airport hotels

When a Change in Season Means a Different Type of Guest

With four hotels at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and one near LaGuardia Airport, M&R Hotel Management knows that Labor Day marks a sea change in guests. Leisure travelers, including families who filled our rooms throughout the summer, will give way to returning business travelers.

Even veteran staff members need a few days to adjust. The “road warrior” business travelers who fly on a regular basis and often stay in our hotels know their way around and have their regular routine. Plus they tend to be traveling on expense account.

Summer leisure travelers, by contrast, likely have less experience around airport hotels. They need to be reminded of the shuttle van schedule and hours for our complimentary breakfast. Those traveling with very young children may need to be reminded not to forget their diaper bags and strollers.

With no expense account, summer travelers pay for everything out of their own pockets, which can make them very cost-conscious. Our select-service hotels are popular with families because we provide so many complimentary amenities including Wi-Fi, breakfast, shuttle service and overnight parking.

We train our staff to provide the very best service to business travelers and families alike, including those whojust need some extra TLC. We are particularly solicitous of non-English speaking guests who need assistance confirming or changing flights. Many of our staff members are multilingual, which helps. Likewise, parents may need help filling a baby bottle with milk or finding the right cereal for a picky eater.

Not every request can be met. Glenda Gomez, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express LaGuardia Airport, related the story of a family who decided at the last minute to request a rollaway bed for one of their three children. Unfortunately, their room was too small to allow a rollaway bed, according to the fire code. So Glenda brought extra pillows and blankets, and the child squeezed into the bed with her sisters. All was well.

Such service cuts to the heart of what hospitality is about.

The Special Challenges Involved in Managing Airport Hotels

The outlook for airport hotels is positive, with the International Air Transport Association forecasting a 5.3 percent increase in the number of airline passengers worldwide annually between now and 2016 and Smith Travel Research projecting healthy RevPAR growth for each of the next few years.

In light of such positive trends, what is it about airport hotels, whether they’re actually on the airport grounds or located nearby, that sets them aside from hotels generally and makes them a special challenge to operate?

While all types of hotels are 24-hour-a-day operations, hotels at international airports and regional hubs frequently look as busy at 3 a.m. as they do at 3 p.m. Flights arrive day and night, and so do guests, checking in after a long transatlantic journey or for a quick night’s sleep if the weather isn’t cooperating or they miss a connecting flight.

For hotel managers, the extra activity poses important operational issues ranging from maintaining adequate staffing levels to ensuring that the hotel’s shuttle service is frequent, reliable and welcoming. They must be hyper-conscientious about wake-up calls to make sure guests don’t miss their flights. It really helps if hotels are equipped to print airline boarding passes to save guests a few extra minutes.

Shuttle buses perform a critical function, both in picking up inbound guests and transporting outbound guests to catch their flights. Consequently airport hotels typically run 24-hour complimentary shuttle service on a strict schedule. At M&R Hotel Management, we believe that a guest stay begins with the airport pickup, so our shuttles provide bottled water and even snacks to make guests feel welcome (and to differentiate our hotels from the competition!)

Guests who stay at a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast as a standard can count on receiving a basic meal to fortify them for the flight ahead. At our hotels, even those who check out in the middle of the night can request a brown bag breakfast to take with them on the shuttle. The light grab-and-go offering (ready at that unusual hour) represents a level of thoughtful customer service that guests may not expect but surely will remember.

Since hotels that serve international airports can expect guests to show up at the front desk at virtually any hour, front desks must be staffed accordingly as well as housekeeping, which will be called upon to turn over rooms at all hours.

Noise is an unavoidable fact of life for airport hotels that overlook an active runway. Such hotels should be constructed with extra sound insulation and soundproofed windows. But it’s also important for the staff to take care not to disturb guests who may have checked in during the morning expecting to sleep through the day. That means hushed conversations in the hallways and no banging of housekeeping carts.

Given how fundamental the operating issues are at airport hotels, managing these properties provides a kind of Lodging 101 training for new hires. And when executed effectively, there’s no better way of ensuring that guests step onto that waiting shuttle refreshed and refueled.