AT HOME ABROAD

To­day’s ser­viced res­i­dence brands are of­fer­ing more life­style and lux­ury choices to fit evolv­ing travel trends, writes Va­le­rian Ho

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

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.

Gen­er­a­tional shift

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...

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