Taking Off: Luxury Airport Hotels Trending, Reaching New Heights

By David Ashen Principal & Founder, dash design | May 17, 2020

Picture this: swimming alongside lush rainforest-style gardens, unwinding in the spa with an hour-long massage and indulging in a reflexology treatment. Follow it up by taking in a blockbuster movie, working out on state-of-the-art gym equipment and dining on world-class cuisine. Then imagine ending the day with a stroll through a Zen-inducing butterfly garden. Ahhh… sounds luxurious, doesn't it?

Twenty-plus years ago, if someone would have told me that I could do all of these things, while being mere steps from an airport terminal, I would have thought they were crazy. Yet that's exactly what happened when I visited Terminal 3 at Singapore's Changi Airport, and stayed overnight at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, back in the late 1990s.

It wasn't just the amenities that were sublime; the rooms were top-notch, with ultramodern technology to make conducting business between flights a breeze, stylish decor that created a sense of place and comfortable linens that meant I could shake off the jet lag in no time. It's no wonder Crowne Plaza Changi Airport was named best airport hotel by SkyTrax's World Airport Awards for several years in a row.

A True Departure

The Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, at least back then, was the exception, not the rule. The truth is, airport hotels were once a limited service offering, seen as a commodity for the traveler who would simply sleep for a few hours and then fly out of town. Therefore, there were few food options, little to no retail and no need to create an experience worth talking about after you rolled your luggage out the door.

Former Vice President Joe Biden once famously said in a speech, "If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you'd think 'I must be in some third-world country.'" While that statement feels harsh, there was some truth. Most airports were places to simply fly in and out of and the surrounding hotels that predominated the landscape were clusters of pared down, three-star category chain hotels such as Hampton Inn, Residence Inn and a Courtyard Marriott, with aesthetics and amenities beyond consideration.

Turkish Airlines' lounge in Istanbul

Going Places

One thing is clear: it's not your mother's – or Biden's – airport hotel anymore. So, how did we arrive here? A few factors led to this dramatic shift, starting with upgrades to airport public spaces and a serious investment in retail and restaurant offerings within.

Lounges have gotten a dramatic makeover, as well. Innovators like Virgin Airlines were among the first to redefine the lounge experience and many have followed suit since. One of my favorites is Turkish Airlines' lounge in Istanbul, which was expanded to two floors with various cozy places to decompress in, along with freshly baked bread, a kebab stand and a huge island full of olives to enjoy. I also love Delta's lounges, which have become more high-end, and The Centurion ® Lounge from American Express, which is so sought-after I couldn't get in on my last trip to Dallas. No wonder people are arriving to the airport a few hours earlier.

Also taking it to the next level is Australian airline Qantas' stylish lounge at London's Heathrow airport. The lavish bi-level lounge, connected by a staircase, boasts velvet, marble and gold finishes, runway views, charging stations, a superb buffet and food and beverage offerings to delight even the most discerning foodie.

As airports and lounges became more destination-like, there have been parallel upgrades to airport hotels. Suddenly, there is a connotation, a bias even, around properties that are underwhelming and pedestrian. Travelers want to stay, play and spend.

Destination Wow

Travelers' appetites for cool, hip hotels have also increased worldwide. Hotel developers and operators have realized just because someone is a captive audience doesn't mean they want a mediocre experience. Take, for instance, the experience a friend of mine had. She had a layover, while heading from New York to Milan and stayed overnight at the Moxy Milan Malpensa Airport. While she's not ordinarily a Moxy customer – she's more of a traditionalist – she greatly enjoyed the good food and playful, design-forward experience and would head back again.

Another reason hotel developers and owners are kicking up the wow factor boils down to something simple: guest have more choices than ever before. In the New York metropolitan area, for instance, travelers can decide not only which hotel to stay in between flights, but also which airport to fly in and out of, whether it's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, LaGuardia or one of the smaller regional airports with wider-reaching flight options, including international destinations.

Decisions are being made based on convenience, pricing and the overall experience, down to the hotel options. It's why I've opted to fly from JFK, appreciating the on-site, lifestyle luxury TWA Hotel, with towers on both sides of the terminal, and all it has to offer. In fact, I look forward to enjoying a cocktail at The Sunken Lounge, to taking in the floor-to-ceiling views of planes taxiing in and relaxing at the rooftop infinity pool before turning in to one of its ultra-quiet rooms with lush pillows and linens.

For those who are looking for more excitement, there's the world's biggest gym – a vast 10,000-square-foot fitness center – museum exhibits, a photo room with a booth to capture memories and a Twister Room, which features a wall-to-wall version of the classic 1960s game. The only thing it lacks is a closet, which is replaced by hooks on the wall since most of the guests simply need a place to hang up clothing for the following day.

While there's still a need for variety, since some travelers still seek out the wallet-friendly $100 to $125 per night rooms, more choices allow for varied experiences, from limited service to lifestyle to five-star, all-out luxury and the options are more exciting than ever before.

Rooms at the Le Meridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport with Latin American influences including the incorporation of blues, exterior columns, interior grids and detailing in millwork.

Reaching New Heights 

New airport hotels are opening constantly and elevating the experience for travelers. Among them is a hotel my firm served as interior designer and brand consultant for, the newly converted and reimagined Le Meridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport.

Part of Marriott International, Inc., and in conjunction with national real estate developer Charles S. Cohen, Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts combines Le Meridien's French heritage with the essence of the Cote d'Azur and delivers it right in South Florida. The 12-story hotel features 245 guest rooms and suites that marry a French flair and maritime spirit with tropical vibe that is pure Dania Beach. Keeping its location in mind, the exterior and interior reveal references to the sky and sea. A design highlight is the grand oculus in the lobby, which pays homage to the glamorous era of air travel and allows guests to stargaze and view planes overhead.

Inside the guestrooms, custom-made wood veneer headboards showcase a map of the city and photos from local photographer Elizabeth Gill Lui show off the beauty and architecture of Fort Lauderdale. Two divine restaurants, ample state-of-the-art meeting space, a signature Club Lounge with views of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, a large fitness center and yoga room, a stunning zero-entry pool with cabanas, and an outdoor terrace with bar, ensure the airport hotel is an indulgent guest experience that garners rave reviews. The mission is to provide the convenience of being near that next flight, but the luxurious atmosphere of being a world-class destination unto itself.

Le Meridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport is certainly not the only airport hotels come about in recent years. Others that today's traveler intentionally seeks out include The Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport, along with the Kimpton Overland Hotel and Atlanta Airport Marriott, both located at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Close up of custom-made headboard showcasing a map of the city

Then there's soon-to-be-upgraded airport hotel our firm is working on, the Sheraton at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT. It's the only local hotel that connects directly to the terminal, with no need to leave the airport at all. Our new design of the hotel is re-thinking this concept, positioning the Sheraton as a destination hotel both for travelers and for locals and local companies. The bar will be in a two-story daylit space just off the airport corridor that faces the runway, creating a sexy place in the evening to entice travelers for their last cocktail before they go to the gate, as well as a lounge for a great coffee (Starbucks) during the day.

The new conference center will have state-of-the-art technology, lots of natural light, and a number of flex spaces that can accommodate small and large meetings. With many large national and international companies nearby, the convenience can't be beat. Colleagues can fly in, grab a studio or conference room, have a meeting, enjoy a great meal and fly out again.

Where We'll Land Next

With the increase in luxury airport hotels, it's clear the bar has been raised. What's next? We could see regional airports, such as the aforementioned Bradley International, Westchester Airport in West Harrison, NY and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, NY, creating more sophisticated hotel options in an effort to capture market share. After all, many travelers are looking to these airports as a way to reduce stress and enjoy the convenience of navigating a smaller airport.

While these regionals may not offer full blown luxury hotels like the one I visited some 20 years ago in Singapore, they will likely shift to become more destination-like, including upgrading public spaces and amenities and offering more localized food, beverage and retail options, whether it's coffee from a nearby roasting company or a restaurant from a noted regional "celebrity restaurateur", as done in Detroit.

If big brands are going four-star instead of limited, this leaves options open for independent hotels to move in or for an uber-luxury category to unfold. Either way, the tipping point is upon us and an airport hotel is no longer a place to stick a head in a bed, but rather a convenient collective, an engaging destination where a hotel, retail, food and beverage and social space are layered together, conveniently near an airport. With more changes ahead, it's fun to image what might take off, particularly when it seems like the sky is the limit.

Mr. Ashen David Ashen is a principal and the founder of dash design, an award-winning New York-based interior design and branding firm specializing in hospitality and retail projects. Known for his ability to tailor each project to answer clients' specific business needs, Mr. Ashen and his design team update spaces and reinvent brands. Clients include market leaders and Fortune 500 companies from all over the world including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York City and Aruba. Among dash design's recent high-profile hotel projects are: the multi-million renovation of the Lexington New York City hotel; the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino; and restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai. David Ashen can be contacted at +1 7183832225201 or dashen@dashdesign.net Please visit http://www.dashdesign.net for more information. Extended Biography

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If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Hotel Newswire Headlines Feed  

Zoe Connolly

"Hospitality is a social business. It's a person to person business-that's how we provide our service. The act of social distancing is foreign to what we know in hospitality. Until this virus has cleared itself from the US, it's going to be hard to resume our level of personalized service to our guests," writes Jim Beley, General Manager of The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary NC. In this article, Beley, a 48-year hotel veteran, weighs in on how COVID-19 has affected the hospitality industry and the steps his team is taking to ensure a successful reopening, whenever that may be. READ MORE

Coming up in July 2020...

Hotel Spa: Back to Nature

As the Wellness Industry continues to expand, hotel spas are also diversifying, placing a greater emphasis on overall well-being. For some spas, this means providing clients with all-inclusive packages that include fitness classes, healthy dining, and offsite leisure activities, in addition to their core services. For example, spas near ski resorts are offering packages that include lift passes, pre-ski yoga sessions, after-ski dinners and spa treatments. Other spas are offering packages that include massages, saunas, mineral baths, hot springs, and recreational hiking and snowmobile activities. These kinds of spa offerings are also part of a "Back to Nature" movement that encourages guests to get out and experience the healing qualities of nature. One such therapy is the Japanese practice known as "forest bathing" which has become popular with spas that are near wooded areas. This practice relies on the ancient power of a forest for promoting a sense of health and well-being. Other spas are incorporating precious metals and stones into their health and beauty treatments - such as silver, gold, pearls and amber. Silver ion baths relax the body and mind, reduce fatigue, and restore energy balance. Gold keeps skin radiant and can even treat various skin diseases and infections, due to its antibacterial qualities. Amber is used to calm the nervous system and to relieve stress. Other natural products and therapies that are increasingly in demand include sound therapy, cryotherapy, infra-red saunas, and even CBD oil, which is being used in massages, facials and foot scrubs, providing a new form of stress relief. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will document these trends and other new developments, and report on how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.