Airport hotels were once considered the last resort for passengers who miss flights, have long layovers or want to recover from a long trip before continuing. Not anymore. The properties are now the first choice for many planners who want convenient meeting facilities at good value.
Airport properties, especially major brands, want to grow up and become bona fide meeting destinations like popular convention properties in major cities. Moreover, airport hotels want to improve their meeting facilities, services and amenities to compete with many airports that now feature on-property conference spaces.
“Hotel companies are doing a better job of making airport hotels more attractive. You see some new airport hotels coming up and meeting space that looks good.” — Bill Jones
Thus, more and more airport hotels are upgrading and adding flexible meeting space. These upgrades and new spaces for meetings are attracting more meetings, says Bill Jones, vice president, managing director, events, the Channel Company, a sales and marketing solutions provider for technology companies in Framingham, Massachusetts. “Hotel companies are doing a better job of making airport hotels more attractive,” he says. “You see some new airport hotels coming up and meeting space that looks good. Some of the brands are doing a pretty good job, like the Hyatt in Orlando and Dallas, which have some significant meeting space. If you are going to do an event that’s short, like a day and a half, then it’s tempting to do something at an airport hotel.”
Most of the meetings that Jones holds at airport hotels are small. “They are usually less than 50 people,” he says. “We do local meetings at about 20 cities —usually at airport hotels located outside the city. It helps with traffic and people getting there. It’s easier to do a meeting at an airport like O’Hare than ask people in the suburbs to go into Chicago.”
Value also is a significant factor when it comes to airport hotels. “You always get a little bit more value outside of a major metropolitan city. If you compare an airport hotel in Orlando versus one near Disney, you get a little more value of the airport hotel. And if you hold a meeting in a property at John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport or Newark Liberty International Airport, that will be cheaper than doing it in New York City,” adds Jones.
Planners can negotiate good deals at airport hotels. The properties typically have lower room rates than downtown properties and cut transportation costs for buses and taxis. Also, attendees who take flights can arrive and depart more conveniently, saving travel time to and from airports.
It’s possible to stretch tight budgets by holding those meetings that are shorter and smaller at airport hotels, which are increasingly popular for serious training, education and board of director meetings, all of which require attendees to focus and avoid the potential distractions of downtown properties and resorts.
That’s why a major pharmaceutical company held a three-day training and education meeting for 175 Northeast region sales representatives at the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott. The 591-room hotel features 30,000 sf of meeting space and 51 meeting rooms.
The Newark Marriott also was convenient because it offered a central location for attendees and is located about a 30-minute drive from the company’s headquarters. “We needed the convenience of getting people in and out quickly. It’s a centralized location for people flying in from all over the region,” says Jeffrey Cesari, CMP, president of Philadelphia-based Shimmer Events, a corporate meeting, incentive and event company.
Value also was a consideration. “If you look at the Newark airport hotels compared to New York City you are going to get a lot better rate,” says Cesari. “We are trying to keep costs down. That’s the key. There is a better cost per person, and you can negotiate a little better at airport hotels. I see more groups wanting to meet at airport hotels there, and the biggest reason is the cost savings, mostly from the transportation,” because attendees don’t have to use taxis, buses and rented cars to travel downtown.
But as airport hotels grow up, they offer much more than value and convenience, especially in the very competitive food and beverage arena. “The Newark Marriott implemented the farm-to-table concept at this airport hotel,” says Cesari. “The executive chef put in a garden outside the hotel where they grow herbs. We had a reception and cocktail party on a lawn near where the herbs grow. The chef was showing people around, talking to them about the garden and the herbs used in the food we were eating. It was a fun and casual event to get away from the studying they were doing. Otherwise it was a pretty no-frills meeting.”
In Phoenix, the former Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport Hotel, now called the Wren, has undergone an $8 million renovation. The project included all 290 guest rooms, meeting spaces and the restaurant. In addition, the 257-room Hilton Phoenix Airport Hotel is newly transformed. Conveniently located 1.5 miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, they offer complimentary 24-hour airport transportation. The recently renovated lobby has stylish finishes, and the guest rooms were redesigned with new furniture.
In California, Sacramento International Airport will get its first new hotel in 30 years. Sonnenblick Development LLC plans to build a new five-story hotel that will be situated within short walking distance of both passenger terminals. The 135-room Hyatt Place will include an indoor pool and spa, fitness room, dining area and 3,500 sf of meeting space.
Overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront recently completed an $18 million renovation of its 688 guest rooms and suites to meet the evolving preferences of its guests. Key to the project was the participation of guests — ranging from baby boomers to millennials — in the renovation.
Travelers sampled and critiqued three guest room concepts. Their vital feedback influenced the overall guest room design, amenities and technological features.
A few key features include: multiple plug-in units for mobile devices, Samsung 48-inch flat-screen televisions and fast Internet access; open closet shelving design; plush mattresses and choice of down or down-alternative pillows.
The San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront features 24-hour shuttle service to and from San Francisco International Airport, fresh fruit and sweet treats in the lobby, bike rental, electric car charging stations and a dedicated shoe shine stand.
In 2014, Marriott Hotels launched its first M Club Lounge at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. A next-generation concierge lounge built for work and play, the 2,097-sf M Club Lounge features regional food and beverage offerings and convenient tech amenities 24/7.
The Concourse Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport – A Hyatt Affiliated Hotel is the closest hotel to LAX and offers a complimentary airport shuttle offering transportation to and from LAX airport every 10 minutes. After a $57 million total renovation of the 580 guest rooms and public space, the hotel in spring 2016 will be reflagged and rebranded as the new Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles Airport. The hotel boasts spacious guest rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi and ergonomic workstations. The eco-friendly hotel is a local leader in sustainable business practices, with a platinum-level Green Seal certification and four-key California Green Lodging certification. New features debuting in 2016 include the new Hyatt Conference Center with convenient street-level access to approximately 10,000 sf of meeting rooms, brainstorming areas and all-day catering; a new event lawn with three distinct lawns of outdoor space to accommodate groups up to 750 attendees; 40,000 sf of totally redesigned interior ballroom and meeting rooms; 55-inch LED TVs in the guest rooms, new F&B offerings including a Asian-Mexican fusion menu in the signature restaurant, and the debut of the Hyatt Regency Concierge Club.
In Texas, the Sheraton Dallas Fort Worth Airport Hotel received a $7 million makeover. The project included renovating the property’s 303 guest rooms and lobby.
The 506-room Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport last year revealed $1.6 million in meeting and banquet space renovations, including a 38,000-sf complete redesign featuring modern finishes, upgraded amenities and more.
Newly renovated spaces include the property’s 10,000-sf ballroom; junior ballroom; multiple break-out meeting rooms; amphitheater and prefunction space.
In Colorado, The Westin Denver International Airport, Denver’s newest world-class hotel and conference center, will officially open at 3 p.m. on November 19, 2015. The 433,000-sf, 14-story hotel, with 519 guest rooms, will serve both business and leisure travelers at the fifth busiest airport in the United States. The hotel, designed entirely with walls of towering, shimmering glass, overlooks both the mountains and DIA flight paths, and is part of Denver’s new Hotel and Transit Center program. Building upon imagery of flight and aviation, the architecture resembles a bird with its wings extended as it hovers above the public plaza, framing and accenting the acclaimed tents of the Jeppesen Terminal. The floor-to-ceiling windows, which make up the entire wall of every one of the 519 guest rooms and 35 suites, offer expansive views of Denver’s signature Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s High Plains.
The 37,000-sf conference center is one of the few above-ground conference centers located at an airport, and will feature a grand ballroom, junior ballroom and 15 additional meeting/board rooms, for a total of 19 meeting rooms. The meeting space also boasts a 10,000-sf prefunction area that showcases a panoramic three-story, floor-to-ceiling glass wall that is approximately 100 feet wide, providing a light and airy, unique meeting space. The views are equally impressive from the top-story pool and WestinWorkout Fitness Studio, located in the “saddle” of the building. In addition to the hotel and conference center, there will be an 82,000-sf, open-air public plaza that will become Denver’s newest venue for entertainment and relaxation and will create a community connection between the airport and downtown Denver through special event programming.
The Four Points by Sheraton Chicago O’Hare is getting a facelift that includes new carpeting, color schemes and refreshed bathrooms for guest rooms. The exterior will get a fresh coat of paint, landscaping and canopy. The project also includes new seating areas, colors and light fixtures for the lobby. In addition, the property is strengthening its Wi-Fi system.
Attendees traveling to meetings can arrive in a sour mood after enduring bad experiences with airports and airlines. However, airports are adding a range of improvements that will make travel more convenient and less stressful.
After once comparing New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to “some third world country,” Vice President Joe Biden recently joined New York Governor Cuomo to announce the ambitious plan to demolish and replace the airport’s aging terminals with a modern, unified hub. The LGA is undergoing an extensive capital redevelopment program in an effort to provide world-class airport facilities. The program is expected to include the construction of a new 35-gate terminal building; a new aeronautical ramp; frontage roads that will serve the new terminal; a new central heating and refrigeration plant; and other utilities and site improvements.
Right now a new airport is being built in Mexico City, which is slated for completion by 2020 and will make traveling better for passengers and the environment.
The airport is expected to service 50 million people a year, and the new design is all about energy efficiency. Gates will be within walking distance, and the roof is being built to incorporate solar technology. There also will be an onsite energy plant that will collect, treat and recycle rainwater.
Los Angeles International Airport is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar capital improvements program projected to last through 2019. The jewel of the program, the $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal project, will provide greater capacity with a total of 18 new gates, nine of which will comfortably accommodate passenger loads for new-generation aircraft, and a Great Hall for premier dining and shopping. The first phase of this project, which encompassed the gates on the west side of the terminal, the Great Hall, and expanded federal customs and immigration screening area, was completed in 2013. Phase 2, encompassing the east gates, expanded areas for federal passenger security screening, airline lounges and other elements, is scheduled to be fully completed by 2015.
San Francisco International Airport opened United Airlines’ new boarding area E. The $138 million project includes lounge-like seating in waiting areas, new art on the walls and guest amenities such as free Wi-Fi, interactive digital displays and a yoga room. There also are more outlets and USB ports.
Orlando International Airport is undergoing a five-year $1.2 billion expansion. The project includes expansion of the airport’s people mover system, four new international gates and a 3,500-space parking garage.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta has proposed a master expansion plan through 2031. The plan includes new parking garages, additional concourses and a sixth runway. The project will extend the “Plane Train” people mover.
Hawaii is spending $22.6 million for improvements at seven airports. The projects include terminal improvements at Honolulu International Airport, runway refurbishment at Lihue Airport on Kauai, and new roofing for terminal buildings at Kahului Airport on Maui.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has 8,220 sf of meeting space that includes a conference center, auditorium and flexible meeting rooms from 450 to 1,100 sf, which allows for fly-in and fly-out meetings.
Portland International Airport and Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport have conference facilities. So does Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, to name a few.
Technology improvements at airports include stronger Wi-Fi, work areas and charging stations for mobile devices.
Airports also are adding lifestyle amenities. For example, Philadelphia International Airport offers stationary exercise bikes located throughout its terminals.
And for those interested in spending extra time for fitness pursuits, airports are responding. As passengers began posting numbers of steps or actual mileage, walking paths began to emerge. Corridors at airports sport health-related messages.
When the walk is in a cool-down phase, passengers can take a gander at the various art galleries and exhibits in many airport concourses. Some airports provide outdoor walking paths complete with observation areas, parks, playgrounds and even doggy parks.
There are several airport hotels nationwide that have everything planners need including ample meeting space. Here are some of the top airport properties in the nation, according to Yahoo.com’s 2014 list of the best airport hotels in the U.S.
The 848-room Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport features 43 meeting rooms, the largest of which is the 3,500-sf International Ballroom and newly renovated executive boardrooms.
The 298-room Grand Hyatt DFW in Texas offers 34,000 sf of meeting space including 47 meeting rooms, two ballrooms, two boardrooms and 20 conference suites in a convenient setting adjoining International Terminal D at DFW Airport, which will boast by the end of 2016 an expansive new duty-free shopping experience that includes luxury and premium retail brands. The new stores, comprised of six shopping locations, will include a two-level, 13,000-sf primary store along with an executive lounge and smaller specialty stores and kiosks.
The Westin Detroit Metropolitan Hotel Airport boasts 404 rooms and 26,000 sf of meeting space spread over 28 meeting and boardrooms. The property also features a spa, indoor pool and gym. Hotel guests have access to a private security entrance at one of the airport terminals.
Other top airport hotels include the 445-room Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, a AAA Four Diamond Property. The hotel provides 42,000 sf of flexible meeting and function space, including a 150-seat amphitheater.
The 815-room Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport features 52,000 sf of freshly renovated meeting space, including a 18,148-sf ballroom and a 4,750-sf poolside pavilion in addition to two dining options and a 24-hour gym.
Airport hotels may not be right for every type of meeting, such as incentives, large meetings and groups that want easy access to downtown entertainment and restaurants. On the other hand, budget-conscious planners who annually book several work-intensive training and education meetings can benefit from the value and convenience of airport hotels. C&IT