Asian airports add amenities to help stopovers fly by


Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 12

With pet hotels, oxygen bars, wireless connections, massage centers and golf courses, Asia's rapidly modernizing airports are being transformed from standard transit areas into oases of luxury and entertainment.

Airports across the region are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrading and expanding their facilities, with passenger comforts and business facilities increasingly being seen as a lucrative source of extra revenue.

"Our concept is to pamper the passenger," said Goh Yong Long, director of public relations for the Civil Aviation of Authority of Singapore, which runs the city-state's famously efficient Changi Airport.

"Our mission is to create enough activities for passengers to wish they had more time here, that they feel they don't have enough time," Goh said.

Goh said that passengers spend on average between two and four hours in transit at Changi. And, like many of Asia's other big airports, it would indeed be tough to take advantage of all its facilities in that time.

Changi offers a dizzying array of manicure, massage and beauty centers, with one created in a Balinese-style setting, complete with a path of specially placed pebbles to relax the feet as customers walk over it.


At Changi's "premium lounge," five hours of access costs S$30 (US$17.50) and includes access to a comfortable lounge overlooking a sunflower garden, food and drinks, a gym and international newspapers. For half that amount, premium lounge guests can breathe at an "oxygen bar" for 10 minutes.

"Facilities like this are normally only available for first-class passengers" in the US, said Tara Ramachandra, 21, last week as she relaxed in the premium lounge during a seven-hour stopover on her way from San Francisco to New Delhi.

For cyber-addicts, Changi also has 200 computers with free Internet access, while credit card-accessed wireless connectivity was extended this year to cover the entire airport.

In Japan, a new hotel for dogs and cats at the Kansai International Airport offers perhaps the most striking example of the lengths operators are now willing to go to in order to please passengers.

The 24-hour hotel, which opened in April, can accommodate up to 40 dogs and cats, with rates ranging between US$48 and US$95 a day depending on the size and breed of the pet.

At the US$7 billion Central Japan International Airport, which is due to open in February next year near Nagoya, a highlight for passengers will be a Japanese hot spa bath, promoted as a world first for airports.

"The spa bath will feature glass walls facing the runway and the Ise Bay, so that bathers can enjoy the spectacle of aircraft taking off and landing against a backdrop of the sun setting over the bay," the Japan National Tourist Organization says on its Web site.

Similar grand plans of luxury are being planned for Bangkok's US$5 billion Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is due to be completed a year from September.

In a country famous for its spas and massages, Suvarnabhumi will offer full spa treatments as well as a 500-room, four-star hotel.

another hub

"We would like this airport to be the hub of Asian travel, and we are turning the area into a new city," said an official from the airport's builders, the New Bangkok International Airport Co.

Seoul's Incheon International Airport, which opened in 2001 and is being expanded, is also increasingly catering to non-essential travel needs with such facilities as a golf course that is currently under construction.

In Seoul, as everywhere in Asia, the higher-end passenger services market is fast becoming a much-needed source of revenue in an increasingly competitive airport arena.

"We are trying to use the space efficiently to accommodate as many commercial facilities as possible, as our revenue depends more and more on that," an Incheon International Airport Corp spokesman said.

Ian Thomas, a senior consultant with the Australian-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said that shops, entertainment facilities, office leasing and other non-aeronautical services have become airports' major source of revenue in the past 10 years.

passengers pay

"Airports traditionally have focused on revenue coming from aeronautical sources [such as airline landing fees and passenger service charges]," Thomas said.

"But the competition between airports, particularly the major hubs, has seen those charges drop, so they have been forced to look to increase their revenue base elsewhere," he said.

Reflecting the regional trend, Goh said 60 percent of the Singapore airport's revenue came from non-aeronautical services, up from 40 percent in 1981.

"The philosophy is to maximize commercial revenue to keep costs for airlines low," he said.

"You are finding smaller airports are becoming busier and busier, so these ones are also being upgraded," Thomas said, citing Phuket, Thailand, as an example.