Utilitarian furnishings, no-frills beds, the roar of planes - these are some common perceptions of airport hotels.
But one look at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport hotel quickly dispels such images. The nine-storey, 320-room hotel surrounded by palm trees and bougainvillea was named World's Best Airport Hotel and Best Airport Hotel in Asia by London-based Skytrax, a global source of airline ratings and reviews.
And for good reason. With landscaped gardens, a nature-themed decor and clean, comfortable rooms filled with natural light, there is nothing dodgy about the hotel. It has been listed in the world's top 10 airport hotels since 2012, but this is the first time it has nabbed the top spot.
Mr Sunshine Wong, general manager of Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, says the award could not have come at a better time for the hotel, which opened in 2008 and will increase its room count by 243 rooms with the opening of a new wing next year.
The awards, which started in 1999, were decided by votes from 1.56 million airport hotel guests, representing 65 nationalities. Votes are based on their guest experience, including hotel service standards, cleanliness, comfort of rooms and accessibility of the hotel from the airport terminal.
Five of the world's top 10 airport hotels are in Asia. Other than Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, the former No. 1 Regal Airport Hong Kong is at No. 2, Pullman Guangzhou Airport at No. 4, Novotel Citygate Hong Kong at No. 8 and Langham Place Beijing at No. 9.
French hotel group Accor, whose brands include Novotel, Sofitel and Pullman hotels, had the strongest presence in the Skytrax awards, with seven hotels listed across five continents and three hotels in the world's top 10 ranking.
Mr Graham Wilson, chief marketing and distribution officer of Accor Asia Pacific, attributes the group's success to understanding the requirements of airport hotel guests. These include a convenient location, comfortable beds, soundproofed rooms and blackout curtains. "Airport hotels have to be able to provide services around the clock and relaxing public spaces where guests can unwind after a long flight," he says.
Swimming pools, 24-hour gyms and full-service spas are all necessities at top-notch airport hotels, as is the ability for travellers to check in at any time.
For example, at the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, guests have their rooms for 24 hours no matter when they arrive and the complimentary breakfast can be changed to buffet lunch or dinner, depending on their flight schedules.
Increasingly, business facilities are becoming must-haves. Some executives fly to a city and stay in an airport hotel where they hold their meetings, so additional amenities such as a full-service business centre, international powerpoints and high-speed Wi-Fi are important.
Day rates for guests with long layovers during daytime hours are also key to attracting guests, who check in to shower, freshen up and catch some sleep before continuing on their journey.
But the mark of a great airport hotel is when guests choose to stay there for reasons other than transit.
For instance, the Movenpick Hotel Bahrain is a favourite destination for local and expatriate residents looking for a night out or a great brunch. The hotel's location on the Arad Bay lagoon and park makes it a hit with families too.
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport is also frequented by staycationers such as Mr Mark Chua, 26, a management consultant, who has stayed at the hotel four times since the beginning of last year. He enjoys spending time at the hotel because of its location away from the city centre.
"The hotel is a real oasis," he says. "I like the views of the airport's runway and some of the rooms open up to a view of the swimming pool, which is beautiful with a nice garden," he says.
It compares favourably with other airport hotels he has stayed at, such as the Regal Airport Hong Kong, which he found quite basic. "Because the hotel serves a captive market, it feels like it keeps its decor basic because people who need to will stay there anyway. At the Regal Airport Hong Kong, nothing was bad, but nothing impressed me. The Crowne Plaza Changi Airport is my benchmark."
BEST IN ASIA: CROWNE PLAZA CHANGI AIRPORT
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport hotel has beaten Regal Airport Hong Kong hotel to the No. 1 spot, both as best airport hotel in Asia and world's best airport hotel.
This is the first time Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has won these awards, though it has been among Asia's top five and the world's top 10 for the past three years.
Directly connected to Changi Airport's terminals, the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport is a convenient rest stop for transit passengers on long-haul flights connecting Asia with Europe, Australia and North America, many of which begin and end in Changi Airport.
It is connected to Terminal 3 via a fully covered, air-conditioned linkbridge, to Terminal 2 by a mezzanine linkbridge and Terminal 1 by Skytrain, which is a five-minute walk from the hotel.
Geared towards business and transit passengers, Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has a range of facilities and amenities. Its business centre is open 24 hours a day on weekdays, for example.
The on-site spa, open daily from noon to 9.30pm, offers relaxing treatments including paraffin hand treatments, therapy baths, neck and foot reflexology, facials and body scrubs.
Visitors can also unwind by the landscaped outdoor pool on level three, with views of the airport's control tower.
Those with energy to burn can visit the hotel's 24-hour fitness centre or check out nearby recreational activities such as bowling, fishing, water skiing, rockwall climbing and horseback riding, which can be arranged via the concierge.
The buffet and a la carte restaurant Azur serves an extensive range of Asian and Western cuisine. Guests can also eat at Imperial Treasure's fine-dining Cantonese cuisine.
The hotel's bar '75 on the second floor is designed to meet the varied needs of travellers, from curved hideaways to an entertainment zone with a pool table to an area for sports fans to watch sports events live on the big screen.
The hotel's 320 soundproofed rooms and Sleep Advantage Programme ensure guests rest comfortably. The sleep programme includes dedicated quiet zones in the hotel and amenities, such as an aromatherapy kit with pure essential oils and podcasts from sleep specialist Chris Idzikowski.
The average daily room rate is about $320 a night and the hotel has day-use rooms available from 11am to 7pm for about $180.
BEST IN CHINA: PULLMAN GUANGZHOU
The Pullman Guangzhou hotel, situated within the Guangzhou Baiyou Airport, won enough votes to reach the No. 4 spot on the world's best airport hotels list this year - its first time in the top 10 - and climbed to best airport hotel in China, after being in third place last year.
A minute's walk from the international departure hall, the hotel features 460 soundproofed rooms with a soak bath, a rainshower head, free Wi-Fi, a self check-in kiosk for domestic flights in the lobby and simultaneous flight information display in the lobby and on an in-room TV channel.
Another 119 rooms and a 1,500 sq m grand ballroom will be added by year-end.
Between flights, guests can stretch out on an in-room yoga mat or swim a few laps in the 25m outdoor pool.
The Pullman also offers a fitness centre, outdoor tennis and basketball courts and a spa which offers foot reflexology and anti- stress and traditional Chinese massages.
It costs about US$116 (S$159) a night for a room or US$81 for a day room, which includes access to the fitness centre, outdoor sporting facilities, pool and spa.
The hotel is a 30-minute subway ride from the city centre, but with 10 meeting rooms and three diverse restaurants - the 24-hour U8 Action Chinese restaurant; Tianyuan Chinese Restaurant, which serves traditional Chinese and Cantonese dishes; and RIN Teppanyaki - travellers do not have to go far to meet their business needs.
Connectivity is of prime importance at Pullman Guangzhou, which offers high- speed, mobile Internet access throughout the hotel.
BEST IN EUROPE: HILTON MUNICH AIRPORT
Though the Hilton Munich Airport hotel opened only in January, it has started strongly on Skytrax World's Best Airport Awards, winning the Best Airport Hotel in Europe and third in the world.
This is, in part, because the Hilton brand has a long history in airport hotels. Hilton is said to have pioneered the concept by opening the San Francisco Airport Hilton in 1963 and now has more than 50 airport properties around the world.
Last year, the Hilton Frankfurt Airport was Skytrax's best airport hotel in Europe and Kempinski Munich Airport hotel was No. 2. Now the Hilton Munich has taken over from Kempinski and supplanted its Frankfurt hotel at the top.
Hilton Munich is the only hotel which provides direct access to the airport, located between terminals one and two.
Aimed at business travellers and the more than 40 million people who transit through Munich Airport each year, it boasts 30 meeting rooms, including a glass atrium with reception space for 1,000 people, a 24-hour business centre, a 17m heated indoor swimming pool, a sauna, a steam bath and a fitness area.
It has 389 rooms and 160 more will be added when the hotel completes an extension by 2017. Rooms cost about €200 (S$299) a night.
BEST IN AUSTRALIA/ PACIFIC: STAMFORD PLAZA SYDNEY AIRPORT
Voted the best airport hotel in Australia/Pacific since 2012, the Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport hotel ticks all the boxes for convenience. It is located across from the airport's domestic terminal and a short drive from the international terminal which guests can reach via a shuttle service for A$6.50 (S$6.96) a person each way.
Guests can play a round at the Lakes Golf Club down the road. Or they can take a 15-minute drive to Sydney's harbour and central business district.
The hotel serves high tea daily from 3 to 6pm and guests can dine at one of its three restaurants and laid-back bars.
Head to the roof deck for views of Botany bay and the city and take a dip in the outdoor rooftop lap pool. The hotel also has a gym, a sauna, a jacuzzi and a 24- hour concierge.
Its 314 rooms have 8mm-thick windows to ensure a good night's sleep despite passing planes. The average nightly rate is A$200 and guests can use rooms from 10am to 5pm for 10 per cent off the best available rate.
BEST IN THE MIDDLE EAST: MOVENPICK HOTEL BAHRAIN
Few airport hotels attract non-airport guests, but with its five-star amenities, peaceful views of the Arad Bay lagoon and the Bahrain City Skyline and an awardwinning brunch, the Movenpick Hotel Bahrain combines the comfort and seclusion of a holiday retreat with a proximity to the airport that busy travellers need.
A five-minute walk or a one-minute drive from the airport, the hotel sits on the banks of the naturally protected Arad Bay lagoon, a 15-minute drive away from the city.
In winter, guests can sit on the hotel terrace with views of the bay and migrating flamingoes which flock there. In summer, guests can enjoy a dip in the infinity pool and shisha at the Palms Pool & Bar.
On Fridays, the hotel buzzes with Bahrain's expatriates and locals who book in advance to partake in the hotel's famous Friday Brunch at Silk Restaurant. Friday brunch is an institution in the kingdom, which is roughly the size of Singapore, and Silk Restaurant's international brunch buffet is regarded as one of the best in town.
Still, the hotel is able to cater to the jet- lagged business traveller, with 106 soundproofed rooms, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour in-room dining and a 24-hour business centre.
Room rates start from US$225 (S$308). Guests in need of a day room can use the hotel's rooms and facilities from 9am to 6pm at a starting rate of US$160, which includes a stay in a superior room, complimentary Wi-Fi and use of the fitness centre and infinity swimming pool.
The hotel also recently opened a luxurious, European-style Rimal Spa, which features 12 treatment rooms and two traditional Turkish hammam suites with their own steam rooms and heated wet tables, a unique treat in the region.
This year is the hotel's second time on the Skytrax best airport hotel list. It was ranked second best hotel in the Middle East last year.
This is the first time it has reached the No. 1 spot and made it into the world's top 10.
BEST IN NORTH AMERICA: FAIRMONT VANCOUVER AIRPORT
A hotel located directly above the US departures terminal, a two-minute walk from the luggage carousels, does not immediately conjure up romance.
Yet, with floor-to-ceiling views of the Vancouver waterfront and the snow- capped peaks of the North Shore Mountains, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel manages to provide its guests with a unique sense of escape, luxury and convenience.
Voted the No. 1 airport hotel in North America for four of the five years Skytrax has held the hotel category and rated the sixth best airport hotel in the world this year, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport is clearly a traveller favourite.
It offers 392 fully soundproofed rooms, award-winning cuisine in the Globe@YVR Restaurant and a day spa where guests can soothe their jetlag with more than 130 treatments.
A fully serviced gym includes a mechanised three-lane lap pool in which guests swim against a selfadjusted current; a whirlpool; and saunas.
Visitors can watch the activity on the tarmac from the popular Jetside Bar, where travellers should try the Fairmont Honey Lager. Local brewery Whistler Brewing Company makes the hotel's signature beer with the hotel's home-grown honey.
Travellers can also enjoy the Fairmont's tradition of afternoon tea, served daily from 2 to 4.30pm.
Other hotel amenities include airline check-in for major carriers in the lobby, a 24-hour business centre and wireless Internet access.
For travellers on long layovers, the hotel offers a designated quiet zone. This noise-free zone has no bellmen, housekeeping or room service, so it is perfect for tired travellers with confused body clocks.
Day rooms are available in the quiet zone from 8am to 8pm for C$99 (S$109), for a minimum of four hours.
Each additional hour costs C$20, up to a maximum of eight hours, which costs C$179 plus taxes.
A night's accommodation in the hotel starts at C$229.
BEST IN SOUTH AMERICA: SAO PAULO AIRPORT MARRIOTT HOTEL
When the Sao Paulo Airport hotel was opened by the Deville Hotel Chain in 1993, it was Brazil's first luxury hotel near an airport.
Since the Marriott took over in 2001, the Sao Paulo Airport Marriott Hotel has been focused on meeting the demanding 24-hour needs of travellers who work non-stop.
It seems to be meeting their needs well because this is the fourth year in a row that the hotel has won the Skytrax Best Airport Hotel in South America award.
The 316-room hotel aims to provide a smooth transition between flights, work, relaxation and socialisation through its use of large multipurpose rooms and business facilities, including a boardroom and 16 meeting rooms.
For travellers looking for leisure, the Atrium Bar features live music at night and a Brazilian cocktail happy hour where guests can sip on caipirinhas. It is Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaca - a spirit made from distilled sugarcane juice - sugar and lime.
Hungry travellers can enjoy an international buffet at Cafe Deville or take a short drive to the Churrascaria do Bosque Bar-B-Q less than 10km down the road for authentic Brazilian barbecue.
The hotel also offers a convenience store; a business centre; a beauty parlour; a fully equipped fitness centre with pilates and indoor cross-training facilities and a personal trainer to advise guests from 6am to 11pm; an outdoor pool; a sauna; massage therapists; and a tennis court.
The average nightly rate is US$215 (S$294) plus tax and includes access to all hotel facilities, complimentary Wi-Fi and a full American breakfast.
Guests who want to freshen up during a shorter layover can book the hotel's day rate, which costs US$150 for a maximum of eight hours.
BEST IN AFRICA: INTERCONTINENTAL JOHANNESBURG O.R. TAMBO AIRPORT HOTEL
The InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport Hotel has won Skytrax's Best Airport Hotel in Africa three years in a row.
Less than 70m from the international arrivals hall and with the Sandton central business district easily accessed by the Gautrain rapid rail system or by car, the hotel is an ideal location for business travellers.
Its features include a full-service business centre, a spa with two steam rooms and a 24-hour gym overlooking the airport's main runway, so guests can watch planes taking off and landing from one of Africa's largest airports in a peaceful, soundproofed setting.
It is not all about work though. From the eighth floor, where the indoor heated swimming pool is located, the hotel offers one of the city's best 360-degree sunset views.
At Quills Bar & Restaurant, guests have the chance to savour South African specialities, such as springbok, kudu, crocodile and warthog game meat, as well as vegetarian and seafood dishes, all paired with some of South Africa's award-winning wines.
The bar offers a range of malt whiskies, wines, cocktails and cigars at all hours. Or guests can relax in the comfort of their bedroom and enjoy 24-hour in-room dining service.
The room rates for the hotel's 138 rooms start at about 3,600 rand (S$410) a night and include Wi-Fi, the morning newspaper and views of the city skyline.