The Unexpected Return of the Airport Hotel
Unsexy? Maybe. Practical? Undisputedly, yes.
The general state of airport chaos has become more than just a news story in 2022. Since the Covid-19 shutdown in 2020, shockwaves have been steadily moving through the system, from closed borders and weary travelers to a fed-up, overextended workforce. Flight delays have been blamed on everything from pilot shortages and retirement to lack of crew on planes and the rising cost of gas. But no matter what the root cause might be, it’s clear that heading to the airport these days is not like it once was. Delays and cancellations have become the norm, and when you factor in an international border or a tricky layover, the odds only stack higher against you.
An interesting side effect of all this uncertainty is the resurgence of a somewhat unsexy but endlessly reliable amenity — the airport hotel. With notable global hubs like Heathrow going so far as to issue a daily passenger cap, a hodgepodge of confusing Covid-19 restrictions in various regions and a general desire to stay away from crowds of often unmasked (and potentially unvaccinated) travelers, a room of one’s own, within a few minutes of the tarmac, has taken on new cache.
Once reserved for international visitors dealing with jet lag, or business travelers looking to come and go quickly, plenty of passengers are opting to use the first or last night of their vacation to hole up right next to the airport to have a better chance of combating long lines, delays or canceled flights. Maybe in the past travelers didn’t want to “waste” a day overseas by missing out on elements found closer to the cultural hub of the city, but as more people turn to this property type with more interest, the category is responding in kind with renewed amenities and experiences. Plus, the higher possibility of missing a flight is likely a bigger motivation in today’s climate than it was in the past.
“Convenience and the ability to rest easy are key at airport hotels and we prioritize amenities that will help travelers achieve both of those perks when staying at our properties,” says Asad Ahmed, Hyatt’s SVP of Commercial Services, Americas. “For example, Grand Hyatt at SFO has an ideal location for travelers, offering the SFO AirTrain to get directly to the hotel from the airport. The property also has soundproofing to ensure guests are not disturbed while resting, even though the international airport is just beyond the windows.” The property’s additional amenity, a massage room for on-demand treatments, only makes it more alluring during a particularly stressful travel season.
But airport hotels aren’t just great for travelers dealing with additional anxiety. They’re also clutch for those who are less experienced with planning the logistics of international stays. This summer, my sister and her partner were booking their first-ever international trip in the midst of unprecedented airport chaos. She opted to bookend their flights with hotels right outside of the airport. This meant a soft landing in Rome and an easy train to a simple Italian meal and no-nonsense bed where they could immediately recover from their first transcontinental flight. Sightseeing and car rental, they decided, could wait until the next day. Subsequently, they were able to tackle those activities with renewed interest after a restful first night.
On the way home, their connecting flight through London was (unsurprisingly) canceled about a week out from the trip. The agent offered a new flight for much cheaper, but it was two whole days later. Instead of panicking, they added another airport hotel for those two nights, and simply extended the vacation to explore a suburb on the outskirts of London for 48 hours. And the property they booked wasn’t a soulless, corporate skyscraper, either, but rather a historic stone building with cottage flair and an on-site pub, so staying near the airport didn’t necessarily mean missing out on an experience of London culture.
“Travelers’ priorities and preferences have evolved,” Ahmed explained. “Many guests at Hyatt’s airport hotels — whether business or leisure travelers — are seeking more immersive and experiential elements in their stays. This is a key growth driver for Hyatt’s approach to airport hotel developments, along with the usual conveniences like luggage retrieval services, reserved check-in for airport guests, early breakfast and terminal access.”
While Skift recently reported that hotels in airport markets won’t return to full occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room until 2024, that’s partially due to revised remote work policies and slow-to-return corporate bookings and conference travelers.
The spike in leisure travel, on the other hand, has continued unabated, and it looks like it might have a bigger impact on the market now than it ever did pre-pandemic. With luxuries like saltwater pools, massages and spas and 24-hour gyms, the airport hotel market is definitely catering to leisure travelers in a new way.
“Hyatt is focused on prioritizing guests’ well being and helping them maintain their at-home or on-the-road routines—whether for self-care, fitness or mental wellbeing — and this is a focus specifically for airport properties,” Ahmed explained. “We’ve seen great success with airport locations over the years, and recovery continues to be fueled by leisure travel demand as more guests are starting to travel again.”
In that vein, he noted the Grand Hyatt DFW, which features “a refreshing saltwater rooftop pool heated by the Dallas sun” that’s open year-round. Then, there’s the first Hyatt airport hotel in the Asia Pacific region, Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport, which offers “a full-service spa with saunas and steam rooms, a 24-hour fitness center and a 25-meter temperature-controlled indoor pool.” Some might scoff at an airport hotel with spas or specialty pools, but in my own experience booking near the airport this summer, amenities like these make a difference in property selection.
During a recent trip to a more remote area in Italy, I knew I’d need to take a 5-6-hour train ride to arrive back at the nearest airport. Knowing a little bit about the unreliability of the Italian train schedule, and my own questionable skill level in navigating it, I split the journey up. The train travel up to Milan would take one day, where I checked into an airport hotel that night, and caught my flight back home the following afternoon. While there were more standard options, like a Sheraton that was connected to the airport terminal itself, or a Holiday Inn Express for well under $100, I opted instead for Hotel Villa Malpensa, a former private residence that dates back to the 1900s.
With large secluded gardens, an outdoor pool, an on-site restaurant and bar and private shuttles to and from the airport whenever needed, Malpensa made it feel like my extra time in Milan was well spent. And getting up at a decent hour to have a real, hot breakfast, and drive just ten minutes to the airport in a private shuttle was priceless after the long train journey from the day before. Did I then have to wait 2 hours at the American Airlines security checkpoint for staff to arrive? Yes, of course, but there’s only so much you can plan for, after all. As long as airport chaos reigns, long live the airport hotel. Try one before you knock it.
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