MAKE YOUR­SELF AT HOME

No longer just ‘ho­tel al­ter­na­tives,’ ser­viced apart­ments are re­defin­ing them­selves as ‘flex­i­ble life­style stays’

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - WORDS TAMSIN COCK S&HARVE Y CHIPKIN

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.”

HOME WORK

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.

SHARED EX­PO­SURE

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

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