Travel around Europe and you’ll find that virtually every major and small town airport has a hotel right on its doorstep. Travel around Africa and, well, outside of South Africa, there is a dearth of airport hotels.
Many airport hotels in Europe and elsewhere are not just located in close proximity, but are actually linked to the airport by under-cover walkways or even direct entrances from the terminal. In Africa, two international airports – in Nairobi and Johannesburg – have hotels embedded within the arrivals terminal.
Airport hotels do really well, often outperforming their city centre counterparts, because of the captive markets they enjoy. Airlines enjoy their proximity, putting up crew members without the hassle, cost and security of bussing them elsewhere. They are also very handy passengers of delayed flights, who can be accommodated close by, for instant action when the flight is able to leave.
These hotels are also great locations for conferences and other events involving travel. Almost by definition, airport hotels are easily accessible by road and air, so they are ideal for regional and international events where delegates are ‘gathering’. Which is why developers typically include extensive MICE facilities, catering not just to the airport and airport-related markets, but also to the local community, for weddings and other events. In some instances, these hotels have the largest conference facilities in the city.
Here in West Africa, developers have battled to get airport hotels off the ground at the region’s largest airport in Lagos. The first attempt, back in the mid-1990s, was made by AIC, who wanted to build a Hilton adjacent to Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Sometime later the airport authorities declared AIC’s lease invalid. At the arbitration (which AIC won), the authorities claimed that a hotel overlooking the runway posed a potential security risk, and that it wasn’t permitted anywhere in the world. Subsequently, plans to build a 300-room Holiday Inn at the international terminal, and a 250-room Crowne Plaza at the domestic terminal, also fell afoul of politics, and neither has ever been finished.
Another Nigerian developer, Hometel, is seeking to develop a Radisson Blu/Park Inn combo adjacent to the new terminal and car park under construction, and we wish them better luck than their predecessors. AeroMarine is also having a go, with a planned Hilton located a short distance from the international terminal.
Elsewhere in West Africa, Cotonou (Benin) has a Best Western hotel very close to the Cotonou International Airport, and a Radisson Blu is under construction at Abidjan International Airport in Cote d’Ivoire, where considerable commercial development is also anticipated as part of a new ‘aero-city’.
Accra’s Kotoka International Airport in Ghana already has several hotels in close proximity, including a very successful Holiday Inn, and the relatively new African Sun Amber Hotel. Planned additions are the Marriott, which has been under construction for, well, ages, a Radisson Blu at The Exchange, and potentially several other hotels. Plans to move the airport will affect the dynamics there, but that’s a long way off.
A more imminent move of airport is planned in Dakar (Senegal), but the Onomo Hotel there will likely continue to thrive because of the commercial and diplomatic community in the area.
There are nascent plans to develop branded hotels at airports in both Douala and Yaoundé (Cameroon). Freetown (Sierra Leone) has a hotel at the airport in Lungi, serving not just the demand generated by the airport, but also those who need to fortify themselves for the river crossing to the city or moving up to the mining areas in the north of the country. Developers were known to be looking at other hotels in the Lungi area before the Ebola outbreak.
Airport hotels are an important part of a city’s infrastructure. Not only do they cater to demand generated directly by the airport itself, but the surrounding business and residential communities also make use of the facilities. And as other African countries begin to entice foreign business to their borders, hotel airports will no doubt grow in number.