Providers across the sector are working hard to speak with one voice and highlight standards
ASAP is working hard to push the serviced apartment sector's cause
"We need a stamp of approval because competition is coming in quickly. If suppliers have not got something to prove their credentials they will lose business"
Serviced apartments are the accommodation sector’s rising star, growing in number and presence worldwide, while more businesses are discovering the benefits they bring their organisations and employees.
The number of apartments worldwide is nearing one million, according to the Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2016/17, and nearly 50% of corporate buyers polled have increased their use of apartments since the previous survey.
With 190 members in 18 countries, ASAP – the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers – is growing in line with the industry and is also extending its influence, first in Europe, with the introduction of its first overseas chapter ASAP Netherlands in October, chaired by Peter Heule, CEO of Short Stay Group; and in December with the launch of the International Serviced Apartment Accreditation Programme (ISAAP) at the December conference.
“We still believe that accreditation of serviced apartments to ensure certain standards is fuelling interest among businesses and promoting growth of the sector. The challenge we have now is to scale it up,” says ASAP’s chief executive James Foice.
“We need that stamp of approval because competition is coming in quickly, especially with big brands like Residence Inn. If suppliers have not got something to prove their credentials, they will lose business,” he says.
Cycas Hospitality, an operator of various extended stay properties in Europe, is a case in point.
“Cycas itself does not need accreditation because the brands it runs are so well franchised and controlled, but the brands see the value of the industry being represented under one banner,” says Foice.
Global accommodation manager for insurance company AIG, Jan Jacobsen, adds: “The accreditation is intended to give buyers confidence. All properties have to be vetted by ASAP or by an industry equivalent. There are problems with approval worldwide, although ISAAP is a step in the right direction.”
Further assurance for buyers comes in the form of the new directive that all members have to be accredited. “It was voluntary at first but now that we have 190 members, they will all be accredited by December 2018,” says James Foice.
Despite this progress, there is still a lack of understanding among corporate buyers of the advantages of serviced apartments for travellers, which include the freedom to cater for themselves, more space, a quieter environment and the ability to live as they do at home. Dual-branded properties add the option of eating on site.
And the message is not getting through to all TMCs either. “A lot of corporate users want to book apartments but the larger firms need to go through their TMCs,” says senior partner account manager for SilverDoor Apartments, Kurtis Murphy. “If it’s a short stay, it is easier for a TMC to book what is on their GDS than try something new. That can be a challenge.”
SilverDoor takes accreditation seriously. “ASAP has an important role in trying to introduce and drive industry standards and what it has already done with their accreditation programme has made huge strides,” he says.
“It also means that we make every effort to view all our leading properties regularly so we can recommend apartments with total certainty; and we do stay in them – a lot.”
ASAP’s next move is to work with organisations that capture guest opinion professionally.
“Elements of our accreditation programme have always had an internet review bias. An assessor can experience one thing but if customers are saying something completely different, that rings alarm bells,” says James Foice.
“We are now looking to endorse that element of the guest experience scientifically. There are many organisations that aggregate consumer opinion through TripAdvisor, booking. com, internet reviews and Google, to provide an impartial opinion and consumers will value that.”
Leading the pack
The association also takes seriously its role as educator and recently ran a course to help operators make Chinese guests feel welcome, with suggested actions such as a few words of Chinese on a website, chopsticks and a rice cooker in kitchens or an app in Mandarin Chinese, like the one offered by The Knight Residence. And the newly formed Action Group is focusing on core areas such as HR and the ASAP Leadership Academy, which is running two leadership programmes in conjunction with Forward Learning. “We want to position ourselves as a sector offering attractive career opportunities for young people,” says Foice.
ASAP works closely with the BHA and collaborates with other organisations to support a single message from the hospitality industry concerning Brexit and further issues. “We need to ensure the sector is greater than the sum of its parts,” he says.
But according to many suppliers, to achieve maturity the sector needs a higher profile. “The industry first needs to raise awareness. It is still small compared to the hotel industry and doesn’t pop up as one of the first options one might use when travelling; more communication is required,” says deputy CEO for Adagio, Karim Malak.
Global reach and cohesion are also an issue. “There is a gap – like a 500lb gorilla straddling aparthotels and serviced apartments across Europe; there is no Marriott in our world,” says CEO of SACO, Stephen Hanton.
“The aparthotel operators do not link into other business models such as corporate housing, serviced apartments or flexi stock, where TAS, SACO, BridgeStreet, Oakwood will all do that. No one does everything from a onenight stay to two years, nor spans all continents. There is still opportunity.”
ASAP and its members have grasped the nettle and managed not only to raise standards in the industry but ensured that all parties aspire to maintain and continue those into 2018 and beyond. Pushing out its influence into the wider world is the next job.