Magazine article Marketing

Making the Most of Flying Visits

Magazine article Marketing

Making the Most of Flying Visits

Article excerpt

MAKING THE MOST OF FLYING VISITS

Investment in London's airport hotels last year has totalled more than 200m [pounds], with a further 74m [pounds] spent on airport hotels around England. This represented more than a fifth of all hotel construction through the country in 1990.

Now, at a time of great uncertainty, many hotels, even at the trade's luxury end, are relying on the conference market, backed by cut-price deals, to make ends meet.

Airport hotels are aiming heavily at the corporate market. They realise ease of access and car parking are particular assets as town centres are ever more crowded. There is also a trend towards smaller and shorter gatherings with delegates flying around the country and coming from overseas for brief stopovers.

The biggest player on the scene is BAA which has spent 112m [pounds] in building three hotels - two four-star Sterlings at Heathrow and Gatwick, and the three-star Harlequin at Stansted. The refurbished Edwardian International Hotel at Heathrow will become the first five-star airport hotel. Scandic has a new hotel serving Gatwick, and within a few weeks another Crown in Dockland, linked by river to London City Airport.

Europa's new 20m [pounds] Gatwick Hotel will face fierce competition from established rivals such as the award-winning conference hotel, the Penta, and Copthorne's country house Effingham Hotel. The Gatwick Hilton now has an executive floor, added during refurbishment. And 13.5m [pounds] was spent on the new Hilton National at East Midlands Airport, which opened last November.

All these developments were planned in the context of increasing air traffic and a healthy economy. In 1989 Heathrow carried nearly 40 million passengers and Gatwick 21 million. Gatwick maintained that figure in 1990 with a shift from package holiday to scheduled business flights, which won favour with hoteliers.

Last year, before the Gulf war erupted, Horwath Consulting's 1990 hotel industry survey was optimistic. It reported that in 1989 average annual room occupancy at Heathrow and Gatwick hotels was 78.8%, marginally up on 1988's 77.8% and the average rate per guest night was up by 1.50 [pounds] to nearly 42 [pounds]. "The percentage of holiday tourists decreased while the percentage of conference guests increased, high-lighting this sector's growing importance," says Horwath, noting operating profits also rose by nearly 2%. Competition sharpened just as the market nose-dived, producing savings for clients. "I know of air crews who are paying less than they were two years ago," says a Gatwick hotel marketing manager.

Manchester, with ten million passengers, is by far the busiest regional airport. According to Jonathan Langston of Horwath, there are several contenders interested in future hotel openings at Manchester Airport. The nearby Wilmslow Moat House Hotel now plans improvements. The Queens Moat Group which owns it also anticipates a 3.5m [pounds] expansion at its Newcastle property.

Over the border, Richard Branson's Virgin group has spent several million pounds on Norton House Hotel, two minutes' drive from Edinbugh airport. Based on a Victorian mansion, and with an attractive conservatory restaurant, it is expected to win four stars by the end of 1991. Norton House has 47 bedrooms and a board room with goldleafed ceiling. With the weekend price for dinner, bed and breakfast reduced to 50 [pounds], it should lure economically-minded companies to Edinburgh.

The most exciting modern development nationally is Heathrow's BAA Sterling Hotel linked to Terminal 4 by a 2m [pounds] raised walkway. The impact of vast hanger-like space is spectacular. Although aircraft can be seen moving yeards away, you can hardly hear a whisper.

Opened by Lord King on December 14 with fanfares, the Sterling has a ground floor piazza, with three-storey high sculpture, water features, restaurants and sitting areas in an atrium to rival hotels in the US or the Far East. …

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