 24-hour airport, the PARKROYAL understands that guests have travelled from around the world and are on different time zones.
"We aim to be a 'trusted local companion' for our guests, so we have implemented a flexible service culture. This includes a 4.00am in-room dining start for our early departures, staggered rostering in front office and housekeeping to cater for early and late arrivals, plus the ability to service the needs of any delayed flights," he said.
The services and facilities offered by modern airport hotels around the world vary depending on the airport to which they are linked. For example:
- In Singapore, the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport allows travellers to link to Terminal 3 via a cutting-edge bridge, while Terminals 1 and 2 are accessible by Skytrain. A distinguishing feature is the tropical resort hidden inside this hotel, with courtyard gardens and a landscaped pool area. Guests can host a tropical garden conference in any of the seven meeting rooms and ballroom, while peaceful garden views can be enjoyed from the lobby lounge or al fresco courtyard. The hotel also has a bar, restaurant and spa facilities.
- In Europe, the Hilton Frankfurt Airport is situated directly above the InterCity Express (ICE) railway station with direct pedestrian access via skywalk to Terminal 1. Located in the iconic 'The Squaire' building, the hotel features 10 meeting rooms and a grand ballroom, a 24-hour business centre, 24-hour fitness centre, sauna, lounge and bar, and a restaurant. All guest rooms and suites feature sound-proof windows, LCD TV and dedicated work space.
- In Canada, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport was designed to redefine airport accommodation when it opened in 1999. Situated exactly 99 steps from the US departures terminal this highly awarded hotel is a haven for harried travellers. Features include total soundproofing of guest rooms, a noise-free zone and 'quiet rooms' where there are no bellmen, housekeeping or room services to keep guests awake. With amazing views over the runways and the majestic Rocky Mountains. The hotel also offers unique activities including Learn to Fly packages in a motion simulator. Other packages allow guests to leave their bulky winter woolies in storage before their departure to a warmer part of the world - a feature that is becoming popular due to increased luggage restrictions now enforced by the airlines. There are even BMW bicycles for the energised traveller - ready to explore the nearby trails!
A world of benefits
With all the amenities of a five-star hotel sitting on the doorstep of their arrival and departure gates, more business travellers are realising that there's no need to fill hours sitting in an airline lounge. For an overnight stay, there's also no need to stress about the hassle of travelling to and from the city.
Key benefits for busy travellers include:
- Complete convenience – the traveller has all the meeting, dining, leisure and accommodation facilities they seek, just steps away from the terminal. They can use the airport hotel almost like it is an airport lounge, by checking in online then simply walking to their gate an hour before departure. This is particularly beneficial for travellers who have come from a regional area and want the convenience of fast and easy access to the terminal for their next flight
- Time savings – with no need for on-the-ground travel, the traveller has more time to arrive for their next flight, and have their boarding passes printed and baggage checked. Some of the newer airport hotels will do this for their guests while also displaying departure/arrival boards. This can save guests additional time by advising them of their gate numbers and any flight delays or cancellations, before they leave the hotel.
- Better productivity – the traveller can get on with work in close proximity to the airport but away from all the distractions.
- Perfect meeting place – with their ideal location and first-class facilities, travellers can host formal or informal meetings and conferences with colleagues and clients from the local city or region.
- Fast access to transport – by being connected to the terminals, these hotels provide direct access to public transport services. Travellers also benefit from less congested taxi ranks and options for chauffeur pickups, should they wish to visit the local office or simply take in some sights.
- Unwind in between flights – the traveller can simply relax more easily and travel with far less stress.
The key benefit for employers is the reduced travel and entertainment (T&E) expense. Without having to leave the airport or travel to a local office, travellers are saving on a whole range of T&E related costs. This is especially the case for multinational or global companies hosting conferences for staff and/or clients travelling from different countries and regions. While room rates at airport hotels may be higher than those at city properties, the rate difference is often more than offset by the T&E savings.
Airport hotels also give employers the benefit of higher staff productivity, with less time wasted on the road and more time available to conference or catch up on work from the comfort of their hotel.
An interesting trend is the growing number of multinational and global companies moving their head offices closer to major airports, pointing to the long-term efficiencies that can be achieved.
View to the future
The major hotel companies agree that where the busy corporate traveller is concerned, hotels directly linked to an airport terminal will be preferred over those located further away.
Tom Rosepick of Marriott Houston Airport says more travellers will want to be close to the airport to save time, and their needs will continue to evolve. "The hours of operation, menus for dining outlets, and types of services offered will vary according to the type of airport.
Our hotel will certainly be ensuring our guests can stay connected easily," he said. Michael Johnson of the PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport agrees that technology will be an important focus for airport hotels now and into the future. "Many of the changes we are seeing among our guests are driven by lifestyle choices around the environment. We are finding that our guests tend to look for less luxury and more technology, comfort and value for money.
"Current trends in Australia and New Zealand suggest the demand for airport hotels is growing substantially with new hotels recently opened in Brisbane and Auckland, and a new four and a half star hotel opened in Sydney's International Airport precinct" Mr Johnson said. With the hotel market moving to meet this demand, corporates can look forward to the rise of many more of these super stylish and convenient accommodation options, in major hubs worldwide.