From weather obstructions to flight delays, hotels located on airport campuses cater to guests in ways traditional hotels often can’t.
GLOBAL REPORT—Airport hotels are nothing new to the industry, but their definition is broad.
Hotel News Now’s Hotel Industry Terms to Know defines airport hotels as those in close proximity of an airport that primarily serve demand from airport traffic, and distance may vary. So, a hotel might be located a few miles from an airport, or maybe a 30-minute taxi ride, or even longer depending on the city.
Somewhere in that definition lies the on-property airport hotel. Operators and owners—in some cases, that means the airports themselves—are looking to this property type as a way to capture demand from on-the-go travelers.
“We noticed in our visits to airports that travelers with long transit hours were sleeping on the floor or chairs,” said Mei Mei Song, brand director at Plaza Premium Group, which counts the Aerotel brand in its portfolio. The global brand has 12 locations in 10 airports, with its most recent 82-room hotel that opened in October 2019 at London’s Heathrow Airport in Terminal 3.
“On the other hand, we also noticed in certain airports there are travelers arriving late at night with limited transportation available to access the town, or travelers with early flights who would rather arrive at the airport the day before rather than deal with the anxiety of waking up at the break of dawn and making their way to the airport,” she said.
Operator Hyatt Hotels Corporation and owner San Francisco International Airport also opened an on-property airport hotel in October 2019, the 351-room Grand Hyatt at SFO. GM Henning Nopper said that in an area where there are three large airports, an on-property hotel makes SFO a more attractive option for travelers—and that was a driving force behind the hotel’s development.
“Our customers are theirs, and theirs are ours,” he said. “When a customer doesn’t have to take an Uber or stand outside in the rain and wait for a taxi to go to their hotel, it’s a draw. Convenience is a major need and want for the business traveler these days.”
Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner of MCR Development, which owns and operates the recently opened TWA Hotel at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, said the 512-room property gives the hotelier “highly specialized expertise in airports’ demand patterns and on-airport hotel operations.”
That kind of in-the-know data leads to nimble operations, sources said.
“Being nimble in an airport hotel is key,” Nopper said. “You definitely depend on weather and what happens in the moment if there’s a flight delay. You might have 150 people coming, and you have to be ready.”
That means team members, such as housekeepers, need to be called in to handle the influx, he said. And while that sort of model might seem like risky business, Nopper said team expectations are managed upfront. For instance, staff members are aware of the airport hotel model when they are hired.
What else is different from the traditional hotel? These on-property hotels are catering to guests who might not need a full night’s sleep. Hourly blocks, in addition to nights, are sold here.
For Aerotel, those blocks can range from three hours to 12 hours, depending on flight patterns.
“This makes it flexible for our guests to check in, any time of the day,” Song said. “You pay for the duration you require. Take, for example, in transit, you may need a room for three hours to catch up on some sleep and a quick shower before heading to the next flight. You don’t have to pay for a full day.”
At the Grand Hyatt at SFO, guests also have the option to rent rooms for six hours, starting at 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. At TWA, day stays are available in four-hour increments. Morse said that those short stays can often lead to longer stays, too.
“International travelers who have flown overnight come shower and work out at our fitness center before heading into Manhattan for a meeting,” he said. “Our overnight guests often have so much fun at the hotel that they add on a day stay so they don’t have to check out.”
For its part, the hotel offers full-service amenities that guests can make a day of, including a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, museum exhibits, 50,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 1,600 people, food-and-beverage outlets, a rooftop infinity pool and observation deck, a wall-to-wall Twister game room and an ice-skating rink.
That sort of wow factor can help an airport hotel elevate to destination status. For example, at the Aerotel Singapore, the team built an in-terminal outdoor swimming pool that overlooks runways. The Grand Hyatt at SFO is home to a 108-seat, three-meal restaurant and over 14,000 square feet of meeting space.
So, do guests have to be just flying through in order to take advantage of all these amenities, or are locals part of the equation? That depends on whether the hotel is located landside (pre-security) or airside (post-security).
For example, the 215-room Aerotel Beijing at Daxing International Airport is located landside, so that guests don’t have to pass through security before visiting. That hotel, the largest for the brand to date, includes two meeting rooms that can be set up for meetings, dinners and intimate gatherings.
The Grand Hyatt at SFO also benefits from not being behind security lines, which Nopper said is a benefit because locals can grab a bite or hang out in the hotel’s public spaces to watch the planes fly by. However, it posed a problem. A big draw of an on-property airport hotel comes from the fact that guests can quickly check out and grab their flights. That’s a no-brainer for a terminal hotel, but not so much for a hotel that’s on-property but not in a terminal. The solution at the Grand Hyatt was to build an AirTrain station that connects the hotel to all the airport terminals.
Nopper said security was another consideration when thinking about suppliers.
“That was a big question for them. Do I have to be screened every time I come in? Do I have to be checked out?” he said.
Because the hotel is slightly removed, it isn’t as big of an issue. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t stricter security measures to follow than a traditional hotel would face. Nopper said only a few hotel employees have admittance to the outside of the building, and the engineering team members who do have access need to carry specific badges, per airport rules.
“Any balcony or any outside space that is facing the airport or AirTrain is secure,” Nopper said. “There are specific cameras and specific protocols to get out there so that the airport security team knows who’s out there and who has access.”
And when it comes to any emergency at the property, Nopper said the hotel can be a more secure option than a traditional hotel as the airport has its own security team, police force and fire department.
“We’re part of that. There are a lot of patrols coming through, which is a nice thing for people to see,” he said. “It makes us feel good to be in that environment.”