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Layovers with built-In luxury
[NEW YORK] On opening day of the TWA Hotel at Kennedy International Airport in May, visitors could be excused for any confusion.
Were they in the lobby of a new hotel in 2019, or had they stepped back in time to the bustle and glamour of the jet-setting 1960s?
On a balcony overlooking a sunken cocktail lounge in the building that once housed Trans World Airlines check-in counters and waiting areas, four young men wearing suits as narrow as their ties were singing from the balcony. They looked very much like the Beatles.
Along a floor tiled in tiny white disks walked pilots in crisp uniforms and flight attendants with carefully coifed hair.
Many places in the former TWA Terminal in New York, now on the National Register of Historic Places, were emblazoned with the red logo of an airline that ceased to exist nearly two decades ago but remains alive for many people.
Walking into the lobby on opening day, Peggie Sherwood saw the refurbished flight board and said, "It brought back so many wonderful memories." Sherwood was a flight attendant for TWA for 29 years and called it the best job in the world.
In the courtyard between the hotel and Terminal 5, a restored 1958 Lockheed Constellation in full TWA livery has been turned into a cocktail lounge.
The nostalgia that charms visitors disguises the fact that in adding a hotel this spring, Kennedy was more than a decade late in joining a trend well underway elsewhere. According to JLL, a hospitality consulting firm, 38 of the world's 50 busiest airports have terminal-located hotels.
Frankfurt Airport in Germany has a Sheraton and a Hilton. Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports have two each, as does Dallas Fort Worth International. Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia has the luxury Sama-Sama and several budget hotels that serve low-cost carrier terminals. The same is true at Singapore's Changi and Paris Charles de Gaulle, among others.
"Where you see multiple hotel offerings, it all has to do with segmentation," said Gilda Perez-Alvarado chief executive of JLL's Americas Hotels & Hospitality Group. Offering different classes of accommodations keeps travelers in airports' ecosystems.
"If you have the demand, it's best to keep the guests at the airport because you have other businesses you want to feed," Perez-Alvarado said.
By contrast, JFK, in one of the world's busiest aviation systems, has never had a hotel that air travelers could walk to. The Ramada Plaza, several miles from the terminals, closed in 2009.
Building a hotel behind Terminal 5 was a challenge for New York developer Tyler Morse of MCR Development because the two midrise buildings housing the guest rooms would bracket the architecturally significant TWA building designed by Eero Saarinen.
But once Morse got the go-ahead, he was all in, collecting TWA memorabilia and decorating the place in mid-20th-century style, right down to end tables topped with rotary-dial telephones.
Hotels on airport property in the United States and Europe have had more overnight guests and earned higher revenue per room than hotels in general, industry observers said.
An examination by STR, a hospitality and data benchmarking service, of four hotels at airports in the United States showed an occupancy rate of 84 per cent in 2018.
"The average in those four airport-located hotels is significantly higher than the occupancy in all hotels around airports in the United States and the average hotel in the United States in general," said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for lodging insights at STR.
In Europe, occupancy for four sample airport hotels averaged 81 per cent in 2017 and 2018. Priced at an average of 136 euros in 2017 and 145 euros in 2018 (about S$208 and S$222), Frietag described them as "overall healthy room rates."
This confirms the experience of Hyatt, which operates six airport hotels in the United States and South Korea.
"In-terminal hotels have the opportunity to outperform other hotels in the area, making them more favorable investments," said David Tarr, Hyatt's senior vice president, development, Americas.
For airports, hotels are a good source of revenue to supplement car rentals, parking and food and beverage sales, said Doug Yakel, a spokesman for San Francisco International Airport, which is opening a Grand Hyatt this fall. The previous hotel, a Hilton, was torn down in 1997 to accommodate the construction of an international terminal.
"Having a more diverse set of nonaviation revenue streams helps protect airports from the historically cyclical nature of airline financial conditions," Yakel said. An airport hotel "is good for the airport's financial picture," he said.
The Grand Hyatt at the San Francisco airport will have 351 rooms, three restaurants, a bar and 17,000 square feet of event space.
"A huge amount of regular travelers are interested in airports, and there's a buzz in the community of people wanting to see the hotel," said Henning Nopper, the hotel's general manager.
That kind of talk appeals to Matt Falcus, a British aviation writer who runs the website www.airportspotting.com and in 2016 published the guidebook "Airport Spotting Hotels."
In Falcus' experience, watching and photographing airplanes is often best accomplished at a distance, and therefore off the airport property, although he cited a few hotels, like the Renaissance London Heathrow and the ParkRoyal Melbourne Airport hotel in Australia, that offer exceptional views.
His advice for those who want to see airplanes from their hotel is to ask for a guaranteed view. "The worst thing is to book a room and get a view of the courtyard," he said. An exception is the TWA Hotel, where even the courtyard displays an airplane.
Following are some airport hotels that have a view plane-spotters will enjoy.
Radisson Blu Hotel, Zurich Airport
This hotel offers great views of the taxiways and a towering wine bar with acrobats who entertain you while retrieving your selected bottle. It has a great location, surrounded by amenities, including the Jet Coiffure salon.
ParkRoyal Melbourne Airport hotel
Higher rooms at this hotel, across the street from airport terminals, give views of the taxiways and runways and the general airport hubbub. Even those not staying overnight can buy access to the pool, gym and shower facilities for 25 Australian dollars, or about $17.
Hilton Chicago O'Hare
America's busiest airport is always full of activity, whether from tiny regional planes or capacious jumbo jets. Guests can enjoy views from airfield-facing rooms at this 1970s-era hotel across the street from the terminal building. The hotel has a close-up perspective of the O'Hare Ground Control Tower designed by I.M. Pei.
Grand Hyatt Incheon
This hotel just outside Seoul meets Falcus' standard because it is situated away from the airport, but within walking distance of the terminals. (A shuttle bus and a Maglev train can also get you from the hotel to the terminal.) The airfield view is quite expansive from about half the rooms, the lobby and the Grand Cafe. In the east tower lobby, a Boeing 787 simulator can be used by guests who want a lesson in flying the big jets.
Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Access to a security checkpoint in this hotel's lobby makes getting to your departure gate much less stressful. Airport activity can be seen from guest rooms, but for a really close-up view of Delta's planes on Concourse A, there's no better vantage point than the hot tub in the Westin's gym.
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport
Plane-spotting from the tub is also on offer at Changi's decade-old, recently renovated upscale hotel at the end of Terminal 3. For its views of the airport, quick access to shopping and entertainment at Changi and its new Jewel Mall, the Crowne Plaza is a favorite with travelers and aviation geeks. It was named the world's best airport hotel in 2019 by Skytrax, an airline and airport review site.