Planners Turn to Airports for Meetings

By Erin Caslavka Deinzer, March 4, 2015

When the 11 members of Public Generating Pool get together for monthly board meetings, they don’t head to a hotel, conference center or company facility. Instead, they save everyone travel headaches by meeting at Sea-Tac Airport.

“Using an airport meeting space allows our attendees to fly in and out on the same day,” says Therese Hampton, executive director and meeting organizer for PGP, an organization of electric utilities in Oregon and Washington. “It avoids the logistical hassles associated with getting a cab or some other form of transportation, and not needing to travel to an off-site location means more time for the actual meeting.”

From Seattle to St. Louis and Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., airports are getting on board with hosting business meetings in conference rooms that can be booked by the day or the hour. For harried travelers, the appeal comes in not having to rush from the airport to a meeting. For planners, there’s the added bonus of not having to coordinate transportation and book hotel rooms for overnight stays.

“Attendees love that they can catch an early morning flight, attend their meeting in the conference center and hop on a late afternoon flight to be home in time for dinner.” —Amy McDonough

Many U.S. airports—Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa and Huntsville, Alabama, among them—are either connected to or within walking distance of hotels. (The Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport has an impressive 42,000 square feet of meeting space.) Others have private event spaces that can be rented out, such as the Aviation Museum & Library at San Francisco International Airport. Reagan National Airport in D.C. has a historic space between terminals overlooking the runway, as well as recently renovated conference rooms.

Hawaii isn’t a destination that springs to mind when for this kind of meeting. Nevertheless, due to its mid-Pacific location, the city sees a fair number of business travelers as part of its robust hospitality industry. Honolulu International Airport’s Interisland Conference Center, located on the seventh floor of the terminal, has four interconnected meeting rooms, which can accommodate 350 people combined.

Amy McDonough, director of sales for the 8,000-sq.-ft. Conference Center at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, says all-inclusive pricing structures are a draw for planners who use airport facilities. The built-in audiovisual equipment in each meeting room is complimentary, as is parking, and staff is on-site all day to assist.

“Attendees love that they can catch an early morning flight, attend their meeting in the conference center and hop on a late afternoon flight to be home in time for dinner,” notes McDonough. The numbers bear witness to the center’s popularity: In 2014, it hosted more than 1,000 meetings.

About two-thirds of Hampton’s PGP attendees fly in for monthly meetings, and the other third are local and drive in, so the location is of benefit to both.

“For an organization like mine, where participants come from different locations, an airport conference center is a highly attractive option.”

One downside to airport meetings, however, is missing out on local culture—one of the most in-demand elements of conferences and events for many attendees (see the feature on page 40 for examples)—unless you count a trip to a local grub spot inside the terminal as going local. It all comes down to if your guests will value their experience or time more.

Don Staley, a former University of Alabama soccer coach, is back in his old stomping grounds as president and CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports.

While they’re ever so important, third-party planners can also be very misunderstood. Get to know them better to see how they're far from a third wheel.

We called on five veteran hospitality professionals for their takes on diversity in the events industry, within and beyond meeting room walls.

Look no further for all the hottest spots to eat, drink, play, shop and more while in the Big Easy. Live like a local with this complete New Orleans guide.

The Latest