Airport Hotel Reaches for the Skies

Developer targets 200% occupancy rate for TWA terminal site at New York's Kennedy

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A view of the old TWA Flight Center, designed by architect Eero Saarinen

The developer of the TWA Hotel opening on Wednesday at New York's Kennedy Airport is shooting for an occupancy rate better than 100%. In fact, he's hoping to do twice that. “My objective is to sell every room every day twice a day,” said Tyler Morse, chief executive of MCR and Morse Development. “Our plan is to run 200% occupancy.”
 Mr. Morse expects the hotel will appeal to travelers with crack-of-dawn flights who want proximity to the airport. They will have checked out in the early morning, enabling hotel staff to turn over rooms for other travelers arriving in the afternoon, including flight crews with extended layovers. The hotel will offer stays as short as four hours.
 “It's nirvana for a hotelier if you can get additional revenue over the course of a 24-hour period,” said Tom McConnell, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield PLC's global hotel group.
 MCR and its minority partner, JetBlue Airways Corp., are spending $265 million to create a hotel at the site of the landmark Trans World Airlines terminal designed by Eero Saarinen. It has been closed since 2001 after TWA went out of business.
 Convincing most people to spend the night at John F. Kennedy International Airport might have its challenges. But the 512-room hotel has a rooftop bar with an infinity pool for plane spotting, six restaurants and eight bars. One restaurant owned and designed by Michelin-star chef Jean- Georges Vongerichten will be named after the Paris Café in the original terminal.
 The developer has built the hotel with a 50,000-squarefoot event and conference center and a 10,000 square-foot fitness center. Shops, restaurants and bars will be located in the heart of the restored historic Saarinen building. The hotel is connected to the terminal for JetBlue, which has a 5% stake in the property.
 The opening this week is the latest sign that airport hotels are experiencing a revival in recent years, from the Westin Denver International Hotel to a luxury hotel at the international airport between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.
 Developers are betting that higher-end properties on airport grounds—loaded with amenities like gyms and pools—can appeal to weary travelers in a way that no-frills motels that are a five-minute cab ride away never did.
 “In the last decade or so, there has been a resurgence of full-service hotels at major airports,” said Jan Freitag, a senior vice president at STR, a data provider to the hotel industry.
 Hotels located in or near airports in the U.S. have been able to raise the price of their lodgings: The average daily rate at these properties rose to $120.28 in the first quarter of this year from $113.57 in 2016, according to STR.
 Occupancy at airport hotels tends to run higher than at other types of hotels. In the first quarter, the occupancy rate for airport hotels was 72%, compared with 62% for hotels nationwide.
 Airport hotels have also boosted revenue by offering meeting space for corporate travelers who prefer to conduct business at the airport and fly out the same day.
 Some airport hotels even offer packages marketing the property as a destination getaway, offering amenities such as restaurants as well as proximity to local attractions and activities, said Bjorn Hanson, a hotel consultant.
 Mr. Morse said he hopes to appeal to local communities in Queens, Long Island and New Jersey for “staycations” and weddings. He said that 325 events have already been booked at his hotel.
 MCR's transformation of the 1960s-era airport terminal into a boutique hotel was complex. It involved 22 government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Embassy of Finland, which was concerned about the legacy of the building's world-famous, Finnish born architect, Mr. Saarinen.
 Mr. Morse is hoping his project can help return JFK to its glory days of high style and sophistication when it ushered in the Jet Age. The airport, which served a record 61 million passengers in 2018, is in the early stages of a $13 billion overhaul.
 “It set the standard,” Mr. Morse said. “And we want it to set the standard again as the sexiest airport in the world.”
—Paul Berger contributed to this article.

A rendering of a room at the TWA Hotel.



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