MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME
No longer just ‘hotel alternatives,’ serviced apartments are redefining themselves as ‘flexible lifestyle stays’
Serviced apartments become ‘flexible lifestyle stays’
Awareness, accessibility and adaptability are changing the landscape for the extended stay lodging market. Comparing all kinds of longer term lodging is easier than ever. Booking for products like corporate housing and various extended stay accommodations are transforming to keep up with changing travel patterns and demographics. For serviced apartments, extended stay properties and other long-term counterparts, the big advantage has always been that almost everyone wants more space and a kitchen at the same price as a hotel room. Through shared economy options like Airbnb, millions more travelers have been exposed to the idea of staying in an apartment while on the road.
These are heady times indeed for the extended stay segment. According to hospitality consultants The Highland Group, “Remarkably at this stage in the cycle and with more than 450,000 extended-stay rooms now open, demand growth in 2017 was one of the highest we have ever reported.”
Those numbers are reflected in the success of top brands. Example: Adrian Kurre, global head of Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites by Hilton notes that those two brands, combined with Embassy Suites by Hilton will soon reach a total of 1,000 locations globally.
The growth offers broader choice: classic, “American-style” extended stay as provided by mega-brands like IHG, Hilton and Marriott; serviced apartments now easier to find and book through options like the BridgeStreet and MyKey platforms; or sites like Urbandoor serving as “agnostic” sources of housing.
As awareness of all extended stay products grows, the muddle between extended stay, serviced apartments and corporate housing is becoming less important. It’s becoming clear that, as Sean Worker, CEO of BridgeStreet, says, “They’re all accommodations.”
Typically, a “home environment” has come in the form of a smart, residential-style apartment with DIY facilities, often bolstered with hotel-style services (house cleaning, 24-hour reception, etc.). The idea is that guests can relax in a cozy living room, rustle up some dinner in the kitchen or put on a load of laundry, just as they would if they were at home.
However, with all trends pointing towards greater personalization, serviced apartments are starting to move beyond the perfect “show home” and push the boundaries of how to deliver a customized home-like experience. Material things are no longer enough – now the focus is on intuitive service, helping guests settle in to their environment, creating neighborhood communities and utilizing tech to offer individualized accommodation solutions.
“Travelers are yearning for more unique experiences where profession and adventure come hand in hand,” says Tommy Pao, founder of Hong Kong’s boutique residence Little Tai Hang. “We’re starting to see brands focus more on consumer experiences and invest more time in ensuring consumers’ journeys are unique.”
A space that’s distinctly “you” is what makes a home. Personalized welcome amenities or stocking a fridge with special requests has been happening for a while, but now serviced residences are going a step further.
“At Lanson Place, our guests can basically personalize their ‘new homes’ based on their actual homes, from mattresses, pillows, bed sheets and towels to a special set of cooking utensils they are accustomed to using; we can arrange these prior to arrival,” says Paul Hugentobler, group director of operations for Lanson Place.
Meanwhile, Ascott facilities have been tailored to suit guest preferences. For example, it provides high-quality water purifiers and Toto Washlets for Japanese guests, and VPN network services for European and American guests. Ascott’s new millennial brand Lyf ups the ante again, with guests encouraged to move the furniture around. Apartments even come with doors that can be flipped into ping-pong tables and dining tables that pull apart into work desks.
Now that almost everybody has heard of Airbnb, the option of staying in an apartment has become part of everyday life. As Robin Spindel, vice president-marketing for Furnished Quarters, puts it, “The shared economy has affected us by giving people more exposure and understanding of the desire, especially by seasoned travelers, to want to be in a larger space and prepare their own meals.”
And extended stay properties are moving into some of the same locations as shared economy options. What was once a suburban product, Kurre says, is expanding quickly to urban “surban” and coastal markets. Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites now have more than 30 hotels in urban locations with more coming soon in Austin, Chicago and Nashville.
Similarly, Diane Mayer, vice president and global brand manager for Residence Inn by Marriott, Towne-
Serviced apartments are starting to deliver a customized home-like experience
Place Suites by Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments and Protea Hotels by Marriott, says those brands are responding to the demand by opening more properties in city-center, urban locations.
At Airbnb itself, Jenny Bulgrin, market manager, corporate mobility, says, “We know when people take extended work trips they want to stay in neighborhoods rather than in hotels/tourist districts. We're seeing a trend where relocating employees stay in an Airbnb before moving into their permanent home.”
EXPLORING THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Peppering your new “home” with personal knick-knacks, ordering your favorite bedding or rearranging furniture can certainly help to personalize things – but this is just the start.
The so-called ‘experiential’ revolution has transformed the hospitality industry, turning the room into a base for guests to explore their neighborhood. Now extended stay and even corporate housing segments are being swept up in the tide. Residence Inn by Marriott has introduced Residence Inn Mix, which gives guests the opportunity to experience interesting aspects of the local area, socialize and network without leaving the hotel. The program, offered three nights a week, features beer and wine tastings and other events.
Another tactic employed by purveyors of serviced apartments is introducing guests to their local neighborhood and creating a sense of community. For example, the WOW walks at Lanson Place help guests get a better understanding of their new city and community. “During this walk, our guest service team take guests on a personal tour around the neighborhood to explore places they will find essential during their stay, such as the nearest metro station and the local food markets so that they know what it’s like to live like a local and blend in to the community,” says Hugentobler.
At trendy boutique property Little Tai Hang, the colorful neighborhood itself is a major focus, and a partnership with local tour guide company HoHoGo lets guests explore the quirky area. Little Tai Hang has also recently launched The Hang Space – a new event venue that allows their guests to take part in local events, special exhibitions and happenings.
At global serviced apartment provider Frasers Hospitality, the focus on what’s happening in the neighborhood means each property has an entire team dedicated to the activity calendar, with everything from language classes to movie outings and off-the-beaten-track cycling adventures. To further deepen the connection with the local community, Frasers also focuses on opportunities for guests to “give back” during their stays by working with disadvantaged children or getting involved with events championing local artistic talent.
The future looks bright for every manner of extended stay, whether it be classic brands targeting transients, serviced apartments adapting to new demographics or travelers taking advantage of all their options.
Ultimately, as Fraser CEO Choe Peng Sum says, “Guests no longer want cookie-cutter experiences. It’s become more than just generous, well-designed living spaces – it’s about that personalized service to exceed the expectations of our guests and make their stays exceedingly memorable.”
"When people take extended work trips they want to stay in neighborhoods”
FROM TOP: Furnished Quarters; Ascott IFC Guangzhou Premier living room; and Little Tai Hang
ABOVE: Homewood Suites