In my last column, examining an amphibious brand partnership that works on land and at sea, I commented on how rare it was for brands to nimbly cross hospitality borders – from hotel to airport, cruise ship to passenger train, restaurant to retail.
Yet these kinds of partnerships have created some of my most memorable and pleasant travel experiences. In the newest kind of transumer brand coupling, leading hotels are now bedfellows with transportation hubs around the world, creating their own custom waiting lounges and service packages for their guests.
Even a wonderful trip can be undone by a horrific journey through that “nation within a nation” Airworld – a term coined by Walter Kirn in Up in the Air to describe the generic series of taxis, lounges, cubicles and anonymous rooms travellers cycle through.
Airport greeting service, courtesy cars and convenient airport hotels have long been a part of the top-tier Airworld experience, because no matter how charming the airport (the informal lending library of bookshelves at MQS on Mustique’s Island retreat or the tiny thatched-roof hut in northern Maui’s HNM come to mind), their humble charms and amenities wear thin, considering the long wait times imposed by modern travel.
Hotel-branded airport lounges extend the hospitality experience of the accommodations themselves. The W Welcome Lounge in VQS on the island of Vieques, just off the coast of Puerto Rico, was designed by Milan-based Patricia Urquiola, the same designer behind the hotel chain’s Retreat & Spa.
W’s patented “Whatever/Whenever” services apply while luggage and Jeep transfers are sorted for the short drive to the resort, with treats like fruit and fresh-squeezed juices, pastries and chips, and chilled towels to refresh travellers.
Similarly, arriving and departing passengers at RAK in Marrakech who are guests of the prince’s palace-turned-hotel, La Mamounia, can stop in at the hotel’s own lounge, decorated in the same vein as the recently renovated property with plush design by Jacques Garcia and bespoke scent by Olivia Giacobetti.
Whether it’s a WiFi connection or sweet Moroccan dates you’re jonesing for, you’ll find it here.
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, on Hawaii’s Big Island, has a lounge in KOA Terminal 1 that rivals the creature comforts of the luxe 51-suite resort: bar, flat-screen TV, refreshments, magazines, newspapers, and of course, WiFi and charging stations for computers, mobile phones and PDAs.
“Having our airport departure lounge allows us to extend the resort experience just a bit longer, and provides our suite guests with added comfort and value on their way home,” says Brad Packer, an L.A.-based director of public relations for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.
Hilton serves three different premium brand platforms from an arrivals lounge at the Trans Maldivian Airlines’ seaplane terminal, a 10-minute shuttle from MLE in the Maldives. Guests of the Beach House Maldives: A Waldorf Astoria Resort and the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island share a large space; Hilton Maldives guests have a separate waiting lounge.
“In order to reach our resort, guests have to transfer by seaplane and there can sometimes be a wait before the flight is ready,” the Conrad’s PR manager Katherine Anthony says. The lounge provides not only great take-off and landing views for plane nerds, but perks like an on-site spa, showers, a playroom, free WiFi and computer stations.
Though the lounge is complimentary during the day to Hilton guests, anyone can pay US$80 to use it in the evening, when it will save you from airport-food dinner and paying an additional day-rate at your hotel while awaiting late flight departures.
Yabu Pushelberg, the world’s leading designers of hotel, restaurants and hospitality spaces, are working on Viceroy Hotel’s airport lounge in the Maldives. “This is a growing trend, especially for remote resorts,” says Glenn Pushelberg. “The boat or car ride should be an extension of the hotel experience… people travel so far now to get to their paradise destinations that you should provide the experience from the moment they get off the plane.”
By Water, Rail… or Helipad
Smart hotel brands have also extended their hospitality into the often inhospitable realm of other transportation hubs. For instance, I was greeted by a uniformed Four Seasons staffer in the intimidating arrival hall of Tokyo Station after arriving on the Narita Express train, and guided through the intricacies of hefting bags, converting money and navigating my way to the nearby (but not easy to find-is anything in Tokyo?) Four Seasons Maranouchi.
My 30-minute boat trip to Como’s Parrot Cay resort on the eponymous private island in the Turks and Caicos was smoothed by a short wait in its private seaport; a cedar-shingled wooden pavilion that’s an oasis of cold towels, rum punch and apothecary jars of cookies and nuts. (On your way back, you can pick up the Como Shambhala spa products you forgot to buy at the resort.)
London even has its first heli-hotel, the Hotel Verta adjacent to the London Heliport.
Transumer-friendly brands – from restaurants and coffee shops to newsstands – have long recognized the importance of creating a consistent, familiar but locally relevant customer experience at every touchpoint across their networks.
Hospitality brands are uniquely capable of providing this sense of comfort and service to travellers, not just within their hotels, but anywhere their very mobile customers may be.