Redefining the Airport Hotel
By Jeff Hart General Manager, Los Angeles Airport Marriott | September 08, 2019
The words "airport hotel" are often associated with images of a certain type or level of travel, and pre-conceived notions of quality.
In 2019 however, airport hotels are "taking off" and nationwide, changing what it means to be a launching point for travel, business trips, and global experiences. The Los Angeles Airport Marriott is one of the properties that is leading the narrative and altering perceptions of "fly by" hotels.
One of the very first hotels to be built on Century Boulevard in the Los Angeles International Airport Gateway area was the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. The property was first introduced to meet the growing demand for lodging near the Southern California travel hub, and since opening in 1973, has been a game-changing space where innovation and convenience merge to create an ideal landing place for travelers from around the world.
Los Angeles Airport Marriott
Re-establishing itself as a leading West Coast airport hotel, the iconic property embarked on an extensive renovation journey, which transformed the hotel into a modern and sleek destination that embraces technology, local community, and allows travelers to experience the destination of Los Angeles, even if they never leave the property.
Through the renovation, our team at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott learned, executed, and embraced new ideas and concepts, and tossed away previous beliefs and mindsets that lent us to think we have to fit inside a certain box. As an airport hotel, there is so much opportunity to reinvent and think outside the norm when it comes to offerings, amenities and capabilities.
One of the greatest challenges facing airport hotels is the fact that the average length of stay for guests is so short. With guests often checking in late at night and leaving early in the morning, there are not many opportunities to redeem yourself should something go wrong.
This means that a first impression is extremely important and airport hotels must always put their best foot forward, every time. As leaders, we must embrace this as an opportunity to wow and show off "our good stuff" right off the bat. One of the first ways to do this is to ensure that staff is exceptionally trained and armed to over-deliver on customer service. Staff may often be interacting with tired, frustrated and short-tempered travelers who have experienced stress, delays, canceled flights, etc., and the team should be the first smiling face they see that can help lift spirits and relieve any frustrations.
Given the sheer volume of travelers coming in and out of an airport hotel, this also means that leaders need to also relate to staff and regularly acknowledge the amount of dedication, commitment, and energy it takes to create a positive experience for the hundreds of guests checking in and out each day. At the Los Angeles Airport Marriott for example, we often see 800-900 check ins and outs per day. This can create a hectic and manic environment if the team is not equipped. If they are, it creates an energetic buzz that elevates the vibe of a property. The hustle and bustle should be harnessed and played to. With many travelers in-town for business, a consistent flow of energy throughout the property is key to ensuring their experience is productive, enriching, and an overall accomplishment.
When it comes to staffing, it is important to remember that an airport hotel truly is a global destination that serves international clientele. At the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, we consider this when hiring and recruiting new team members, and are proud to have a team of diverse associates that speak over 10 languages and represent more than 40 countries.
Another challenge often faced by airport hotels, is an element of competition. When selecting a hotel near an airport, travelers often have several choices and they are sometimes making a decision quickly. To stand out, it really comes down to one thing, quality of product.
At the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, we have guests that are able to stay anywhere in the city – but choose our hotel because of the positive engagement and high level of service they receive from staff. By making it a goal to create an internal and external family atmosphere, a hotel can feel less like a place to simply pass by and more like the old TV show – "Cheers." We take pride in personal interaction and taking the care, time and thought to really get to know our guests, their name and preferences. For us, it's about creating a sense of comfort and feelings of home. This is our unique selling point and ultimately, it is what keeps guests coming back to stay with us every time they fly out of the Los Angeles International Airport.
Another recommendation for airport hotels to stand out is to really tune in and collaborate with the airport. As an airport evolves and changes to meet the demands of modern travelers, so should the nearby hotels. For example, the Los Angeles International Airport is currently undergoing a massive renovation and complete revitalization, and the LAX Corridor (which includes the neighboring hotels), is following suit and undergoing a sort of renaissance. In addition to the $50 million dollar transformation recently completed at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, the nearby Sheraton Gateway and Renaissance Hotel LAX have also undergone modernizations and updates to spaces.
As the hotelier of an airport property, it is invaluable to maintain open and ongoing communication with the airport. When possible, serve on committees and on the Board of Directors to work hand-in-hand to promote the airport and the airport area. When the airport succeeds, we all succeed. Collaborating with competitors and other airport hotels creates a community where everyone is able to serve the greater good of the area and its future.
Once a guest has made the decision to stay at your hotel, has had a positive first-experience with staff, and is now on-property, there are countless opportunities to wow and impress. At the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, we truly believe in providing a sense of place where guests can experience the city, its character and unique flavors; this is especially important in instances where the guest doesn't actually leave the hotel.
At an airport hotel, the idea of creating a sense of place is about bringing the destination to life. Knowing that many guests are often with us for just a short period of time, it is impactful to design amenities and experiences that represent the hotel's location. One of the best ways to do this is through food and beverage.
For food and beverage programming, stay local. Focus on what your city does best, then stay in that lane and put energy on creating the best experience and quality of food possible. A common mistake with airport properties, is trying to do everything for everyone. While an airport hotel does see a variety of guests with different tastes and preferences, trying to meet the specific needs of everyone, actually misses the mark. It is more important to be identifiable, and to create a concept and menu that represents the city you are in and/or the best local ingredients that can be procured. Remember, travelers want to experience a destination – yes, even business travelers.
As an airport property, we've actually discovered the importance of healthy and nutrient-based offerings. With travelers often sacrificing diet for convenience, they are often relieved to know that they also can enjoy food that fuels their mind and body, without sacrificing flavor or local experience.
Another recommendation is to invest in quick service and TSA friendly snack items. Grab and go is key at an airport hotel, and an impressive selection of healthy and hearty snacks go a long way in enhancing a traveler's experience. Often, a traveler would prefer our selection of snack and grab and go items over purchasing snacks at the airport. Be sure to offerings replenish regularly as well.
Meeting and events are another huge area of opportunity for airport hotels, and to level up bookings at the hotel, sales teams need to be equipped with the tools to really communicate the why behind airport hotel programming. First and foremost, airport property offers convenience – especially in cities where traffic exists, like in Los Angeles.
When holding a conference that has attendees coming from all around the country and world, it is a logistically friendly option for meeting planners. Not having to worry about transportation is a major perk, and even more so, often times airport hotels offer great proximity to other tourist sights and destinations such as the beach, downtown, theme parks, historical landmarks, etc. Play to these strengths.
On the topic of convenience, one of the best ways to really create a quality experience as an airport hotel is to focus on amenities that simplify a stay. A surefire way to do this is to offer efficient airport transportation. Figure this out in a seamless and hassle free way – and you win.
The M Club Lounge with panoramic views of the LA skyline and LAX Airport runways
An airport hotel faces unique circumstances and challenges that other properties do not always come up against. The secret to leveling up, and redefining common misconceptions, is to always focus in on quality, convenience and experience. Airport properties have so many opportunities and also a chance to create a loyal customer base that comes back year after year.
It has been interesting to watch the evolution of airport hotels over the last several years, and now is the time for properties to look at the ways (small or large) in which they can level up their spaces, offerings and approach. At the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, we call 2019 the year that airport hotels take off – and we aren't landing anytime soon.
The Los Angles Airport Marriott is in the final stages of a $50 million property-wide transformation, which included the redesign of 1,000 guest rooms, launch of a 4,000 square foot M Club Lounge with panoramic views of the LA skyline and LAX Airport runways, the introduction of new restaurants and dining concepts, and a complete overhaul of the property lobby.
Currently, the property is undergoing a renovation of its 50,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces, which is expected to be complete in fall of 2019. The new space supports the Los Angeles Airport Marriott's accelerated performance in meetings and events and solidifies its place as the premier West Coast airport property.
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