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Airport hotels: Birds of a paradise

It used to be that airport hotels had one major thing going for them: convenience. Located within eyeshot of the terminal, they were reliably okay, offering little to do and nothing worth remembering. They were odd ducks of the 4-star set.

That’s changing. Owners/developers are rethinking their concept. They’re acknowledging that convenience is a potent but limiting amenity. Memories (a hotel’s ability to make them) offer a lot more play in terms of draw and profitability. Create a powerfully designed airport hotel that pampers, amuses or surprises travelers and has the potential of luring locals, too, and you suddenly have a new kind of bird and a paradise of sorts that happens to be located in the boondocks, which is where airports generally find themselves.

The Hilton Copenhagen Airport hotel, for instance, offers an acclaimed, Asian-inspired Ni’mat Spa that is marketed not just to travelers, but locals and even businesses for incentive programs. The Radisson Blu Hotel London Stansted Airport has a soaring, glass wine tower in its atrium bar along with “wine angels” who perform aerial feats to retrieve requested bottles. In Denver, we at Gensler are in the process of designing a 500-key Westin hotel and conference center at the airport — and “reach” is likewise the operative word. Dynamite views of the Rockies, a rooftop pool, a lobby overlooking a spectacular train hall on one side and a grand plaza engaging the community on the other, and a seamless connection to downtown Denver (via a new, fast rail line that will come right into the hotel) are planned.

The key to creating a successful hotel is design, and that’s even truer for airport hotels. And I take a long view of that word — “design.” Design is not merely an aesthetic condition. It’s a tool for making a space/place function beautifully and perform profitably. What follows is some of the design thinking that should go into this:

Ahhh factor

The airport hotel needs to be the alter ego of the airport. It needs to be a calm refuge. The lobby should be peaceful and yet conducive to work (for those doing business) and social networking. An upscale lounge bar and nicer food offering should be a part of the program. A fitness center, pool and/or spa might be considered as well. And throughout, airplane noise needs to be squashed. Design and engineered acoustics should work together to keep the roar unnoticeable.

Connectivity

Wi-Fi access throughout the hotel is a must. Today’s business traveler expects it. So do Millennials, for whom business and pleasure travel is often commingled, thanks to their “devices” and their knowledge of social media, which allows them the ability to connect with friends in another city at a moment’s notice.

More connectivity

There are physical connections to consider, too. The hotel’s proximity to the airport should be parlayed into an amenity that greatly enhances the traveler experience. The entry sequence — from airport to hotel — should be easy and intuitive. So should the exit strategy. At the new Westin airport hotel in Denver and expanded Hyatt Regency at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, we’re designing spaces that allow travelers to check into their flight and check their baggage, right at the hotel. We’re also manipulating various spaces (for example, separate corridors) so travelers can easily access airport security.

Strike up the brand

An airport hotel gets a lot of visibility — a lot of “visual traffic” in terms of people coming from/going to the airport. If they see a beautifully designed hotel, they will file away that information in their heads as a place/brand to check out when they are looking to book a trip.

Expand the net/engage the community 

Whether it’s wine angels, an Asian-inspired spa or an elaborate international buffet (like the one at the Hyatt Regency at Incheon), a unique feature has the potential of drawing locals to the hotel — in droves. And finally, not to be overlooked is the potential market in airline employees. Pilots and flight attendants are a built-in customer base, and the hotel design could reflect that with special amenities, such as dedicated check-in/check-out.

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