Hotels close to regional airports range from the big brands to properties with a real difference says Bob Papworth
SHORTLY BEFORE I shuffle off this mortal coil to add a questionable baritone to the ranks of the celestial choir or, depending on your faith of choice, to be reincarnated as some sort of intestinal worm - I hope to be granted a split second or two to reflect on life's learnings. Chief among those recollections, one suspects, will be the fact that there is something called the Plush Hotel, a scant mile from Bristol International Airport.
The Plush Hotel is privately-owned, set in two acres, has eight "carefully furnished" rooms, free internet connection, flat-screen TVs and, judging from the website, an indoor pool to die for. Rack rates start at around £75, and yet, even though it is clearly a perfect base for those with ex-Bristol flights, you may, not have heard of it. Which is the point, really.
The UK's regional airports are gaining market share like there's no tomorrow, providing corporate buyers with an increasingly attractive range of travel options.
And most, if not all, are blessed with knock-out accommodation alternatives which really shouldn't be overlooked.
Over the past 25 or so years, according to the Civil Aviation Authority, passenger throughput at the UK's regional airports has almost trebled to more than Too million per annum, or 42 per cent of all UK-originating air travellers.
Chief among the provincial front-runners is, apparently, Coventry - which has so far happily eschewed the current airport trendfor naming themselves after dead celebrities. Passenger numbers at what might otherwise be known as Lady Godiva International, rose from 17,000 in 1990 to 610,000 in 2006, an increase of nearly 3,500 per cent.
In Scotland, passenger numbers at Prestwick grew 2,421 per cent over the same period; Liverpool John Lennon's throughput shot up 947 per cent; Humberside. Leeds Bradford, Cardiff and Belfast City all recorded growth well in excess of 200 per cent.
Admittedly, the actual boots-in-sand numbers aren't necessarily that big, but the percentages amply demonstrate the ever-increasing importance of regional air services, regional airports and, by extension, regional airport hotels.
Take Cardiff Wales International. There's a perfectly good Days Inn just half a mile from the terminal building, and there's a year-old 111-room Express by Holiday Inn less than a mile away. Head out just a few yards farther, however, and-provided you've headed in the right direction - you'll be in the Egon Ronay rated Egerton Grey Country House Hotel.
Opened as a hotel in 1988, the 10 bedroomed property dates back to the 17th century, was used as a rectory in Victorian times, and is set in seven acres of gardens.
In addition to the wealth of antiques, porcelain and paintings, there are beautifully restored Edwardian bathrooms, original brasswork, open places, ornate mouldings outstanding mahogany oak panelling. Oh, and last summer it was the overnight stop of choice for HRH The Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. There aren't many airport hotels that can make that claim.
Over at Nottingham East Midlands, there's a 90-room Express by Holiday Inn on site, while the 152-room Hilton East Midlands Airport is just two miles away.
The Priest House Hotel, Castle Donington, by contrast, is all of four miles away, and has a mere 42 rooms. In its favour is the fact that it is at the end of a country lane, on the banks of the River Trent, and is a loving restoration of what was once a complex of five watermills. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it is now part of the upscale Handpicked Hotels collection.
Stansted, of course, doesn't consider itself to be a regional airport, but we need take no notice of that. It is no more a London airport than nearby Bishops Stortford is a London Borough. It is also home to one of the most famous airport hotels in the land - or, more accurately, the most famous "wine tower" (pictured overleaf) in the land, which just happens to have a hotel wrapped around it. If the Radisson SAS Hotel London Stansted was any closer to the airport it would be in the departure lounge - it claims to be a two-minute walk away, but you'd have to dawdle to spin it out that long.
The hotel has 500 rooms, 26 meeting rooms, four restaurants, and the 13-metre wine tower with 4,000 bottles. And don't forget the two young ladies who abseil to collect customers' choices.
The two-star Express by Holiday Inn Stansted and the similarly rated Days Inn Stansted are but a five-minute shuttle bus-ride away, while a trip to the four-star Hilton London Stansted, on the opposite side of the airport, takes all of 10 minutes.
And then there is Great Hallingbury Manor. Re-opened in April after a £1 million refurbishment, the Tudor-style GHM has 32 rooms, three meeting suites, and all the bells and whistles associated with a fourstar-plus establishment.
It also has an Anton Edelman signature restaurant (which had grand opening ahead of the rest of the hotel) and, crucially in this day and age, it aims to become one of the "greenest" hotels in the country.
And it is two miles, or five minutes, from the airport. Mention of the Domesday Book and quaint little villages leads us neatly to the delights of Colnbrook with Poyle, which is described on its parish council's own website as "picturesque".
Poyle itself is "dominated by its large industrial estate", the website continues, while "significant features" include the local gravel quarry, "the Grundon Waste Management incinerator and cement works" and a sewage farm. When all that picturesque-ness gets too much for you, apparently there's plenty of local "scrub land" to escape to.
Mercifully, come 2010, there will also be a new 350-room Hilton Hotel - not because Hilton has seen an untapped market in the incinerator-and-adjacent-cement-works sector, but because Poyle is a relatively short hop from Heathrow's new Terminal 5.
Hilton already has a 395-room property at Terminal 4-where it has just signed contracts for a complimentary shuttle service.
T5 will, of course, be dominated by the £180 million, 605-roomed Sofitel. Designed by KCA International Designers, who did the interiors for Dubai's Burj Al Arab, the hotel is being trailed as one of the largest luxury airport hotels in Europe.
Due to open this spring, the Arora International-owned property will have five atria, which, according to BAA plc, will be both "towering" and "striking".
The Antarctic-themed reception area will have "a dramatic water fountain centrepiece that cascades out from a mirrored ceiling on to floodlit ice blocks, which funnel refractive light on the surrounding surfaces".
More usefully, it will also become Heathrow's largest meetings and conference venue, with its biggest room capable of accommodating up to 1,700 delegates. The 459-room Radisson Edwardian Heathrow, which currently ranks as the airport's premier conference venue, can only accommodate 700 in a single room.
Then again, it does have 43 meeting rooms, which is more than can be said for Heathrow's new Yotel. Simon Woodroffe, erstwhile Dragons' Den occupant and the man behind Yotel, also has a property at Gatwick - one of three on-site at the West Sussex gateway.
The other two - the Hilton London Gatwick at South Terminal and Sofitel London Gatwick at North Terminal - are both linked by covered walkways to their respective terminals.
However, there is a plethora of other accommodation options within a five-mile radius although, admittedly, their guests cannot go from reception directly to check-in under a covered walking.
When yours truly comes back to mastermind the founding of the Sheer Unadulterated Luxury Hotel, that will be something to bear in mind. The Plush Hotel won't know what's hit it.
While hotel buyers are spoilt for choice at Heathrow and Gatwick, accommodation options at regional airports tend to be fewer and farther between. The following far-from-comprehensive list, drawn primarily from the airports' own websites, provides a few clues.
Thistle (4*, within walking distance);
Menzies Dyce (3*,1 mile);
Britannia (3*, 3 miles),
Marriott [3*, 3 miles).
Park Plaza (4*, on site);
Hilton Templepatrick, 4*, 5 miles).
Novotel (3*, adjacent to terminal);
Hilton Birmingham Metropole (4*, on Airport);
Crowne Plaza (4*, 1,5 miles);
Holiday Inn [3*, 1,5 miles);
Express by Holiday Inn NEC (3*, 1,5 miles);
Premier Inn [3*, 2 miles).
Plush ("luxury boutique", 1 mile);
Holiday Inn (3*, 3 miles);
Cadbury House (4*, 5 miles).
Cardiff Wales International
Express by Holiday Inn Cardiff Airport [3*, 1 mile);
Days Inn Hotel Cardiff Airport (3*, 5 miles).
East Midlands Airport
Thistle (4*, 0,25 miles);
Express by Holiday Inn 13*, 1 mile);
Hilton (4*, 1,5 miles).
Hilton (4*, within airport boundaries);
Quality (3*, adjacent)
Best Western Edinburgh Capital [3*, 3 miles);
Ellersly House (3*, 5 miles);
Holiday Inn Edinburgh North (3*, 5 miles);
Murrayfield Hotel & Lodge (2*, 5 miles).
Holiday Inn (3*,"adjacent");
Normandy (3*, "five minutes from airport").
Glasgow Prestwick International
Manor Park 14*, on-airport);
Parkstone (3*, 1 mile);
Enterkine Country House (5*, 4 miles).
Travelodge (3*, "walking distance");
Best Western Chevin Country Park (4*, 2 miles);
Britannia (3*, 2 miles);
Ramada Jarvis Parkway (3*, 5 miles).
Liverpool John Lennon
Marriott (3*, 1,5 miles). Liverpool city centre is only seven miles away.
London Luton Airport
Ibis l2*, 0,5 miles);
Express by Holiday Inn [2*, 0,5 miles);
Premier Inn [3*, 2 miles);
Menzies Strathmore [4*, 5 miles);
Days (3*, 5 miles).
London Stansted Airport
Radisson SAS (4*, linked to the terminal building);
Express by Holiday Inn (2*, five minutes by shuttle bus);
Hilton (4*, 10 minutes by shuttle bus); Days Inn (2*, 2 miles);
Great Hallingbury Manor [re-opened April, 2 miles).
Radisson SAS (4*, linked directly to airport terminals);
Bewleys Hotel (3*, "short walk" from terminals);
Crowne Plaza (4*, 0,25 miles from airport);
Hilton (4*, 0,25 miles);
Etrop Grange (4*, 0,5 miles);
Travelodge (3*, 0,5 miles);
Marriott (4*, 1,5 miles);
Britannia [3*, 3 miles).
Britannia (3*, adjacent to terminal building);
Premier Travel Inn (3*, 0,3 miles);
Premier Travel Inn South (3*, 0,3 miles).
Holiday Inn Eastleigh (3*, 1,5 miles);
Hilton (4*, 3 miles);
Express by Holiday Inn Southampton West (2*, 4 miles);
Legacy Botleigh Grange l4*, 5 miles);
Macdonald Botley Park Hotel, Golf & Country Club (4*, 5 miles).
The late Kisho Kurokawa, architect and co-founder of Japan's Metabolist Movement, has a lot to answer for. It was he - as all Buying Business Travel readers will instantly recollect - who designed the world's first capsule hotel. They're still big in Japan, but the rest of us have moved on.
Or have we? Yotel, which made its debut in Gatwick's South Terminal last summer, recently opened in Heathrow's Terminal 4 (just in time for the opening of Terminal 51, insists that small is still beautiful. According to the company's minimalist website, Yotels offer "everything you would expect from a luxury hotel in a small space".
Leaving aside the fact that everything most of us would expect from a luxury hotel simply won't fit into a small space, Yotels looked like the hospitality industry's first real innovation since the invention of the pointless trouser press.
However, like London buses, when one innovation eventually comes along, there's invariably another right behind it.
Sure enough, Travelodge is planning to bring its "recyclable" hotel concept to Heathrow (the first opens at Uxbridge, in June) by the end of the year.
Built out of so-called Verbus modules - essentially, posh shipping containers - bolted together, the beauty of these hotels is that they can be recycled. Meanwhile, the Heathrow Yotel has 32 "cabins", while Gatwick has 46. Rack rates start at £40 for a premium cabin, with a double bed, or E25 for a standard cabin with an outsized single bed. That price, however, is for four hours only - longer bookings cost from £6 per additional hour.
Premium and standard cabins have en suite bathrooms; future Yotels will incorporate economy cabins, which will have no en-suite facilities.
Still at the economy end of the market, and following last month's projected opening of the-easyHotel Luton, Sir Stelios Hajiloannou's budget bedrooms are destined to make their debut at Heathrow following a second franchise deal with the Eclipse Hotels Group. Watch this space.