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The evolution of luxury airport hotels

Their guests might only be staying for a matter of hours – so why are there now so many high-end airport hotels?

The words ‘airport hotel’ have not traditionally set the heart racing with excitement. Properties close to air hubs have typically been seen as soulless affairs, providing little more than a few meeting rooms and a conveniently located bed for the night (or if not for the night, then for however many hours’ sleep can be squeezed in before the alarm clock rudely sounds). Places, in short, to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Times have moved on. Just as airports themselves have morphed to incorporate upscale dining options, sophisticated leisure facilities and voguish architecture, the airport hotel sector has shown that skimping on style is by no means a given. When the TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport was unveiled in May – complete with ‘Hollywood-style’ bathrooms and a runway-facing infinity pool – it was just the latest high-class opening in the industry.

There’s good reason for this. “Flying numbers reached over 4.3 billion passengers on scheduled flights globally in 2018,” says Jean-Charles Denis, Vice President Commercial Europe at InterContinental Hotels Group. “Over the last few years we’ve seen the demand for airport hotels change to more than just a place with beds for an overnight stay. Guests are expecting the hotels to be expertly designed and offer high quality F&B options, as well as being a comfortable place to stay.”

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Singapore Changi Airport

Photo: credit to Darren Nunis, Unsplash

Many global airports, lacking the capacity to build more runways and gates, are having to operate longer hours to handle the increase in flights – which results in more travellers coming and going round the clock. And with passenger numbers so high, it means there are various key markets to tap into. Denis points to two contrasting recent openings: the all-suite property Staybridge Suites London Heathrow Bath Road – squarely intended for guests who may be staying for extended periods of time – and the 305-room Holiday Inn Express Paris CDG Airport, which he describes as offering “the small details which make a big difference between a good night’s sleep and a great stay”.

For airport hotels, these details can go some way to justifying significant room rates when guests may only be staying for a few short hours. These might include anything from noise-absorbing headboards and lobby check-in kiosks to personal concierges and direct-to-airport luggage transfers.

Fairmont Vancouver Airport offers afternoon tea with signature cocktails and a spa specialising in jetlag treatments. Cordis Beijing International Airport has a wedding planner and a Chinese fine dining outlet named after and inspired by a Michelin-starred restaurant in a sister property. Sofitel London Heathrow provides a zen garden and a cutting-edge lecture theatre. Worldwide, standards continue to get higher.


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Raymond Kollau, founder of the Netherlands-based research agency AirlineTrends, points out a deeper reason why. “One major driver behind luxury airport hotels in the past few years is the changing nature of airports,” he says. “Airports are evolving from transit places where passengers depart and arrive into business hubs that offer prime corporate real estate which attracts, for example, the regional headquarters of global corporations. For business travellers flying in for meetings this means they don’t have to travel beyond the airport anymore, which is convenient and saves valuable time. As a result there is a corporate demand for luxury hotel accommodation.”

This, in turn, means it’s not just accommodation that’s in demand. “A related development is the emergence of the airport city, which has become a destination in itself,” he continues. “Think Singapore Changi or The Circle at Zurich Airport, which combines leisure, business and travel.” The £800m (US$1,015m) business, hotel and retail development known as Manchester Airport City, currently under construction in the UK, provides a further example.

The fact that so many leading airport hotels are chain properties suggests another factor in the rise in quality. With brand values and customer loyalty afforded so much importance by the hotel companies themselves, it makes sense that a chain’s airport hotels would strive to equal the experiences guests might have at its other properties.

Naturally, not every airport hotel can target the five-star market – but the days when the average property was the domain of frazzled frequent fliers or disgruntled holidaymakers with flight delays may well be drawing to a close.

Hero image: credit to Erik Odiin, Unsplash 

Takeaway
  • With global air traffic on the rise, demand is growing for high-end accommodation
  • Luxury facilities and upscale dining are helping airport hotels to attract business travellers and leisure guests
  • Some of the world’s busiest, most modern airports are becoming destinations in their own right
  • Hotel chains are recognising that quality airport properties are a good way to drive brand loyalty

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