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In San Francisco, Tired Travelers Take a Break

September 24, 2002|BONNIE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At San Francisco International Airport, every phone in every terminal can be hooked up to the Internet via laptop computers, and yet-to-be-released products on the cutting edge of technology can be viewed and tested in a jazzy new showcase room. But it is a break from business that business travelers seem to enjoy most.

"Good food, some music, a restful timeout in one of our quiet rooms--that's what is popular right now," said Jane Sullivan, the airport's marketing manager. "Business travelers still want access to everything they need for work, but they don't want to feel like that's how they have to spend every minute while they're here."

A miniature movie theater called Altitunes in the international terminal, for example, lets passengers watch first-run movies in cushy chairs for free. Around the corner at InMotion Pictures in the United Airlines terminal, they can rent movies and personal players for their trip. Sales there are up 10% this year--an encouraging sign, considering that the number of passengers remains down 11% from last year.

"Concession sales have improved dramatically," Sullivan said. "But it was not looking so great there for a while."

The airport's international terminal, which opened in December 2000, was designed largely to pamper business travelers with its high-tech amenities and upscale restaurants.

But as the economy soured and business travel dropped off, several restaurants closed and retailers fell behind in rent payments. Total concession sales last year declined 2%, with food and beverage sales falling about 7% from 2000.

Sales now are rebounding, and many airport businesses hope to be back on track by year's end. Business travelers, they say, are beginning to spend again--and not just on sushi and high-end golf products.

At the Hairport, a salon in the international terminal, weary business travelers are snapping up $20 shoulder and scalp massages.

Barry Piasanti, a networking engineer from Austin, Texas, who recently had a two-hour layover in San Francisco, said he went to the salon intending to spend $11 for a shower and shave. Instead, he paid about $60 before he emerged, rested, rubbed and polished.

Other quiet spots include an aquarium and nine art galleries, as well as the reflection rooms, which have a well-enforced ban on cell phones, pagers and electronics.

"I should head over there next," Piasanti said. "The way I feel, it seems like the right thing to do."

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