Spreading their wings

30 November 2004
Spreading their wings

You check in for a night at the airport hotel, arriving late. Your room is comfortable, but fairly standard considering what you paid. You go down for an average meal

The Radisson SAS at Stansted is rapidly becoming the company's flagship property, boasting a number of innovative features, such as the spectacular wine tower (below) with its "angels"
with a couple of glasses of wine, then hit the sack. You get up at 5am to catch your early flight, perhaps grabbing a croissant and a coffee on your way. You check out with a sigh of relief and vow not to return. Does this sound familiar? Airport hotels have never had a particularly good press. At worst, they are bed factories, standard boxes in which to spend the night before jetting off. At best, they may offer a halfway decent room, but usually at a price and in an environment that lacks investment and proper thought. After all, why bother? Customers usually stay only one night, most will be on expense accounts, and (most importantly) they are a captive audience. What's the point in even trying? Fortunately, the tide is turning. The latest airport hotel offering from Radisson SAS, part of Rezidor SAS Hospitality, is far from your average airport hotel. Since opening in mid-September at Stansted Airport in Essex, the 500-bedroom Radisson SAS has attracted a fair amount of press attention, including some television crews - once because an Olympic Airlines flight en route to New York was diverted to Stansted following a hoax bomb scare, but also for a more unexpected reason: its design. The hotel cost £50m to build, is wholly owned by Rezidor SAS, and is rapidly becoming the company's flagship Radisson SAS property. Its atrium-style design has floor-to-ceiling windows and plenty of natural light. It also has an unusual and eye-catching feature: a 13m-high wine tower in the centre of the lobby that holds 3,840 bottles of wine.
It works like this. You order a bottle of wine and an electronic message goes to the tower to find your bottle. The tower then begins a light show and the last bottle to be illuminated is yours. But it doesn't stop there - a black-clad female acrobat fitted with a harness, and dubbed an angel, "flies" up to get your bottle. She does a few acrobatics while she's about it, and then abseils to the floor. The show is addictive viewing and is guaranteed to stop any nearby conversation. Some might dismiss this as gimmicky - and it may be no surprise to learn that the only other wine tower of its type in the world is in Las Vegas. Indeed, it was seeing the Las Vegas example that made Kurt Ritter, president and chief executive officer of Rezidor SAS, decide that he wanted one in the Stansted property.
But for Rezidor, it's all part of making the hotel stand out from its competitors. "We could have built some huge budget-style hotel and everyone would have been happy," says general manager Mark Willis. "But there's a definite transition in airport hotels, and for Stansted in particular." The challenges lie in winning over the guest in a short timeframe. "Time is expectation in an airport hotel," Willis says. "But our aim is not to be a bed factory."
The Radisson SAS turns around the usual "good enough" philosophy by offering the most, not the least
As well as luring people in with its striking design, the hotel boasts four restaurants, which again recognise that guests in an airport hotel are likely to be a captive audience - but which turn that on its head and offer the maximum, not the minimum: Filini is an Italian-style restaurant using the finest produce from Sardinia; NYGB is a classic grill-style restaurant using the best of American ingredients; and TaPaell'Ya is an authentic tapas and paella restaurant. There is also a central area for drinks and all-day snacks. The concepts have been developed with the help of restaurant guru Roy Ackerman, who believes passionately in investing in the food and beverage of airport hotels. "You can't fix room rates just because you are close to an airport," Ackerman says. "Customers are becoming more and more discerning and, if they don't get what they want, they will go
elsewhere." Unlike some who would argue that hoteliers should stick to selling rooms, because that is what they do best, Ackerman thinks that restaurants can be a pull for hotels. "Restaurants have always been a focal point for hotels," he says. "To sell rooms, you need a come-on for the customer." As for the wine tower, he says: "We need fun. There are still a huge number of hotels out there that are dismal places to go and eat." Radisson SAS, London Stansted Airport Rooms: 500 Investment: £50m General manager: Mark Willis Rates: £125 per room, including breakfast Average achieved room rate: £85 Owner: Radisson SAS Hotels & Resorts, part of Rezidor SAS Hospitality, operates 130 hotels in 37 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with another 30 projects under development.
Top 10 facts 1. It is the fourth-largest airport in the UK in terms of passengers processed. 2. Its busiest month was August 2003, with 1.98 million passengers. 3. Eighteen per cent of all passengers are on business trips (12 months ending June 2004). 4. Fourteen per cent of passengers are on internal UK flights (12 months ending May 2004). 5. Stansted was the 50th busiest airport in the world in 2003. 6. Foreign residents make up 34% of passengers (12 months ending March 2004). 7. Ninety-four per cent of all passengers use scheduled services (12 months ending June 2004). 8. Forty per cent of passengers are travelling to visit friends or relatives (12 months ending March 2004). 9. The airport handled 16.05 million scheduled international passengers in the 12 months ending May 2004. 10. Fifty-five per cent of passengers are men (12 months ending March 2004). The challenges of Running an airport hotel - Busy times in an airport hotel are likely to be 11pm, when guests check in, and 5am. - Average stay is one night, so the time-slot for wowing guests is small. - Properties are often isolated, offering hoteliers a good opportunity to gain food and beverage revenue.
The 500 bedrooms have been decorated in three themes - ocean, urban and chilli. Chilli is a combination of spicy reds and organic shapes. Ocean offers a mix of blues, greens and neutrals, offset by the curves of the furniture, while urban offers cool marble and warm reds. Each room has high-speed internet connection, an LCD television, pay TV, and laptop safes. There are also 26 meeting rooms, the largest of which will hold 400 people theatre-style. All have air conditioning, natural daylight and access to state-of-the-art presentation technology. There will also soon be a health club, which will be free to residents, with memberships available for non-residents. It will offer a swimming pool, saunas, steam rooms, and a fully equipped gym with exercise and aerobic areas. Airport trends According to consultancy Deloitte, data for the first quarter of 2004 is encouraging for the UK's leading airports - London's Heathrow and Gatwick. Revenue per available room increased by 5% at Heathrow and 11% at Gatwick during this period. But it is the growth of the budget airlines that is dictating the growth of smaller airports, such as Stansted. Stansted began as a Second World War bomber airfield. Plans to turn it into a Nato base in the 1950s were scrapped and the airfield became a commercial operation. The 1960s saw Stansted booming, as charter package holidays to the Mediterranean caught the imagination of the British holiday-maker. Stansted was first mooted as London's third airport in the early 1960s. A public inquiry report, published in 1984, recommended approval for development in two phases, taking capacity to eight million and then 15 million passengers a year. Work on a new terminal began in 1986, and this was opened in 1991. An extension was opened in 2002 to enable it to handle about 15 million passengers, and there are plans to extend it further to take its capacity to about 25 million a year.
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