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November 16, 2017

Sub-Saharan Africa: Airport Hotels for Fun and Functionality

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Airports as major transport hubs have to deliver on many variables. Hotels at or near the country’s major airports provide a welcome oasis for those in transit.

InterContinental Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg is a five-star hotel managed by Tsogo Sun 68.7m from the international arrivals hall. Robyn Klemp, sales manager, says it is marketed first and foremost on its location as a welcoming sight for visitors to Johannesburg. With many of their guests stepping off long haul flights and too tired even for shuttles and rented cars, relaxation is a few minutes away. The hotel is part of the global IHG group and the luxury brand is recognised around the world for service excellence. The property at OR Tambo has subtle Africa-inspired décor, given a sense of place and authenticity as it stakes its claim as the gateway to the continent.

“We have a variety of stay, rest and refresh options available depending on how much time a guest has to stay at the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) precinct. If it’s overnight the majority of guests spend one night. They have access to Quills restaurant and the hidden gem on the 8th floor consisting of the Camelot spa with four treatment rooms, heated pool and gym with views across the airport. People are usually at the airport out of necessity but we have a lot to offer. ORTIA has done great work with the aesthetics of the building and gardens and we’ve capitalised on that with an outside terrace area of hotel. Wonderful weather most of the time means that guests don’t have to feel obliged to stay indoors. It’s also a popular hub for meetings,” Robyn says. Staff are sensitive to the needs of tired and transit guests, either at the start or end of their holiday, and their hospitality as well as the overall offering of the hotel leave a positive impression.

Robyn says they offer clientele various ways of using the hotel depending on the amount of time they have. Guests can book rooms for day-use at a reduced rate and access all of the amenities available to overnight guests, such as the pool and gym. For visitors who do not need a bedroom, there is the restaurant and Camelot spa, with showers and grooming facilities.

The hotel caters for small to medium conferencing requirements (it has a number of sister properties that cater for larger numbers) and enjoys a lot of day conference business, including from corporates in the area with international connections wanting meetings nearby. Robyn explains:

“We have a variety of conferencing packages to choose from and most include the cost of parking your vehicle at the airport, which is expensive. Our hotel doesn’t have its own designated parking area so this is an important consideration for fly in-fly out delegates.”

The City Lodge Group has secured coveted spots for its hotels at four airports around the country: OR Tambo International, Cape Town International, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. The group has have received an ACSA tender proposal but has not as yet completed the process, explains chief executive Clifford Ross. “Airports are always in need of a good accommodation option for travellers catching early/late flights or delayed flights as they are most times far outside of the cities,” he adds.

The brand of hotel within the group is determined by traveller profile, so Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth each has a Road Lodge and OR Tambo has a City Lodge hotel. Summarising what their airport hotels are known for, Clifford: “Good quality, clean and comfortable rooms. Good shower facilities.”

Hotel Verde is situated 400m from the Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) and deputy GM Wahieb Allie says that it has changed people’s mindsets on what to expect from a full-service airport hotel. Guests can also make use of Hotel Verde’s freshening up facilities, restaurant, indoor and outdoor gym, eco-pool and unique wetlands to explore. The hotel offers complimentary return airport shuttles every 30 minutes from 4am to midnight and the team assists guests to plan their journeys.

“We play a special role in the traveller’s journey. They are surprised and amazed at what Hotel Verde has to offer and the team strives to ensure our guest’s trip is special to the last minute. Breakfast starts at 4:30am, convenient for the early morning traveller departing for a flight or a meeting.

Hotel Verde also assists with storing luggage and securing belongings where guests want to maximise the last few hours of their trip,” Wahieb adds.

Hotel Verde is famous worldwide for its “green”, environmentally-friendly and carbon-neutral philosophy. Staff educate guests on how they can conserve resources, especially during the current water crisis affecting Cape Town. Creating awareness of how conservation has been incorporated into its operations without taking away from the lux factor is something the hotel is proud of. Wahieb says Hotel Verde has maximised two search engine optimisation phrases as guests most often search for “airport hotels” and “green hotels” and this property ticks both.

The hotel’s conference facilities are often used for day conferences and meetings, suitable for guests flying in and out on the same day. The conferencing team at the hotel tailor-makes packages that fit the client’s budget and needs, while still providing delegates with a memorable experience.

Grant Sandham, group sales and marketing manager of Premier Hotels & Resorts, based at Premier Hotel OR Tambo, says this hotel’s location is indicated in its name which helps with marketing and correct positioning within the node. A kiosk at the airport serves as an extended welcome to the hotel, with branded shuttles and friendly staff on hand outside the arrivals halls to guide guests tired and bewildered after long-haul flights. He says there is no one-size-fits-all and staff are attentive to the needs of every guest, including transit travellers, to deliver on the best experience.

Airport hotels have a range of benefits, Grant notes, including savings from not having to hire a car or bus for groups; they are away from traffic congestion of big cities; and easier for travellers unfamiliar with the region. International travellers are familiar with and at ease with public transport and the Gautrain is minutes away from Premier Hotel OR Tambo, connecting the hotel to major business and shopping hubs such as Sandton, Rosebank and Pretoria.

“You may perceive an airport hotel as clinical and without the charm of the suburbs; our hotel has soul, we do management by walkabout and it’s functional at the same time. Because of our central location we host transit, corporate and leisure guests. You need to get as much out of any given day as you possibly can and airport hotels lend themselves to that. We don’t want our guests to feel short-changed because they’re having their conference at the airport; we make sure to offer spectacular functions and meals,” he adds.

An airport hotel lends itself to short meetings or even job interviews where the MD may be in transit to another city and has a few hours to spare to fit in that important meeting which would not have happened otherwise.

The biggest saving is time, Grant maintains. “You achieve more productivity if you speed things up, especially for day functions. Our conference organisers aim to really understand what it is you want out of your event, what you’re trying to achieve and why,” he explains.

Shaun Loudon, owner of Belgrace Boutique Hotel, 5km from Kruger Mpumalanga International (KMI) Airport says they have a lot of tourists staying at the hotel flying in on the daily Airlink flights to and from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Livingstone in Zambia (visiting the Victoria Falls) as well as those catching the daily flight to Vilanculos in Mozambique.

“We deal a lot with the five-star market; they’re paying a lot of money to stay at the famous lodges around here and with the flight from Livingstone only landing at 15h25 they’ll only get to the lodge in the evening and probably miss out on the evening game drive. The same applies the other way, when they need to leave the lodge early to catch flights and miss the important morning activities. We encourage tourists to stay overnight with us so they can travel to their lodges in the morning and make the most of all of the activities,” Shaun explains.

The luxurious Belgrace set on a macadamia farm offers a country accommodation experience close to the airport, which is as appealing to guests travelling for business to Nelspruit as it is to those making a stopover on a leisure safari. Shaun says they also cater for destination weddings and their location gives them the best of convenience and country.

“Being only 7km from OR Tambo is naturally an incredible asset in the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre armoury of available features,” says Greg Hoffmann, marketing manager. They offer complimentary shuttle service from the airport as well as an airport lounge which allows guests to utilise free Wi-Fi and enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee or bottle of water. “With Birchwood not being at OR Tambo, we have positioned ourselves within walking distance to two adjacent shopping centres as well as operate an hourly shuttle to the newly upgraded East Rand Mall which has more than enough selection,” he adds.

Over the years, Birchwood has recognised the varying the needs and wants of clients – whether that is the individual traveller, small corporate group or large event gathering. “We have segmented our catalogue of 665 accommodation rooms and over 60 venues on the property, into three sets of brands – all with a particular traveller in mind,” Greg explains. These include Birchwood, Silverbirch @ Birchwood and ValuStay @ Birchwood. All accommodation offerings have access to any conference venue, ranging from two to 3000 people and everything in between.

Peermont Emperors Palace hotel, casino, convention and entertainment resort is a landmark property next to ORTIA. It features four hotels ranging from five- to three-stars, a massive convention centre, myriad entertainment and dining options and plenty of free parking. Jean Hanekom, hotel operations manager and Elzaan van Ryn, groups and conventions manager, say many foreign and local groups prefer to have their events at Emperors as all of their needs are met on site. Every part of the resort is pressed into service, with some groups enjoying breakfast in the convention centre until their rooms are ready and others keen to explore the entertainment offerings before heading home. The number one request of hotel guests is early check-in and late check-out, which they do their best to accommodate or alternatively cater for guests’ immediate needs within the property. Jean says there are a number of guest relations officers and banqueting managers on hand to look after guests’ needs. “We capitalise on our existing inventory and have a number of markets that make use of us, so when one is down you can make up business on the other,” he adds.

Elzaan notes the trend regionally is towards day conferences that combine several activities, such as a conference, team-building and long-service awards. As organisers they are creative in helping clients achieve all of their goals in as short a time as possible and still have a memorable event. Savings on day events include no accommodation required, data costs (free Wi-Fi) or car and bus hire (free shuttles to and from airport). She adds, “The current budget-conscious clientele has given us opportunities to look at how flexibly we can run our business. There’s no such thing as a menu of services; a lot of what we do is custom-made and built around value for money and what the client wants. Time is money too so you may need to keep an event short but still impactful. Technology also plays a huge role in our conference rooms as people run large events with specially created apps that contain the agenda and notes, minimising the need for paper. Environmental scores help them become more responsible in how they use resources, and these are also kept within a target range.”

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