Runway Ready

Meetings at airport hotels streamline time and cost

Airport Terminals Not What They Used to Be
It’s not just airport hotels that are reaching new heights. Airport terminals are getting transformed as well. Today’s terminals are sophisticated atmospheres with first-rate dining outlets that include many award-winning celebrity chef-driven restaurants.

OTG, an award winning, pioneering airport F&B operator with more than 180 restaurants and eateries in ten airports, is one of the major players in this airport enhancement movement throughout North America. OTG provides travelers award-winning restaurants, as well as offering modern and thoughtfully designed spaces, and the latest technology with the recent introduction of 7,000 free iPads at three major international airports, LaGuardia, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Toronto Pearson.

The iPads are used by travelers to track their flights, surf the web, and play games. Meals like crispy duck confit, tuna niçoise, or croque monsieur can be ordered from the iPads for delivery at one’s seat.

OTG's BRKLYN Beer Garden recently opened in John F. Kennedy’s Terminal 2. With an elemental Brooklyn ambience, this garden of brews features a selection of more than 20 beers on tap and a cutting-edge menu created by Chef Laurent Tourondel.

OTG also recently opened Biergarten in LaGuardia's Delta Terminal C by Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver who selected the local craft beers. The 2,900 square foot space is designed by ICRAVE, a design firm that created a tubular steel back bar to emulate the runs for beer lines. Libation revelers can also take advantage of the 46 free iPads, ordering beer and food from the menu in 20 different languages, all before they board their flight.

OTG has tapped into the talents of Chef Jose Garces, who has become a favorite among Philadelphians for his commitment to vibrant flavors and locally sourced produce and meats for Local that opened in Philadelphia International Airport October 1. Local is a modern American tavern that incorporates a beer hall concept rooted in the history and culture of Philadelphia. An expansive menu of classic dishes reflects the region, many of which have a unique twist created by Chef Garces. The menu is paired with an array of beers as well as an extensive wine list and cocktail menu. As part of the OTG experience, Local has more than 100 iPads.

Conrad Hilton is said to have pioneered the airport hotel concept with the Hilton brand’s first airport hotel opening in 1959 in San Francisco. Since, airport hotels have developed into an important niche in business travel and in recent years these properties have made inroads into the meetings industry.

For planners organizing conferences, customer events, board meetings, and gatherings that are highly confidential in nature, airport hotels fit the bill and there are more than ever to choose from.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and Smith Travel Research, between 2011 and 2012, 52 new airport hotels opened in the U.S., bringing the total to 2,268 airport hotels with 313,672 guestrooms.

Like many airports, which have added first-rate culinary options and high-tech lounges, airport hotels have come into their own. Today’s airport hotels offer deluxe amenities like spas, pools, and gourmet dining.

Airport Hotel to Host Canadian Conference

It is a Hilton airport hotel in Toronto that has made Patricia Brusha, a 35-year veteran of the hospitality industry and co-founder and principal of A Couple of Chicks Digital Marketing, and Online Revealed Canada, an online marketing conference, a convert to hosting meetings at airport properties. Brusha was at an MPI tournament at the Royal Woodbine Golf Club, a course that is about a half a mile away from Pearson International Airport, and as planes flew overhead every few minutes, she got the idea of looking into an airport hotel for her nine-year-old conference. “That was an a-ha moment,” explains Brusha. “Seeing all those planes made me wonder if an airport hotel had the amenities to host a conference like ours.”

After a great deal of research and several site inspections, Online Revealed Canada will be held at the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel and Suites in April of 2014. The ironic thing is Brusha worked part-time on the airport strip about 20 years ago. “Back then it was all about getting in and out. Most food and beverage was leased out to chains like Kelsey’s and Perkins. You wouldn’t think of going to an airport property for a meal as an individual, let alone bring a group of about 300,” explains Brusha. “Today there are amazing food and beverage offerings featuring well-known, quality chefs.”

The Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites impressed Brusha immediately. During her site inspection, the entire executive staff welcomed her and her colleagues dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with the A Couple of Chicks Digital Marketing logo and the slogan, ‘Hilton Plus a Couple of Chicks Equals Excellent Meetings.’

“I’ve been in the hotel industry for 30 years and I know how difficult it is to get the whole executive team together,” enthuses Brusha. “Let alone all wear the same shirt.” Plus, a specialty drink was created just for their visit that was named a “Chicktini,” of course.

In general, airport hotels are cheaper than those found in city-centers. “The cost between a city center property compared to an airport property is insane. We got a $140 room rate at the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites compared to the $269 we got last year. Parking is extremely expensive downtown but is substantially less at an airport hotel. There is also free Wi-Fi in the rooms and free meeting space.”

Online Revealed Canada started eight years ago to educate Canadian tourism professionals about how to market travel online. The inaugural conference was held in Ottawa and drew 180 attendees and has since evolved to become the go-to event for the travel and tourism industry in Canada to learn, connect, and be informed about the ever-changing world of digital marketing. Subsequent conferences have been held in Toronto, Calgary, Alberta, Niagara Falls, and Montreal. Last year’s conference was held in Windsor, Ontario at Caesars Hotel and Casino.

Anywhere from 300 to 400 will attend the April 2014 conference, says Brusha and the group will take over the 419-room property. “I like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond versus going downtown and being one of eight conferences going on the same time,” explains Brusha.

She has high expectations as she has heard from many registrants that they are grateful for the convenient location. Plus, the lower room rate will probably result in increased revenue for Brusha and her partner, Alicia Whalen.

Convenience is Key

Customers are extremely important to The Boeing Company, one of the world’s largest space and defense businesses, and when hosting them, only the best will do, explains Carl Anderson, a Boeing corporate meeting planner based in St. Louis. “The accommodations, service, and food and beverage must be beyond reproach. It has to be the top. Today, most airport hotels meet these requirements.”

The Renaissance Hotel at the St. Louis Airport with 374 rooms, 19 suites, and 37,000 square feet of meeting space, is one of Anderson’s go-to venues. Plus, it is conveniently located close to the Boeing’s St. Louis facility.

Board of Directors Fly In

Not only are airport hotels attracting conferences like Brusha’s but smaller meetings as well. NAFA, a not-for-profit association for professionals who manage fleets of sedans, public safety vehicles, trucks, buses, and a wide range of military and off-road equipment, recently had its board of directors meeting and educational seminars at the Atlanta Marriott Airport Gateway hotel. “We generally use resorts or downtown locations for our quarterly board meetings, but I wanted to give this location a try because the property is fairly new and very well-appointed,” explains Matthew L. Marcial, CMP, director of meetings & education for Princeton, NJ-based NAFA Fleet Management Association. “Generally, an airport location would not be my first choice when it comes to this type of meeting, but given our experience I would definitely consider returning in the future.” The group was impressed by the service, food, and especially the convenient location.

Airport Hotels Respect Anonymity

John Boyd, Jr. of Princeton, NJ-based The Boyd Company, a location consulting company, spends a great deal of time traveling, consistently logging more than 100,000 airline miles a year for business. The firm counsels major corporations on where to locate facilities around the globe. The Boyd Company’s meetings focus on operating costs and business climate reports, relocation, expansion, and consolidation projects, and legislation affecting balance sheets and strategic planning. Each meeting typically includes about ten professionals from accounting, finance, and human resource departments.

The vast majority of these meetings are held in airport Marriott hotels. “When it comes to corporate travel these days, minimizing cost and executive time in transit is essential. Airport Marriott hotels are in my view the most consistent and business-friendly places to conduct meetings and conferences in the United States and abroad,” says Boyd.

Most of Boyd’s meetings are extremely confidential in nature and he has found airport hotels conducive environments for these types of gatherings. “Companies go to painstaking measures to keep their site selection plans that involve hiring and firing patterns confidential. The senior executives that we meet with often travel and stay in hotels under different names. Airport Marriott hotels make this a much easier process. The executives arrive, go to the hotel, and get out efficiently, leaving a much smaller footprint,” describes Boyd.

In comparison to downtown hotels and resorts, airport hotels host shorter meetings. Take the 309-room BWI Airport Marriott. “Usually, the location sees one- to two- day meetings rather than city hotels that typically hold meetings for three to four days,” says Willie Wright, general manager of the BWI Airport Marriott.

Today’s airport hotels are full service with an abundance of meeting space. It was the 459-room Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel, an airport hotel that was named “Best Hotel Conference Venue” at the 2013 Conference Venue and Suppliers Awards. The hotel has 37 function rooms, the largest of which can accommodate up to 700.