Airports Create Hotel Complexes, Aiming to Become Destinations


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A rendering of the future Westin hotel at the Denver International Airport.

Credit
Gensler

For years, the TWA Flight Center at Kennedy International Airport, with its stark white concourse and plush-red lounge area, served as a reminder of a more romantic era of luxury air travel, before cramped seats, overstuffed bins and add-on fees became routine.

But now the terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1962, is about to take on a new role in the airport’s future. Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the formal approval of a deal to turn the center into a hotel complex by 2018.

“It will be infused with the ethos of 1962, when the golden age of jet travel was coming of age,” said Tyler Morse, chief executive of MCR Development, the company that will invest $265 million to develop a 505-room hotel, with 40,000 square feet of meeting space, restaurants and a spa, and a 10,000-square-foot observation deck.

JetBlue will be a minority partner in the hotel, which will be open to passengers flying on any airlines serving the airport, as well as the general public.

As airports become more competitive, vying for tourists and business travelers, they are getting into the hotel business. Within the last 16 months, San Francisco International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Kennedy announced intentions to build on-site airport hotels. The Westin Denver International Airport is scheduled to open in November.

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The new Westin Hotel near Denver International Airport.

Credit
Matthew Staver for The New York Times

It’s all part of a shift by airport hotels from primarily serving stranded passengers and rotating flight crews.

“San Francisco, New York, Denver and Atlanta are all international gateway airports,” said Steven Carvell, associate dean for academic affairs at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. And they have gotten the message “to make the airport a destination in and of itself,” he added.

One reason for the increase in construction is that the market is ripe. Hotels that ring airports now have an occupancy rate of 75 percent, trailing only hotels in urban areas, according to data from STR Research for the 12-month period that ended in August.

The new properties anticipate appealing to travelers who prize airport proximity over staying in an urban center. They also resemble each other; most call for four-star hotels, state-of-the-art technology, restaurants, conference and fitness facilities and access to public transportation.

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The main lobby where guests will check in at the new Westin Hotel near Denver International Airport.

Credit
Matthew Staver for The New York Times

“It’s a luxury to be able to not have to hop into an airport van or rent a car,” said Scott Berman, principal in the hospitality and leisure division at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

At the same time, the need to service stranded passengers continues. “The airline industry is rife with delays and mismanagement and it’s a lot cheaper to lodge passengers right there,” said Barbara E. Lichman, a lawyer specializing in aviation at Buchalter Nemer, a law firm in Irvine, Calif.

In Denver, finishing touches are being applied to a 14-story hotel with 519 guest rooms and 37,000 square feet of conference space.

The effort included the creation of an open-air plaza and a commuter rail station next to the hotel. Early guests will still rely on cabs, buses and cars to get around. The rail system is not expected to be in operation until next spring.

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Rendering of the future Westin Hotel at Denver Airport.

Credit
Gensler

Efficiencies are built into the project. Rooms will be equipped with a keyless entry system. Members of the Starwood loyalty program can download an app on a mobile device, receive their room number in a text or email and bypass the front desk.

Such features appeal to travelers like Eliot Lees, a vice president at ICF, a management consulting firm, who is based in Boston. As his business trips became shorter in duration, Mr. Lees developed a strategy to maximize his productivity by routing his trips through Dallas-Fort Worth or Miami, both of which have on-site airport hotels, or staying near the terminal in Chicago.

“Depending on the nature of the trip, I don’t want to waste a half-hour or an hour getting to a hotel,” he said. A recent midnight arrival in San Francisco proved nettlesome, he said.

Mr. Lees and others will have a wait for new on-site airport locations, though. San Francisco International, which first introduced the idea of an on-site airport hotel in 2000, is aiming for a 2019 opening. BWI does not have a specific timetable. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport expects a hotel ready to receive guests when Minneapolis plays host to the Super Bowl in 2018.

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Rendering of the future Westin Hotel at Denver Airport.

Credit
Gensler

And there is an added wrinkle to building an airport hotel: The plans must pass muster with the Federal Aviation Administration for the designated project location, height restrictions and in some cases building materials. And if — like Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport — they allow guests to access secure areas of an airport, the Transportation Security Administration may also weigh in on those plans.

Those hotels participate in a program that allows passengers to get a one-time pass to enter the secure area through a specific checkpoint for shopping and dining. It cannot be used to enter a checkpoint to fly, according to the T.S.A. There is a proposed location for such a program in Denver that is not yet final.

In New York, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will invest an additional $8 million in a connector to the adjacent JetBlue Terminal, a parking garage and an AirTrain station to serve the hotel complex.

While experts say on-site hotels allow airports to develop additional revenue sources and provide guests with a cosmopolitan experience without their having to venture afield, there is one singular appeal.

“You can roll out of bed,” Mr. Lees said, “and get to the gate without the uncertainty of transport to the airport.”

Correction: October 12, 2015
An earlier version of this article miscast a part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s plan at Kennedy International Airport. It is for an AirTrain station to serve the hotel complex, not an AirTran station.



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