Airports are adapting as they recognise that business does not have to come to a standstill just because travel is involved.
You may delay, but time will not.” Undoubtedly, United States founding father Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he uttered these words. Every day, clocks around the world tick the seconds away as millions of time-constrained business travellers waste time idly waiting for flights. This, in the airline industry, is commonly referred to as dwell time. But if one were to follow American industrialist Henry Ford’s philosophy — that most people get ahead during the time others waste — then dwell time is nothing but the loss of precious seconds that could mean the difference between success and failure. With this in mind, it is no surprise airports around the world are changing, having realised that business does not have to come to a standstill just because travel is involved. Internet kiosks and ‘hypercharge’ power supply stations to charge laptops and cellphones were once considered revolutionary innovations at the Minneapolis—St Paul International Airport.
These are now ordinary and expected. Today, time-pressed businesspeople need more than just a place to recharge equipment to ensure round-theclock productivity; they need office space. So, airports are upgrading terminals to provide this benefit. “It is becoming a global trend to arrange meetings and even conferences at airports,” says Michael Trestl, Edelweiss Air’s business development manager. This makes it much easier for global organisations to increase the productivity of their managerial staff, and save time and cost. Thus, airports are increasingly facing the challenge of providing such infrastructure.” As a result, we have what are known as workstations, the airport office or business centres. These are essentially offices away from the office. These diverse business centres offer travellers state-of-the-art equipment and access to appropriate, luxury and work-friendly space where they can meet with clients and colleagues, hold conferences or work in private. And they do it literally in the heart of the airport. At the Goteborg Landvetter Airport in Sweden, the business centre is situated in the check-in hall. It saves huge amounts of time,” says communications consultant Tanje Wandrag, who is often tasked with arranging meetings for her executive clients. It makes sense when you have people coming from around the country for a meeting to have them fly to one location, meet at the airport, and then fly out again.
It does not just speak to the convenience factor, but also to a massive saving in time and money.” Negotiating one’s way in and out of an airport takes time, while by their very nature airports are often situated outside of business centres, necessitating the need for a hire car or taxi — all eating up precious time. “If one takes into account the time saved waiting for a hire car, the drive to the city (both Cape Town and Johannesburg airports are at least 40 minutes’ drive from the CBD), the drive back, then having the meeting at the airport makes sense,” Wandrag says. While business centres are not common at South African airports, they have become the talk of the business world internationally. At Frankfurt am Main Airport, 36 rooms catering from two to 180 people at a time are available to the business community. Situated in the airport terminal, they allow business to continue as usual. Businesspeople who arrive at Goteborg Landvetter Airport are offered what those in the know refer to as an express escort through the busy airport system, allowing businesspeople the convenience of having extended meetings while also being able to catch an earlier flight home. “It is the perfect solution for companies and executives wanting to get the maximum amount of time out of a day of business in a particular city,” says Wandrag.
While certain airlines do allow access to a variety of lounges, this does not necessarily allow for meetings with non-travelling clients. Access to many lounges requires a ticket. “These lounges range from the classic pre-departure lounge to the functional arrival lounge. They play a significant role for being where travellers can have a shower, have a meal, catch up on paperwork. This allows them to have more time to sleep on the longer flights,” says Trestl. Safmarine’s southern Africa sales executive, Dieter Veening, believes it is becoming commonplace to meet at airports, especially when business travellers are flying in for a single day. “I have been involved in meetings at airports, mostly high-level negotiations that require one to fly in the day before, meet at the airport hotel or business centre, and then fly out again at the end of the day,” he says. ‘Airport venues are particularly popular for single-day meetings, while there is a preference to move away to a quieter, out-of-town location for longer conferences or stayovers.” Cape Town-based consultant Debbie Owen says there are several reasons why airports are convenient venues for meetings, the most obvious being ample parking, convenient access and a number of venue options for both formal and informal interviews. “Airport buildings can be confusing, especially for first-time visitors, and the airport venue tends to work best if both parties know the location fairly well.
If they don’t, the preference is to choose a separate venue near the airport such as a hotel, which is easy to find and which offers the venue options for a meeting.” For Owen, airport-based meetings are a particularly productive way of using the hours between connecting flights. It is with this in mind that Hotel Verde, managed by BON Hotels, under construction about 400m from Cape Town International Airport, is marketing itself. General manager Samantha Annandale says the hotel will offer travellers several facilities that can be used as offices on a daily basis. “More and more people don’t want to stay overnight at a hotel by choice, but they do need facilities that offer them state-of-the-art communication and internet access, that are private and offer place for them to conduct their business and meetings.” According to Annandale, more than ever before a differentiation is being made between the leisure traveller and the business executive. “They are not visiting a city to sightsee. They are there to work, to get as much done in as little time as possible, and then get back to their families and homes.” This is why the hotel will have electric cars available to businesspeople using their facilities, to drop them off in front of the departure terminal. “It just saves more time, allowing them to put those extra minutes to good use. If one takes into account the rush and pressure people are under from a business perspective, then it makes sense that airports are becoming the preferred venue choice for meetings.”
Guy Stehlik, founder of BON Hotels, says the proximity of the hotel to the airport, and easy access from the city centre and surrounds, will provide business travellers with an accessible, comfortable and cuttingedge location to continue business dealings or meetings in between flights. So, the once seemingly absurd idea of flying into Cape Town from New York for a meeting and not leaving the airport before flying out, is a reality. And it is not unusual for businesspeople to travel the world, but only be familiar with a country’s airports. & Return to Airport ta I have been involved in meetings at airports… that require one to fly in the day before, meet at the airport hotel or business centre, and then fly out again at the end of the day.