Magazine article Marketing

Making a Flying Visit

Magazine article Marketing

Making a Flying Visit

Article excerpt

Branding is the name of the game when it comes to choosing an airport hotel - and bargaining is fashionable again, says Ann Hills

"When it comes to using airport hotels, invariably a time of stress, the comfort of the known product counts: people are looking for brand names," says Dr Crispian Tarrant, managing director of Business Development Research consultants (BDRC).

The latest NOP/BDRC British Hotel Guest Survey identified this problem in the poor performance of BAA's Sterling Hotels at Heathrow and Gatwick last year. Business users at Heathrow were questioned about the stock of airport hotels: only 7% were aware of the Heathrow Sterling (which is actually connected to Terminal 4), while 64% mentioned the Holiday Inn, a mile away.

"It was an unsuccessful decision to brand them as Sterlings," adds Tarrant, implying that the new name failed to woo business. And so, despite the fanfare that accompanied their launch, these hotels have now been taken over by Hilton (at Heathrow) and Forte Crest (at Gatwick). Hilton also now manages the former three-star BAA sister hotel at Stansted. BAA's hotels division, as far as the public is concerned, has vanished.

Hilton and Forte are reluctant to indicate performance since the handover, but they are making changes on catering, styles of service and business facilities - and they have placed the new acquisitions prominently in their corporate marketing. Best of all, prices have been slashed.

The underlying factors which will boost business at airport hotels are obvious. The recession has meant more companies want to minimise time out of the office. Traffic in and out of city centres, where parking is pricey, is a serious obstacle. And however attractive InterCity's new Gatwick Express may be, the journey from the airport to a London venue will take an hour.

Competition among airport hotels must be another advantage to the customer - improving standards and cutting costs. In the three-star category, Novotel is a big player. Novotel at Birmingham International Airport, with 195 bedrooms, is opposite the main passenger terminal and has a monorail line to the National Exhibition Centre and railway station. It opened in 1990. "We use about 150 |bed nights' a year. They give us a reasonable corporate rate," says Terry Buffey, sales director of Chief Automotive, which manufactures crash-repair products. The hotel is perfectly sited for the company, which is based nearby.

Next week, on July 6, a 14 m [pounds] Novotel opens on the hotel strip by the M4 at Heathrow. With 178 bedrooms and meeting space for up to 250, theatre style, in the largest suite, it follows the Novotel philosophy: quality in convenient locations at sensible prices.

Far from being threatened by the numerous neighbouring establishments, Serge Ravailhe, managing director of Novotel, sees many positives.

Walking around the glazed atrium, he indicates a host of features - meeting rooms in cool colours, an exercise centre where passengers can tone their muscles, cafes that serve meals till midnight, a pool beyond the sitting area, where guests can eat and talk within sight of the main entrance and arrivals/departures flight information. Such information may be crucial this summer, with threatened air traffic delays.

There's a landscaped garden at the rear. "In the year 2000, when the garden is mature, people will be more interested in Green, in water - in quality of life," Ravailhe forecasts. As for today, he says that Novotel - part of Accor, the world's biggest hotel group - offers consistency. "In our airport hotels we allow more space in the central area because people spend so much time in cramped planes," he explains.

He'd just flown in from Paris where the company is expanding its hotel at Charles de Gaulle airport, and has a new one at Orly. But he could equally have come from Moscow, where there is a 500-room airport hotel run in partnership with Aeroflot, or Belfast, where one about a fifth the size is due to open under Novotel management next April. …

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