AT HOME ABROAD
Today’s serviced residence brands are offering more lifestyle and luxury choices to fit evolving travel trends, writes Valerian Ho
Serviced residences are making good on their “home away from home” promise, with a range of lifestyle, social and wellness options to make guests comfortable
Serviced apartments have always been a good choice for long-stay business guests or relocating families: there’s more space, cosy living areas to ward off homesickness, and kitchens that offer independence. For the regular business traveller, however, the convenience and luxury of hotel facilities often wins.
But changing trends and a new generation of travellers are shaking up the market. New entrants like Airbnb, while grabbing a slice of the pie, have also opened up the concept of apartment stays to a new demographic – suddenly it’s not just feasible, it’s cool.
Serviced residence operators have also been busy reinventing themselves, updating their offerings to court a more diverse audience of millennials, leisure travellers and business travellers on short hops.
Livin’ la vida local
A key differentiator for serviced apartments is still that “residential” appeal – but in a more modern sense. Many brands have realised they are well positioned to expand the clichéd “home away from home” concept, and take advantage of another hot travel trend: offering enriching, local experiences. After all, what’s more homely than getting to know your neighbours and local area?
Shama, a Hong Kong brand acquired by Onyx Hospitality in 2010, offers a lifestyle programme called
“no boundaries”, which aims to help tenants “fast-track their social lives and assimilate easily into their new locality, so that they can live like a local”.
Communications manager for North Asia, Yvonna Law, explains: “Every month, each property will arrange interesting activities for tenants to participate in. Sometimes it will be just one property, to allow tenants to make new friends and expand their social lives whilst enjoying the activity itself.
“For example, we held a cooking demonstration at Shama Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, using home-grown herbs to give guests a taste of urban rooftop harvesting and cooking. Other activities we’ve arranged in the past include yoga sessions, latté art workshops, barbecue parties, meal box delivery for the elderly and farmer’s market visits.”
The programme, which extends to Shama’s residences in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Bangkok, also offers membership at private clubs and fitness centres, discounts at the area’s trendiest restaurants and shops, plus local tips on hidden gems and “hood tours” to familiarise guests with their immediate area.
Ascott’s “Ascott Lifestyle” programme also offers a selection of curated experiences that range from customised tours of the city, to local handicraft workshops, language lessons and cooking classes.
“Ascott is always looking for new ways to delight our guests through unique and memorable experiences,” says Anthony Khoo, Ascott’s senior vice president of brand and marketing.“Our staff have a wealth of local insights and are able to recommend off-the-beatentrack experiences that are not found in commercial tourist guides.”
Guests staying at an Ascott property in Tokyo, for example, can sign up for the “Ninja Workshop” cultural experience (around US$128 per person), where they dress in traditional doji (ninja training uniform), copy fighting techniques from the era of feudal warriors, and study kujikiri (meditation). Other options include dining excursions, sumo experiences and tickets to Disneyland.
The fittest path to inner peace
Serviced residence providers are also incorporating other popular trends sweeping the travel industry. Frasers Hospitality Group has put a major focus on wellness within its brands.
“We recognise that our brands and product offerings need to offer differentiated travel experiences for today’s travellers,” says Choe Peng Sum, the group’s CEO.“Every apartment has been carefully designed with guests’ wellbeing in mind, to create a sanctuary to relax and recharge.”
The newly opened North Park Place (January 2017) in Thailand is a prime example. Situated within the world-class Rajpruek Golf Course, residents can unwind with a wide range of recreational facilities, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, steam and sauna facilities, a fitness centre with a studio for aerobics and yoga, badminton courts, bowling lanes and golf simulators.
On a smaller scale, a green theme runs throughout Modena by Fraser Bangkok, with an on-site herb garden and a potted plant in each room for residents to take care of during their stay.
At Gateway Hong Kong, a similar focus on leisure facilities has been addressed; residents have access to a superb clubhouse with a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, plus a huge gym with specialist exercise rooms. Meanwhile, at Somerset Park Suanplu Bangkok the facilities even extend to include an on-site spa.
Another undeniable force sweeping the industry is, of course, the millennials. Ascott is targeting this group directly with the launch of its Lyf brand (pronounced “life”).
The new brand will be tailored for – and managed by – millennials (known as “Lyf Guards”), with the aim of offering a more community-based experience that connects guests with other like-minded travellers. Some of its planned activities include innovation talks, and “hackathons” (large-scale computer programming gatherings) with local start-up accelerators.
Ascott’s CEO, Lee Chee Koon, says that, “Millennials already form a quarter of Ascott’s customers and this segment is poised to grow exponentially. Lyf is a unique accommodation tailored for this demographic, including ‘technopreneurs’ (technology entrepreneurs), start-ups and individuals from the music, media and fashion industries.”
At present, the concept is still in the testing stage, (with a “living lab” in Singapore gathering feedback), but Ascott has announced the first of the new brand will be the 112-unit Lyf Wu Tong Island Shenzhen, which will open in the first half of 2018.
This will be followed by the 120-unit Lyf DDA Dalian, scheduled to open at the end 2018, while a 240unit Lyf Farrer Park Singapore is slated to open in 2021. Ascott aims to have approximately 10,000 units under the Lyf brand globally by 2020.
Raising the bar
While some serviced residence providers capitalise on that which distinguishes them, for others blurring the boundaries is the name of the game. On a practical level, the range of facilities and services provided by a hotel is hard for short-term business travellers to give up – think daily housekeeping, in-house restaurants, meeting facilities, etc.
It is these concerns that Oakwood Worldwide sought to address with the top-end Oakwood Premier brand, which is “designed to give sophisticated travellers a relaxing home, with all the luxuries of a hotel”.
The latest Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore recently opened in June. “The OUE Downtown mixeduse development is the perfect location for us to introduce the Oakwood Premier brand to Singapore’s discerning international travellers,” says Dean Schreiber, managing director of Oakwood Asia-Pacific. “With impressive dining, vast retail and smart corporate facilities on site, we’re excited to connect our guests to the finest new offering in Singapore’s downtown area.”
The property offers a range of premium facilities, including an outdoor infinity pool and Jacuzzi, a spacious fitness centre, contemporary lobby bar, outdoor barbecue, executive club and boardroom, residents’ lounge and Se7enth restaurant – all managed by Oakwood.
The same blurring can be seen on the flip side of the coin, with many hotel brands including Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton branching into the serviced apartment arena – proving there is strong demand for the concept of a more homely stay but with hotel standards.
Launched in 2012, Hyatt House is another example of an extended-stay hotel model that only arrived in Asia last year with the Hyatt House Shenzhen Airport. Featuring contemporary studio, one- and two-bedroom suites, the residence also boasts social amenities and services such as indoor and outdoor social spaces, a lounge with adjacent H bar and happy hour.
Addressing availability issues
One of the key drawbacks for serviced residences is simply availability: compared to hotel beds, serviced apartments only offer a tiny proportion of any given city’s total room inventory. However, the industry is responding to this, with all brands posting ambitious expansion plans particularly across Asia and China in the next few years.
With that in mind, following is a by no means exhaustive list of recent openings, upgrades and upcoming properties...