It was Mark Twain who sarcastically suggested that ‘dreadful delays can best be avoided by making them the goal of the journey in the first place and limiting one’s business and visits to the immediate vicinity of stations and ports’. In the past ten years or so, airport hotels have realised there is wisdom in this apparent madness, and have upgraded facilities to provide top-class conference venues, shedding their image as the Skoda of the hotel industry.
Whether organisers are flying in delegates from around the world, or just from around the country, it makes sense not to transport them far from their arrival point, saving much lost time and temper sitting in traffic jams.
Most airport properties provide a shuttle bus service to and from the hub (often free); some are even joined at the hip, connected by a walkway, including the Hiltons at Gatwick and Heathrow’s Terminal 4, Kempinski at Munich and Radisson SAS SkyCity at Stockholm. The Novotel at Birmingham airport is also within walking distance of both the airport and the NEC.
And facilities are good. Many provide lobby flight check-in, cutting down the amount of time spent in the terminal; fitness centres have been toned up a treat and – most relevant – conference facilities are state of the art, with service to match.
In the UK, the 12 Heathrow properties have taken the idea of airport conferences very seriously, and clubbed together to create Destination Heathrow, marketing the area as an alternative to the city centre. Between them, they have some outstanding facilities, not least Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel, with its award-winning York Conference Centre, including an auditorium with 35-foot screen, closed circuit TV screen, microphone at each seat, ISDN links and video-conferencing.
The hotel also offers an audio-visual production service.
Sheraton’s Skyline centre was rebuilt around an atrium three years ago, allowing most rooms natural light – a rare and valuable thing in a meeting room. And all Sheraton airport properties have a conference concierge, who provides a central service throughout meetings. Hilton at Terminal 4 has a good range of equipment including back-projection TV with direct computer link, plus an integrated Working Wall operated by remote control – one of the group’s conference trademarks.
Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza has top-class equipment, including flexible staging, video and a variety of projectors. And Marriott had a soft opening of a 390-room property at Heathrow in January, to be officially opened in March, and this has conference facilities for up to 500. Unfortunately, an exhibition centre planned for Heathrow fell by the wayside, but Radisson Edwardian has acquired land adjacent to the hotel, where it plans to build conference and convention facilities.
Gatwick has a good selection of on-site properties, complemented by some that combine city centre accessibility with attractive surrounding countryside. Effingham Park has more than 100 acres of gardens and woodlands and claims a reputation as one of the finest leisure, conference and exhibition facilities in the south of England. Runnymede and Great Fosters put up hot competition.
New to Manchester airport, and claiming to be one of the largest conference hotels in the North of England, is Radisson SAS Hotel. It has 28 conference rooms, mostly with natural light and spread over two floors, which can hold up to 350 delegates. The hotel has been open only since November, and has already proven popular for meetings, with delegates flown in from across the UK and the rest of Europe.
‘We have hosted several meetings for the pharmaceuticals industry,’ says sales and marketing director Michele Somers. ‘Some delegates flew in from London Heathrow, and returned the same day; others came from farther afield and stayed the night. We also offer a dedicated assistant as a support to group conference organisers.
The Dutch are never slow to grab a marketing opportunity, and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has built facilities within the terminal to match those of surrounding hotels.
Skyport Corporate Meeting Centre holds only 16 people, but communications and presentation equipment is sophisticated and includes video-conferencing.
The nearby World Trade Centre is accessible from the Hilton and Sheraton hotels, and from the airport terminal via a walkway.
Frankfurt Airport Conference Centre is also connected by a pedestrian bridge, caters for 200 and offers an interesting variety of facilities, ranging from phones, faxes and photocopiers to PC outlets, video-conferencing – and even a Polaroid camera.
Frankfurt is also proud home to one of Western Europe’s largest properties, the Sheraton Frankfurt hotel, which is joined to Terminal 1 by a pedestrian bridge, and to Terminal 2 by sky rail. The Congress Centre seats up to 1,200 and in-house services include simultaneous interpretation, and a goods lift. Nearby is the Steigenberger Avance, which adds room for another 800 to the mix, and more top-class amenities such as a stage with variable height and advanced audio-visual and video equipment.
Also in Germany, Munich airport’s Business Service Centre provides a video-conference studio, computers and VCR; and this complements meeting space for 500 at the Kempinski hotel with good technical back-up. Andersen Consulting has been using the Kempinski for three years for a meeting of international delegates and is pleased with the service. The airport location was a deciding factor.
New in Norway is the Clarion Oslo Airport, opened in September 1998, to complement Choice Hotels’ two other properties at the Norwegian hub: Quality Olavsgaard Hotel and Quality Airport Hotel Gardermoen. Conference and banqueting facilities at the Clarion hold up to 1,200 and an indoor leisure park includes several pools and a beach.
The Union of Local Authorities for Norway recently held a conference for 410 delegates, approximately half of which flew in from around Norway.
Says project leader, Ingrid Nimoen: ‘Being close to the airport, the hotel was easily reached by everyone. We will have another conference next year, and would certainly use the airport hotel again. People worked very hard to make sure everything went smoothly for us.’
Denmark is also enjoying quality attention. Hilton is investing #20m in a property at Copenhagen Airport, with comprehensive meeting facilities, which is due to open in 2001.
And another European Hilton is on the cards for this year: details are not yet available. ‘We are taking an active interest in airport hotels,’ says spokeswoman Hilary Baker.
Radisson SAS SkyCity is integrated into Stockholm Arlanda airport, and conference organisers can enjoy a wide range of quality equipment, including wall and ceiling-mounted screens; a variety of projectors; Barco facility; video, cassette and CD player; and various types of microphone and speakers.
Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is also well served, with good conference properties. Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel is located directly above the TGV terminal in Terminal 2 and has 27 meeting rooms holding up to 60 people. Each room is equipped with an audio-visual system for video-conferencing, projectors, and screens.
The nearby Hyatt Regency runs shuttle transfers to cover the five-minute journey and has a conference centre with independent access to generous space (1,200m2) on two levels. Top audio-visual equipment is backed by a good business centre. And Novotel Roissy is also nearby, running shuttle services to the airport terminals and TGV station and giving direct access to the regional RER rail services. In addition to meeting facilities, Novotel airport properties all offer 24-hour food and drink service, express laundry, business centre and express check-out.
With the increasingly sophisticated conference facilities and services available at airport hotels, city conference centres had better look to their laurels. It’s no longer a case of any (air)port in a storm.
Catherine Chetwynd is a freelance journalist
HEALTH MATTERS FOR STRESSED TRAVELLERS
These days, health is a bit like wine: more information is available to the man on the street or, in the case of the business traveller, on the aircraft. Unfortunately, regular travellers seem reluctant to keep up to date, so health appears low on the priority list: passport, currency, briefings, duty-free, inoculations …
One of the problems is the number of sources of information. ‘Ideally, go to a specialist, who is dealing with travel medicine day in day out,’ says Sue Taylor, travel health adviser to MASTA (Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad). ‘Their information will be updated daily.’ Travellers can ring the organisation’s health brief number, leave their personal and travel details on an answerphone, and will receive advice tailored to their needs by first-class post. MASTA’s helpline is on a premium rate line (60p per minute). The number is 09068 224100.
MASTA recommends travellers seek advice six weeks in advance of travel, but companies do not always give executives that much notice.
Once on board an aircraft, there is less to worry about – although with the number of carriers carrying defibrillators, you might wonder. The effects of the dry atmosphere are exaggerated, so drink for comfort only. A common problem is inability to sleep and jetlag. Insomniacs should not dose themselves up with sleeping tablets. The heavier variety can give a hangover effect, and the lighter ones only work short term, so you could take a pill at 11pm and be wide awake by 2am.
Melatonin, a much-publicised alternative, is a hormone the body produces at night to adjust the circadian rhythm. The effect is similar to a mild sedative but, if you take it at the wrong time, it can feel worse than jetlag. The real drawback is that it is unlicensed, so there are no controls on purity or source. MASTA does not recommend it.
At all times, common sense is the best route to self-preservation. If you are taking prescribed medication, do not tamper with it. And those who have to take drugs at regular intervals, for example diabetics, should try to keep their watch set on UK time – although thinking UK time will exacerbate jetlag.
Travellers regularly visiting malarial areas may be loath to take anti-malarials constantly, in which case protect yourself well with insect repellent and travel with a mosquito net and/or mosquito coils (buzzers are useless). If you are showing flu symptoms on your return home, go to your doctor and make it clear where you have been travelling. Malaria cannot be diagnosed clinically, only by blood screening.
Finally, avoid stress. The temptation may be to spend as little time at the airport as possible. But driving like a maniac to your departure point, thundering through Customs to arrive breathless and irritable at the boarding gate, just add to the rigours of travel. It doesn’t have to be like that.
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