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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Airport location benefits some high-flying hotels

Courtesy Marriott Long Beach

There are times when an airport hotel is the answer, particularly when the airport hotel is one like the Desmond, an independent property at the entrance of Albany International Airport in Albany, N.Y.

It became Karen Kenyon’s choice for a national sales conference that the executive assistant plans in February for her company, GlobalSpec.

Previously, the meeting had been held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 45 minutes north of Albany, but after a couple of major snowstorms created transportation nightmares, she decided to move the meeting to the Desmond, where a free hotel shuttle runs around the clock, delivering travelers from airport terminal to hotel door in two minutes.

The move didn’t come without comment from some attendees, who questioned why the meeting wasn’t being held at a resort location.

“What I always say is that this is not an incentive meeting; it is a sales training meeting to set the tone for the year and to review products,” said Kenyon. “What would be the point of taking them to a resort location when they wouldn’t be able to get out of the hotel?”

That said, the Desmond is no depressing box of guest rooms, plunked down next to a runway. Jon Stultz, director of sales there, knows what that sort of airport hotel is like because he used to work for one in Houston. “It was like an honest-to-God catcher’s mitt at the end of a runway,” he recalled.

By contrast, the Desmond, like a number of other airport hotels in smaller cities, is more than a place to catch some sleep before catching a flight. In business since the 1970s, the hotel has 21,000 square feet of meeting space, including a conference center that is accredited by the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC). About 70 percent of its business is meeting and other groups, which led it to recently invest $250,000 in audio-visual equipment upgrades. The Desmond’s restaurant is the only AAA Four Diamond rated restaurant in the area.

The hotel’s design is Colonial, not big-box; its airy atriums are often used for receptions. Two pools and a nice lounge give guests places to while away free time. “The Desmond has a uniqueness to it,” said Kenyon.

The most obvious advantages that hotels like the Desmond offer are lower transportation costs and fewer complications.

Airport hotels typically offer free airport shuttles, eliminating, in many cases, the need to hire a cab or rent a car. However, transportation costs are not the only factor.

Barbara Kane Pilliod, a vice president for Transfinder Corp. in Schenectady, N.Y., has used the Desmond because it is a more comfortable choice for many who attend a client conference that she holds there.

Transfinder Corp.’s clients are bus transportation managers for school districts around the country.

“Many of our attendees travel solo, so they feel safer. You would be surprised at how many people who are going into a city that they are not familiar with would prefer to be close to the airport. And they are public sector employees, so if we can save them money, it is a plus.

“And, if we can get attendees to the hotel without any fanfare, it is a plus,” she said.

However, if the Desmond was a typical few-frills airport hotel, Pilliod would be booking her group elsewhere. “”We would not stay at an airport hotel if it did not have the level of amenities that the Desmond does.”

Long Beach Airport five minutes away

Another airport hotel with a similar air is the Marriott Long Beach, five minutes from the Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif. The airport is a regional hub for Jet Blue.

Bordered by an 18-hole public golf course, a corporate office park and the airport property, the Marriott Long Beach feels more like a suburban resort, especially with its heavily landscaped pool area, where the sounds of air travel are masked by large fountains and waterfalls and a large terrace with a canopy can be used for private events.

Michael Robby, interim director of sales for the Marriott, said he has toyed with the idea of marketing the hotel as “the unairport airport hotel.”

“It is not that hotel box next to the airport terminal that doesn’t have anything nice about it,” he said.

Area’s ties to aviation
The convenience of the Long Beach airport, founded in the early 20th century in an area known for its ties to aviation leaders Donald Douglas and Howard Hughes, is a point that Robby and his sales staff reiterate particularly to West Coast clients whose attendees would benefit from the airport’s strong service to those markets.

“There is the ease of getting in and out,” said Robby. “You can show up 45 minutes before a flight. Talk about a stress-free experience compared to when you talk to people about going to LAX.”

In addition to the landscaped gardens, the hotel has taken other measures to ensure a restful stay, among them double-pane glass in windows that face the airport to cut down on noise.

Unlike at larger airports, the nights are quiet at Long Beach anyway. “It is the only major hub in the country where it has been congressionally mandated that no flights take off before 7 a.m. or land after 10 p.m.”

An increase in high-tech industry in the Albany area has already affected the Desmond’s business as the Albany airport sees increased traffic.

“We get spin-off meetings from these firms and it is only going to increase,” said Stultz. “We’re seeing a lot of travelers coming in from Europe that we hadn’t seen before.

“I see my business is going increase in the future. We are the area’s premier hotel; we’ve managed to position ourselves not just as an airport hotel, but as a suburban hotel. It is the best of both worlds.”