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Airport Offices, Conference and Meeting Places – what to expect

 

Fraport's the Squaire mixed-use development

With the advent of the aerotropolis many business people are expressing an interest in office and conference accommodation at airports. Terms bandied about include serviced offices, turnkey premises and virtual office. But how close to the airport can you get?

As it turns out pretty close, but often with no cigar. When searching across the globe for serviced office accommodation at airports the directories, internet or otherwise are all smoke and mirrors. A cursory scan of office space at airports on Google or Yahoo gives you blatant statements like “Serviced Office at Heathrow” or “Turnkey facilities at O R Tambo.” With further investigation you discover that there is a helpful little map with direction on how to get to the said facilities from the airport – not in the airport!

images (1)So don’t be deceived you may not be able to pick up your luggage and push it to your office at the airport. What you can do is take a short taxi or shuttle ride to one of numerous facilities offered close to airports. Of course this isn’t new by any means but the prevalence of ‘designer’ type offices specialising in accommodating ‘on-the-hop’ business people who want to slip in and out to have a meeting with clients in meeting facilities or a conference room, is on the increase.

Having said that there are many airports that do offer virtual offices in the actual airport. Schiphol Airport, Europe’s 4th busiest, is located in Amsterdam. For $130 a month you can have the key to a very basic but functioning office with electricity, shared ablutions, Wi-Fi and a desk.  These seem to be typical.

download (1)So why are serviced office facilities necessary? Minimal capital outlay: In the serviced office, you have the choice of bringing your own furniture and office equipment or renting these items from your landlord. According to serviced office providers, the cost of using a serviced office, with or without conference facilities, is approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of setting up and staffing a comparable conventional office. In a Virtual office you bring nothing at all, just your key and WiFi is mandatory.

So what is a Turnkey or Virtual operation? When you rent a serviced office, you don’t have to waste your time designing an office, installing electric and phone lines, recruiting staff, and taking care of all those other details. With a turnkey you make one call today and have a fully functioning office tomorrow.

The difference with these facilities at an aerotropolis is that your facilities are designed for ease of use from the airport and the airport is seen as the centre of the universe with all its tentacles slipping seamlessly out from it into the world around it. Again there is nothing new in this as hotels and conference facilities have been sidling up to airports for years. But the relationship has now become somewhat symbiotic.

Looking more at the conference facilities in particular most hotels either point you to facilities adjacent to or within close proximity to the airport. Like offices most advertised facilities for airport conference rooms are actually not at the airport itself, in fact the advertisements on the internet are particularly misleading in this regard.

imagesWhere there are conference facilities and meeting rooms at airports, the model, if there is one, is one of outsourcing. Looking at South Africa as an example: The O R Tambo International Airport has the Intercontinental Sun running upmarket and fully serviced conference and meeting facilities. Boasting seven boardrooms and two conference rooms, facilities cater for between 10 and 100 delegates and can accommodate up to 140 guests for cocktail functions in the private Savuti Restaurant.

Looking abroad, Munich Airport has the Kempinski Airport Hotel located at the centre of the airport beside the terminals. The Munich Airport Academy and training centre specialises in conference facilities and meeting places for business people right beside the airport.

The two above examples seem typical of many airports that seem to have handed over the conference model to the professionals

Airport Meeting Places is big business. There are organisations like Alliance Virtual offices. This international network offers both turnkey facilities and meeting rooms for across the globe. Many of these in airports. Typically these networks’ facilities offer:download

  • Wi-Fi Internet: Most locations will offer wireless internet access for free, or for a minimal charge.
  • They promise “Friendly welcome”: All venues are staffed by a professional team who will be ready and waiting to receive you and your guests. Many venues will also offer additional receptionist support such as administrative services.
  • Presentation facilities: Most meeting room venues will have presentation facilities on offer such as screens, projectors, wide-screen monitors and whiteboards.
  • Video conferencing: Many venues now have video or audio conferencing capabilities, perfect for long-distance meetings with remote teams or board members.

Airports and aerotropolis business culture is more than ever focused on the world of networking and connecting people using facilities that are both hospitable and convenient. The important thing is if you really want to meet at an airport make sure the facilities you require are actually at the airport.

Aerotropolis KZN – putting King Shaka on the World Stage.

King Shaka departures Hall - courtesy Marc Forest

King Shaka departures Hall – courtesy Marc Forest

The Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition for 2013 has come and gone at the end of last month where Dube Tradeport Corporation unveiled plans for Aerotropolis: KZN.  South Africa’s bigger player on this field, O R Thambo International, had to share some of the limelight as ambitious plans were unveiled for South Africa’s third biggest airport.

Despite the fact that the term aerotropolis has its origins in the late 1930’s and mainstreamed in 2000 by academic and air commerce expert  Dr. John D. Kasarda, one may be forgiven for a lack of familiarity with the word. One definition has it as: an urban plan in which the layout, infrastructure, and economy is centred on an airport, existing as an airport city. In September 2011, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality officially announced its intention to transform the municipality into a functioning Aerotropolis with OR Thambo at its hub sending local real estate soaring.

The logic behind the Aerotropolis concept is that airports offer connectivity to suppliers and customers across the globe. Many of the businesses around airports can often be more dependent on distant suppliers or customers than on those locally. The aerotropolis encompasses a range of commercial facilities supporting both aviation-linked businesses and the millions of air travellers who pass through the airport annually.

Growing numbers of firms and service providers are gathering around airports. The aerotropolis is emerging as strategic urban destination where visitors and locals can conduct business, network, shop, even  eat, sleep and play with no need to travel more than a quarter of an hour from the airport. With 7.5 million passengers annually, Aerotropolis KZN plans to be one such destination and has already set its course.

Dube Trade Port

Dube Trade Port

Aerotropolis:KZN – the heart of which is Dube TradePort and King Shaka International Airport  is considered to be becoming a major trade and business hub in Sub-Saharan Africa right on the doorstep of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest city and primary manufacturing centre, Durban.

What surfaces here is a highly competitive business operating environment, with all the necessary infrastructure in place. All of which gives the area an advantage in accelerating business efficiencies and enhancing the global supply chain. All this potentially sending local commercial property skyrocketing.

The Aerotropolis:KZN  website stipulates that there is a 60-year Master Plan and expresses the belief that airport city is “poised to become South Africa’s business gateway to South Africa, Southern Africa… and the world.” Admittedly there are some components that set Aerotropolis: KZN apart, arguably affording it a competitive advantage over other South African and African destinations.

  • It is a freight-orientated development with world-class cargo facilities, managed by a single handler and considered the most secure in Africa;
  • It is being purpose-built, in particular that which is within a radius of 7,5km of Dube TradePort;
  • It seems  that it is one of few such developments around the world utilising a Greenfield site, with an additional 32 000 acres, ready for planning and development.

Given its unique location between two of Africa’s major seaports of – Durban and Richards Bay – its 32 000-acre ‘Greenfield’ site and the longest airport runway at sea-level in South Africa  (3.7km), capable of accommodating the largest aircraft in the world, King Shaka made its presence felt at the Airport Cities conference.

Finally the development provides for public and private cooperation, co-ordination and alignment with Government planning, ensuring both direct and indirect involvement in its development and growth by not only the Provincial Government, but also attendant Local Government structures, organised business and the private sector.

It’s worth noting that such a strong public-private relationship is rare in the growth of aerotropolis developments anywhere else in the world.

Dube logistics - Ready to Roll

Dube logistics – Ready to Roll

A criticism levelled at aerotropolises in general has been the belief that there is an overstating of the number and types of goods that travel by air. While many types of high-value goods, like electronics, tend to travel by air, larger, bulkier items like cars and grain do not. Those who point this out suggest that the relationship between seaports, airports, and rail facilities should be studied in more depth.

“Airports will shape economic activity and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th, and seaports in the 18th.” So Dr John Kasarda, says.

Whatever the case may be, Aerotropolis KZN seems very much on track with private sector and government backing. The knock-on effect on local commercial property is worth watching. It’s clear that King Shaka will be the spear in the hand of the people of Kwazulu-Natal in the foreseeable future.