Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is considering building an on-site hotel in place of this employee parking lot at the facility. (Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport)

Upscale hotels with direct access to airport terminals are a growing trend in major cities across the world and the airports in the Washington region have taken notice.

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall and Dulles International airports are each considering building modern hotels that would offer travelers the convenience of walking from their room to the gate. Airport officials say the goal is to provide an amenity that many travelers have come to expect at major international airports.

“We want to provide a true on-airport, high-quality hotel for the benefit of our customers,” Paul J. Wiedefeld, chief executive officer for BWI said in a statement. “A full-service hotel with efficient access to the terminal would offer an important service for travelers.”

Chicago O’Hare, Miami International, and Pittsburgh International are among the U.S. airports that already offer hotels with walking access to the terminals. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is  planning an on-site hotel as part of its $3.6-billion redevelopment of La Guardia Airport’s aging central terminal.

On-airport hotels are popular among travelers who find them convenient for the ability to check out and then walk over to the terminal when they have an early flight. And not only are on-site hotels becoming more popular, but many hotels near and at airports around the globe are reinventing themselves to offer corporate and leisure travelers more luxurious amenities, from fine dining to spas and swimming pools. At some airports, the hotels also are becoming shopping and entertainment hubs.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said travelers want “excellent services, in terms of guestrooms and facilities like restaurants and other amenities and meeting rooms.”

The airport has been studying the on-site hotel idea for years and views the project as a way to build on its success as a growing international airport. BWI is the region’s busiest airport with 22.3 million passengers last year.

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This week BWI invited developers to submit proposals. The airport wants a hotel with 200 to 250 guest rooms, meeting space, an upscale restaurant and other food and bar offering, and possibly other amenities like a swimming pool. Currently there are no hotels located within a reasonable walking distance to the BWI terminal. This conceptual graphic, provided by BWI, shows what the hotel (the gray building with the orange accents) would look like:


The site under consideration is 2.5 acres and currently is being used for employee parking. Dean said the airport would relocate the parking facility if a hotel proposal is approved. Plans are to issue a contract for the hotel development next spring, which could put the opening of a hotel in 2018.

At Dulles, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is still in the very early exploration stage, but officials say they want to hear from the hotel industry and other stakeholders to determine the feasibility of building a hotel on-site.

“We are looking at it not just from a financial sense but from a customer service sense,” MWAA spokesman Christopher Paolino said, noting that the airports authority is receiving comments from stakeholders until Friday. “If we do this, is there a benefit, an opportunity, a need and desire?”

Dulles is looking at three potential sites for hotel development including a 2.6-acre site (shown on the map) that is currently used as employee parking at the east end of the terminal. The other two sites are a little farther from the terminal: a 5.6 site behind a daily garage facing the main terminal, near the future Metro station; and a 13.7-acre lakefront site near the existing Dulles Airport Marriott hotel, which has a lease to operate at Dulles through 2027.


This site offers the opportunity for developing a hotel with access to the terminal at Dulles, officials say. (MWAA)

MWAA’s proposal, however, faces criticism among some in the hospitality industry in Virginia, who say the airport’s declining health has taken a toll on nearby hotels. Over the past decade many domestic flights have shifted from Dulles to Reagan National Airport and fewer people are choosing to fly through Dulles. Last year, 21.6 million passengers flew through Dulles, a significant drop from 27 million in 2005.

“The one fundamental concern I have is that the passenger numbers at Dulles are declining. Flights have been moved from Dulles over to Reagan. The question is do you really have the demand there for another airport hotel?” said Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.

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Last month Mark Carrier, president of B.F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, which owns hotels near Dulles, said it is a challenge to fill rooms near the airport. He said hotel rooms were built with the idea that by now Dulles would have 30 million to 35 million passengers annually.

The airport and nearby hotels also have been affected by a cutback in government travel that disproportionately affects the Washington, D.C. market, Terry said.

“Them being involved in that kind of project does not seem to make sense right now,” he said.”They should focus on how to improve airport traffic.”

But airport officials say they view the potential hotel development as an opportunity to make the airport more attractive to travelers and maintain its competitive advantage.

Jerome L. Davis, MWAA’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, said in a statement that the authority welcomes the “ideas and perspectives of the hospitality industry” as it studies the feasibility of the additional hotel on-site and its weight on market demand and other factors before pursuing the project.

As on-site hotels become an increasingly popular feature of large international airports, Dulles doesn’t want to be left behind, officials said.

“Passengers who travel extensively have come to expect upscale hotels at major international gateway airports, and we intend to do everything we can to provide world-class service and facilities at Dulles,” Davis said.

Unlike BWI’s proposal, which is more advanced in the approval process, it is unclear when or if a Dulles on-airport hotel might come to fruition.