Serviced apartment companies come in a variety of forms, but all are working to make booking easy
Different ownership, one goal
Operating models in the serviced apartments sector have long been a bone of contention, although an understanding of operators, agencies and hybrids grows as more companies add apartments to their corporate accommodation programmes.
Operators own and sell their bricks and mortar and are increasingly rare birds, as they spread their wings and sell inventory in areas where they can’t or don’t own property.
An example of this is Cheval Residences, which owns its UK portfolio but was forced to set up a partnership with Qatar Industry Manufacturing Corporation to open in Doha since foreign ownership is not permitted. Cheval will manage the resulting 350key, four-star aparthotel under contract.
“We would also consider acting as an operator for properties that reflect our brand standards to look after customers in areas where we are not represented,” says director George Westwell. This would fall into the hybrid model, where owner/operators are also acting as agents for other companies’ stock. But honesty is not always seen as the best policy. “If suppliers do not have inventory in a destination but say they will look after you anyway, most of them do not tell buyers it is not their inventory,” says global accommodation manager for AIG, Jan Jacobsen. “In the hotel world that would never happen. Unfortunately – possibly due to lack of time – buyers have allowed it. They should ask more questions.
“An apartment management model, as we have, is better controlled: the service providers and the quality of service you receive meet the standards you expect, and the commercial relationship ensures the cost of the transactions falls within agreed parameters.”
TAS manages AIG’s apartment programme, mirroring what AIG has in the hotel world with a TMC, and built a booking portal for the company, precluding the need to go through expensive intermediaries.
TAS Alliance fills gaps in TAS’s portfolio, of which Jacobsen says: “I don’t use TAS Alliance as my primary source but that is something I think is missing in the serviced apartments world because suppliers protect their inventory.”
Spreading the word
In February this year, BridgeStreet launched its much vaunted OTA, aimed at the corporate market. This pulls together more than 90,000 properties worldwide and makes them available to corporate buyers via GDS, using customised portals that ensure travellers stick to company policy.
SACO is investigating microsites to drive direct business. “We have done that with Leman Locke and more than doubled bookings from it,” says Stephen Hanton. The Wittenberg follows.
Next on the agenda are platforms that talk to non-European markets such as China’s CTrip. “We want to build
technology that understands the customer better,” says Hanton.
Go Native has proprietary technology and does not offer long-term bookings online. “Corporates are interested in having us integrated into the tools they already have,” says director of sales and distribution, Paula Cullen. It is looking at changes that allow corporate clients to be identified on its website and is testing a chat facility.
GDS has worked well for Go Native, whose bookings have grown by more than 50%, if from a low base; and from here, the company plans to work with the GTMC and TMCs, “to ensure their staff are comfortable with our product so that it is offered alongside traditional accommodation,” she says.
Adagio piggybacks on hotel tech from Accor. “But we are not seeing a lot of PMS systems or client interfaces that are particularly well adapted to extended stay,” says Karim Malak.
Cotels uses online and offline tools, including OTAs, relationships via a sales director and, “We keep in regular contact with agents such as SilverDoor and The Apartment Network,” says managing director Marcia Gómez.
Supercity Aparthotels is revamping its website, with updates to include more content and increased maximum length of stay bookable from 30 to 89 nights. The new site will be launched with a rebrand in 2018. Meanwhile, Supercity’s central reservations department went live in September. “We are moving bookings away from the sites so that reception teams can concentrate on personalising the stay for the guest,” says managing director Dean Madge.
“Many operators have limited stock which is managed too intricately to be distributed online. It needs to be managed manually to allow the flexibility to take long-term, quality bookings, as opposed to a high volume of short-term bookings which you’re more likely to receive online,” says head account manager for SilverDoor Apartments, Martin Klima. “When you only have a few units, you don’t have the luxury of blocking off availability to help juggle an offline and online GDS-based approach.”
SilverDoor is about to relaunch Orbital Partnership. “It will be a game changer,” says senior partner account manager, Kurtis Murphy. “It will allow some operators to refer business they cannot accommodate to other members of the partnership, while retaining their relationship with the client.”
SITU, meanwhile, has introduced locked-in, long-lead prices on overseas apartments, enabling clients to budget more confidently.
Phil Stapleton, SITU Managing Director, says: “A typical transaction for us could involve a customer in New York deciding in June that they want to book an apartment in Paris in September. We will quote a price in June, but that could be subject to fluctuations in the exchange rate in the interim period.
“While we’d always look to absorb this cost, there comes a point where it has to be passed on. By working with Frontierpay to lock in the exchange rate in advance, that risk is removed. This means customers are guaranteed the price they are quoted.”
Booking technology in the sector has long been a problem for buyers.
Thankfully, suppliers are getting closer to providing all the information buyers require in one place, along with the technology that allows them to book online, either on proprietary websites or through clients’ booking tools.
"SITU has introduced locked-in, long-lead prices on overseas apartments, enabling clients to budget more confidently"