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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on May 14, 2012

Sweet dreams

Tina Walsh finds out more about the customer service benefits and revenue earning potential of ‘sleep cabins’.

Sleep is probably the ultimate health and wellbeing tonic for air travellers, particularly those subject to delays, early morning departures or long scheduled transfers.

However, up until recently, finding a place to snooze at an airport has not been easy, the favoured option for many to be to either curl up on airport seats – despite the armrests – or simply lie on a cold floor with bags as headrests and coats shaped into make shift blankets.

Enter the ‘sleep cabin’ or ‘pod’. These facilities offer passengers a small, private haven in which to rest their weary heads for as little as two hours or for as long as an overnight stay.

And they are often small enough to locate in airport walkways or near the departure gates, so passengers can rest in the knowledge they are only minutes from their plane.

Indeed, a number of airports have already added dedicated sleep units to their amenity list in a bid to become more passenger-friendly, boost non-aeronautical revenue and use space that is otherwise redundant.

Dubai International Airport, for example, introduced ten modular sleep pods last October adjacent to Gate 122 at Terminal 1. Called Snoozecube, each accommodation unit features a full-sized bed, touch screen television, a selection of entertainment and music and high-speed Internet access.

The soundproof pods are also connected to the airport’s flight information system to ensure that amid the rest and relaxation, passengers do not miss their flights. Rates start from AED55 (approximately US$15) per hour and the cubes are staffed 24 hours a day, even offering a wake up call.

They have been particularly popular among transit passengers with shorter layover times and can be used for a minimum of two hours, although one customer with visa problems even stayed for five days!

Snoozecube pays the airport an annual lease figure for the space or a percentage of rent, whichever is greater and clients have ranged from business passengers and army officers to the pilots of Safair.

By 2014, there could be up to 160 Snoozecubes at Dubai International Airport (DXB) if negotiations go according to plan, although the company’s sales and development director, Larry Swann – who claims that Snoozecube pioneered the sleep cabin concept – says this still won’t be enough to cope with the demand.

“I have been booked out every night since the day I opened and it has totally exceeded my expectations,” enthuses Swann. “Our investment has been considerable, but the return will be tenfold within two years of operation and we are well over our budget forecasts.”

He is also in negotiations with a further five airports worldwide, but will expand at DXB before installing the concept in other locations.

Elsewhere, napcabs has installed six cabins at Munich Airport’s Terminal 2. The soundproof-facilities include a bed, multi-media touchscreen with flight information and entertainment options, anti-jet lag lighting and workspace with internet access and power ports.

The cabins guide customers through the booking process from check-in to check-out, via an intuitive software system, so there is no need for an on-site ‘receptionist’, although there are still staff at the airport to handle queries or emergencies.

Rates are charged at €15 per hour between 6am and 10pm and €10 per hour between 10pm and 6am, with a minimum charge of €30. When a customer leaves the unit an automatic email or SMS is generated to the cleaning staff. The units are also operated on a revenue share model with the airport.

Marketing director, Jörg Pohl, comments: “We have been well booked with around one to five customers a day using the cabins. We plan to introduce more napcabs at Munich, across Europe and into South
East Asia.”

Another airport to believe in sleep cabins is Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport, which has a Sleepbox for passengers looking for somewhere comfortable to rest and relax.

Measuring 1.4 metres wide, two metres in length and 2.3 metres in height, Sleepbox’s star feature is a two-metre-long bed made of polymer foam and pulp tissue that changes bed linen automatically.
It also comes with luggage space, a ventilation system, Wi-Fi, electric sockets and an LCD TV.

The model unveiled in Moscow is a ‘hostel’ version of the Sleepbox, which includes an additional bunk bed and fold-up desk.The company plans to have installations at over 100 airports within three years.

“A basic Sleepbox can be installed from as little as €7 a day with no capital outlay or expenditure,” says director, Mark Grainger.

“We believe that they have a return on investment of less than 12 months, however, they can be installed on a rental basis, which means it earns as it is used. No need for Capex and no need to budget for it. Then there is the advertising element that can be earned from designing the boxes in specific colours, which can increase this even further.”

Yotel cabins offer a less portable solution as their point of difference is a bathroom, which by its nature needs a more permanent structure.

To date, three gateways – Amsterdam Schiphol (transit area) and London’s Heathrow (Terminal 4 landside) and Gatwick (South Terminal landside) – boast 135 Yotel cabins between them.

Yotel marketing director, Jo Berrington, explains: “What our customers really want and use is Wi-Fi, a great bed and a great shower. I think it’s difficult to relax if you do not have facilities with a bathroom.”

Heathrow is the busiest site with a 250% occupancy rate as it has huge transfer traffic, which drives day lets and the distance between terminals also means that passengers are often inclined to stay near their departure location.

“We also have a couple of airlines that use us as an arrivals facility for VIPs and first class passengers,” remarks Berrington. “Schiphol is busier in the day than at night because of its transit airside location, and it has occupancy of 160%, whereas Gatwick does less at 130% occupancy, because it has more point to point traffic and more of a UK audience. About 60% of customers pre-book, which tend to be the overnight customers.”

Amsterdam Schiphol’s Horeca (Hotel, Retail, Catering) manager, Manfred Funke, confirms the concept has achieved the occupancy levels that the airport was hoping for when opting to install them.

“There is also a Mercure hotel at the airport and there seems to be a market for both. Passengers at the Yotel can stay for four hours or overnight in a comfortable room, which has been constructed on a very small square footage of space. By putting it on such a small footprint it is possible to offer a lower price than at some of the more traditional hotels,” he says.

As well as looking at a site at Heathrow between terminals 1, 2 and 3, the company is also targeting European hub airports that have a substantial throughput of transit passenger traffic, while in the US the company has already bid for space at New York JFK’s Terminal 5.

In the US, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), the governing body of the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP), recently revealed plans to add Minute Suites to its concessions programme, featuring 14 private suites where passengers can nap, relax or simply conduct business.

MSP will join Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, Philadelphia and Dallas/Fort Worth as the fourth US airport to add such a passenger service. Its chosen location, near Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) Concourse D, will be part of a cluster of concessions that includes spa and salon services. 

Defying the phrase ‘You snooze, you lose’, sleep pods or cabins provide an extra service for passengers and can generate extra revenue for airport operators – a win-win scenario for all.

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