5 things which make a great airport hotel for business travellers

By John Walton, November 30 2011
5 things which make a great airport hotel for business travellers

Most business travellers have logged plenty of time in airport hotels. Some are a haven, even an unexpected oasis, with the services you'd expect from any five-star hotel.

Sadly, others seem to trade only on the convenience of being a short walk from the terminal, and totally lacking in the services and amenities that business travellers expect.

So what makes a truly great airport hotel? We've narrowed it down to five key factors -- and it's interesting to note that we haven't yet found an airport hotel that nails every single one.

1. Location

Great airport hotels are an easy five minutes' stroll from the arrivals hall.

Take London's Sofitel Heathrow Terminal 5 -- this is ideally situated just one lift and two corridors from British Airways' main hub at T5. That said, it's less useful for BA and Qantas Australian flights arriving in terminal 3, who need to lug their baggage around on the Heathrow Express.

The Crowne Plaza at Singapore's Changi Airport, The Regal at Hong Kong Airport and the Pan Pacific at Kuala Lumpur Airport are all great example of a "just outside the terminal" location, as is the Kempinski at Munich (below).

This is one crucial area where Sydney's airport hotels fall down: you either need to struggle to get a cab driver to drive you to them or wait out in the open air for forty-five minutes for the shuttle bus. Thankfully the new Rydges Sydney International Airport will change that.

2. Superb soundproofing and blackout curtains

Let's face it: if you're crashing at an airport hotel you're going to want to get some sleep. The irony is that airports are not known for being the quietest of places, on top of which airport hotels have guests arriving and departing at all hours compared to the rhythm of a conventional hotel.

This means that good soundproofing is a must-have. And if you want solid shut-eye, add effective blackout curtains to the list.

A room we reviewed this year at the Sofitel at London Heathrow (above) was smack at the west end of the north runway, but there was barely a noise as enormous jets floated soundlessly to land right outside the window.

We find that Novotel hotels also tend to do soundproofing very well indeed in a functional and effective way. It leads to slightly inelegant heavy doors and substance-over-style window treatments, but at an airport hotel that's a more than acceptable tradeoff.

3. International power points, and lots of them, in sensible places

At Australian Business Traveller we bang on about power points in hotels a lot, and with good reason. Who doesn't travel these days without a few pieces of plug-in kit: laptop, tablet, smartphone?

Like most savvy travellers we always pack a small powerboard to cope with hotels where the only spare power point involves moving furniture.

So here is rule #3 for Great Airport Hotels: they have a universal power point handily located on each side of the bed, and it's the type of socket that will take any shape of plug.

They also have at least three power points at desk surface level (no clambering behind the furniture required) to plug in the business traveller minimum of laptop, phone and one other device.

(By other device, we mean your iPad, personal laptop, second phone, portable wifi router, 3G-wifi modem device, camera, or other gadget of choice.)

And those plugs need to be well-spaced to allow for the "wall wart" type adapter. You know the one: squat and black, taking up so much space on either side of the plug that you can't plug anything in to the sockets to the left or right of it.

Numerous modern hotel rooms are designed with power points in mind and do this well, but even older hotels can go some way to follow the lead of the Holiday Inn at Sydney Airport (above) and attach a power board on their desks.

4. Wifi, wifi, wifi

Did we make that one clear enough?

Business travellers coming off a long-haul flight need to reconnect to the world and find out what they've missed while up in the air.

Decent wifi -- by which we mean a connection that's both fast and reliable -- is a must for a great airport hotel. It should also be free, and without ridiculous speed limiting after the first couple of hundred MB of data.

If a hotel wants to charge you to use the internet it's not a Great Airport Hotel, full stop.

And wired-only internet isn't acceptable in the days of ultralight laptops, smartphones and iPads.

Unfortunately, there's a dearth of examples of airport hotels with free wifi outside the USA. We'd be interested to hear of any examples you know of in the comments section below.

5. Helpful, multilingual, culturally aware staff, available around the clock

A great airport hotel has staff who not only meet but also anticipate business travellers' needs, with a smile, even in the middle of the night.

That means they need to be able to communicate to tired, jetlagged travellers in their own language, whatever that might be.

Those staff also need to be trained to appreciate potential cultural differences: "mañana" may not be acceptable to business travellers, and the Chinese propensity to say "yes" when the answer is really "no" can lead to mistaken expectations.

Services -- especially room service and tech support -- need to be 24-hour too. If a traveller arrives at 2am and needs to get her laptop connected then it's ridiculous if the sole IT person only works 9-5.

And there's little more grim after a long journey than picking through the unhealthy, freezer-to-fryer-to-tray misery that is many hotels' 24-hour menus. A "pizza, burger, club sandwich or caesar salad" midnight menu doesn't work.

A great airport hotel also has a decent restaurant within it, where business travellers can get a good meal and a pleasing drop of wine. The excellent French restaurant La Belle Epoque in the Sofitel at London Heathrow's Terminal 5 is the perfect example of this.

What makes a good airport hotel for you?

Those five things are our top factors that make a great airport hotel. But what's most important to you? Something on the list? Or perhaps another important variable that didn't make it onto our top five?

Share your thoughts with other AusBT readers in the comments below` -- and who knows, the hotel representatives reading along might even act on your recommendations.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 580

1. A great view... I am always really disappointed if I get to the room and I can't see the runway or the tarmac. 

2. A 24 hour bar/coffee shop. I've never actually found one in any airport hotel, but drinks out of the minibar are very different to drinks sitting at a bar. I quite like the idea of getting to the hotel at 3-4am, having a drink, then going to bed for a few hours before the next flight.

3. A really simple layout. No corridors with corners, or confusing numbering systems. If it has to be complex then at least have good, well lit signage. This should be true of any hotel IMO, but airport hotels are full of tired, weary and exhanusted people.

05 Sep 2011

Total posts 66

I have to agree with am, runway views and a 24 hour bar are very important to me. Ibis Hotels, of which there are a lot in Europe, all seems to have 24 hour bars, so are worth a look if you need a cheap stay at a European airport.

Also very important to me are good transport links to the city centre. I often attend one or two day conferences, and arriving the evening before and departing early the next morning is often most convenient for me, so a airport hotel is ideal if it offers easy access to city (preferably without the often extortionate cost of airport to city transfers, like Sydney).

I'm not too bothered about being able to walk from the terminal to the hotel, these hotels often overcharge in my experience, and can be a nightmare to access if you arrive at another terminal. London Heathrow Sofitel is a good example, arriving in to terminal 4 and then making your way to the that hotel is far from easy. A free and frequent connection to the hotel is ideal. If you stay at London Heathrow and arrive in to terminals 1 or 3 then you can catch any bus for free from the airport to Bath Road, where most of the airport hotels are  located (without incurring the rip off costs of the official hotel hopper buses or a taxi). I wish more airports offered similar free travel services.

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