Staying ahead of the serviced apartments game
The Asia-Pacific is the largest business travel region in the world, accounting for 38% of global business travel. It is expected to dominate business travel spending over a rate of 80% till 2026.
With a market poised for continued growth, opportunities are ripe for serviced apartment providers in the region. One key market is Singapore, which was ranked as the top city for expatriates by the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2018.
In line with this movement, The Ascott Limited (Ascott) is expanding strongly in Singapore and Southeast Asia, says Ervin Yeo, the company’s regional general manager for Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“In Singapore, we see significant opportunities, in line with continued national efforts to maintain a pro-business climate that is attractive to both multinationals as well as new economy players,” Yeo says.
Ascott has six new properties in the pipeline in Singapore over the next three years, offering over 1,600 new units. Citadines Balestier Singapore, Citadines Rochor Singapore and lyf Funan
Singapore are scheduled to open in 2019, with Citadines Raffles Place Singapore, lyf Farrer Park Singapore and lyf one-north Singapore to come shortly after.
The growth of affluent middle-class travellers, particularly in Asia, presents immense opportunities for Ascott, says Yeo.
“Global spending by the middle class is expected to increase to US$56 trillion by 2030,with Asia contributing more than 80% of this demand, and China and India making up the bulk of it,” he says.
To expand its reach to middle-class travellers in Asia, Ascott has partnered with market leaders such as Tujia and Fliggy: online accommodation booking platforms that already have an established database with these demographics.
“Ascott has one of the largest serviced apartment listings on Fliggy, which has more than 200 million users. Our properties on Fliggy cover over 50 cities most popular amongst Chinese travellers, including Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris and London,” Yeo says.
While the overall demand for serviced apartments continues to grow, companies are also getting more cost-conscious, and international assignments are getting shorter.
Some of the cost-cutting measures being seen include companies opting for smaller apartments, observes Serenena Koo, Director of Sales, Winsland Serviced Suites by Lanson Place.
“With our newly renovated suites, we managed to carve out more studio units to accommodate such requirements,” Koo explains.
Lanson Place also views short stays as an opportunity to reach higher average room rates. “We try to be competitive by offering value-adds for short stays –free laundry or breakfast for example,” says Koo.
A premium customer experience
In 2018 alone, there were some nine new hotel openings in Singapore. How are serviced apartment providers keeping up with these new upstarts?
“Brand recognition and trust, offering differentiated appeal and the ability to continuously anticipate healthy demands for all types of travellers will set the serviced residence industry apart from its competition and bridge the gap between hotels, which cater mainly to short stays and the traditional rental market,” says Yeo.
In addition to the typical services and facilities available in hotels, residents at Ascott properties also benefit from more space, comfort and privacy, says Yeo.
“With a fully-equipped kitchen where guests can easily whip up a meal, separate living, dining, and sleeping areas as well as modern amenities such as home entertainment system, broadband and wireless internet connectivity, our serviced residences provide guests the feeling of staying in a home, away from home,” Yeo explains.
Life in a new city can take some getting used to. The Ascott Lifestyle programme helps residents navigate their new environment through insider city tours, local food excursions, and even customised jogging routes. Ascott staff members can help busy professionals to arrange secretarial services, courier pick-ups, and grocery shopping as well.
“We also see a growing trend of families choosing to stay in serviced apartments instead of booking multiple hotel rooms. This allows the family to stay together, while enjoying the privacy of individual bedrooms and family-friendly facilities like washer/dryer and kitchen,” Yeo says.
User-generated brands such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing are vying for a slice of this burgeoning pie.
Airbnb for example is targeting the changing needs of business travellers and companies. The Airbnb for Work service offers accommodation options for business trips, company offsites as well as team building programmes. Launched in 2015, this service provides HR or travel managers with a dashboard that makes it easy to book and manage company trips on the platform. This tool also allows them to have a better overview of incurred costs, and track spending.
However, it is worthy to note that short-term rental apartments are illegal in some markets, including Singapore, Thailand, and Myanmar, even though online listings of such places continue to exist.
Staying at a brand name serviced apartment provider could translate to greater accountability, higher service standards, cleanliness and quality control, say the industry players.
“We seek to educate our clients that it is of utmost importance to book with reputable companies so that we can ensure that their stay is a seamless one. Should there be any issues pertaining to the apartment, they may approach us directly,” says Koo from Lanson Place.
Yeo from Ascott agrees. “Competition in the form of Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and other platforms is inevitable, which is why serviced residence operators like Ascott continue to emphasise our core competencies in providing vetted, safe and quality apartments to our guests, while continuing to evolve to match guests’ preferences.”
“We have a dedicated team of Ascott Hosts who will take care of the needs of our extended-stay guests even before they arrive. Each extended-stay resident is assigned an Ascott Host who is available 24 hours a day throughout their stay,” he explains.
According to The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2018/19, consumers are prioritising spending on factors such as easy access to city amenities and events, digital connectivity, and communal living spaces.
Serviced apartment providers are offering innovative technologies and solutions to meet these demands. “We have adopted smart solutions and constantly seek to innovate to create seamless online and offline experiences for our guests and cater to travellers’ increasing need for connectivity,” says Yeo.
In Singapore, guests of Ascott are provided with a pocket Wi-Fi device to enjoy wireless connectivity anytime, anywhere. In Hong Kong, the company’s guests can enjoy smartphones equipped with unlimited mobile data, and free local and international direct dialing calls.
Ascott’s Chinese properties go a step further. “Service butler robots in Ascott Raffles City Beijing and Ascott IFC Guangzhou can perform a suite of tasks, such as leading guests to their rooms or other facilities on the properties, providing concierge services, refilling room supplies, and delivering packages. Other initiatives include the use of WeChat to allow guests to request invoices and staff to issue e-invoices instantly,” says Yeo.
Ascott is also testing the use of artificial intelligence to learn guests’ temperature preferences over time, and pairing this with a smart thermostat device to control air-conditioning settings and enhancing guest comfort.
Communal living spaces are also gaining popularity among millennial travellers, who favour social interaction after work hours.
Responding to this rising trend, Ascott’s new brand offering , called “lyf”, will feature co-living and co-working spaces that aim to connect like-minded travellers.
Each lyf property will include communal spaces, which are co-working areas that can be easily transformed into zones for workshops or social gatherings.
“Residents can also hangout at the ‘Wash & Hang’ laundromat and play a round of foosball while waiting for their laundry to be done. The ‘Bond’ social kitchen is where guests can prepare home-cooked meals, take cooking classes, and socialise while learning more about global cuisines from other guests,” shares Yeo.
Ascott will also offer guest a superior digital experience by going paperless and cashless.
“We are working on a mobile app which will enable check-ins, direct bookings, and participation in social activities at its upcoming lyf properties,” says Yeo.
|Marketplace – Serviced Apartments
|The Ascott Limited
The Ascott Limited is a member of CapitaLand. It is one of the leading international serviced residence owner-operators with more than 500 properties in over 130 cities spanning more than 30 countries across the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East. Its portfolio of brands includes Ascott, Citadines, Somerset, Quest, The Crest Collection and lyf.
In Singapore, Ascott currently operates six serviced residences including Ascott Orchard, Ascott Raffles Place, Citadines Fusionopolis, Citadines Mount Sophia, Somerset Bencoolen, and Somerset Liang Court.
|Winsland Serviced Suites
Winsland Serviced Suites offers a relaxing, tranquil environment for travellers seeking short or long-term accommodation in the heart of Singapore. Inside, you’ll find newly-renovated, spacious suites with a modern look inspired by nature. Outside, an abundance of exciting shopping, dining, and entertainment options wait just a block away on Orchard Road, while the nearby Somerset MRT Station offers easy access to the rest of the city. For a relaxing home away from home for your staff, look no further than Winsland Serviced Suites.
|Far East Hospitality
Far East Hospitality Holdings is a premier hospitality assets owner and operator. It now has a combined portfolio of close to 14,000 rooms under management across 90 hotels and serviced residences in seven countries: Australia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Far East Hospitality’s stable of 10 unique and complementary brands: Oasia, Quincy, Rendezvous, Village, Far East Collection, Adina Apartment Hotels, Medina Serviced Apartments, Travelodge Hotels, Vibe Hotels, and TFE Hotels Collection, present excellent opportunities for business travellers of every type.
Offering a range of almost 40 properties across 21 cities and 10 countries, Oakwood Asia-Pacific has a little something for everyone, whether you’re travelling alone, with a family, looking to stay downtown, or seeking out opulent luxury.Through its five brands in the region (Oakwood Premier, Oakwood Apartments, Oakwood Residence, Oakwood Studios, and Oakwood Suites), Oakwood aims to provide top-notch service based on all-day-everyday customer care. Its properties are modern, leveraging on new trends and technologies – but all with the intent of providing a seamless experience that is engaging and comfortable.