Apart from the rest

1 Jan 2007 by business traveller

For those of us who stay away on business for anything over a few days, let alone a week or several months, a hotel room can start to feel a little small and limiting. So it's no real surprise that more and more of us are choosing the freedom and flexibility of an apartment.

The growth of serviced apartments in the UK has been a result of their success in the US, where they mainly cater for relocation and extended stays. Jo Layton, director of sales and marketing for BridgeStreet Worldwide says: "Serviced apartments in the UK are around five years behind the US in growth and what seems to have happened is that we [in the UK] have realised there is another option besides a hotel."
She adds: "The industry is growing rapidly across the UK, and the introduction of the Staybridge suites [Intercontinental's offering, next year] will lift the industry very quickly."

Three years ago, Christine Boothroyd, director of The Chambers in Leeds, realised there was a market for short-term apartment letting. "We started off with 34 apartments and five of them were short-term lets, but three months later we made all of them short-term lets," she says.

Similarly the Cheval Group, which has six properties, has seen a 15 per cent growth in bookings year-on-year in the business-travel sector, with 65 per cent of its bookings now business travellers. George Westwell, the group's director, explains: "[Firstly] there is more availability, and secondly the travelling public has become more aware of the benefits."

The main benefits of staying in a serviced apartment as opposed to a hotel room are space and cost – with serviced apartments you simply get more area for your money. Westwell says: "In many cases you are getting twice the amount of space you would in a hotel – our smallest apartment is 37 sqm, whereas the average London hotel room is around 27 sqm, and we go up to 350 sqm."

Layton explains why serviced apartments can offer such good value for money: "Our costs remain the same as a hotel's, but for the guest, because they are not paying for room service and broadband internet access, it is much cheaper. Their room bill can be doubled by these extras in a hotel."

Staying in a serviced apartment means you have a fully-furnished flat with the amenities and services of a hotel, such as 24-hour concierge desk and maid service, satellite TV, internet access, telephones and fax machines. Apartments will have a living area, a bedroom (or bedrooms) with ensuite, and a fully-equipped kitchen.

Roy McKenzie, general manager for London Serviced Apartments, says: "The great benefits are more space and more freedom rather than being boxed in. You have the freedom of several different rooms and even at the luxury end you can still cater for yourself."

So, with freedom comes choice, something which becomes rather limited if you are eating off a room service menu night after night. In a serviced apartment you can live as you would at home.You can cook for guests or order in. George Westwell says: "Other benefits are that we don't have all the things that can be a nuisance in a hotel. For example, people knocking at your door at eight in the morning, queuing up for breakfast and checking-out."

He adds: "Female travellers staying in hotels may feel uncomfortable going down to the bar, so they tend to shut themselves in the room and have room service, but in an apartment you can safely do what you want."

While the benefits are apparent, at present there is no grading system for serviced apartments as there is for hotels, something Westwell finds a concern. "It's terrible we don't have a rating system," he says. "The problem is government organisations have taken so long to recognise the growth and the quality [of serviced apartments]."

However, this is about to change – Visit Britain's Quality in Tourism aims to set up a grading system this year, thanks to pressure from the members of the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP), of which BridgeStreet Worldwide is a member. Layton says: "There is a lot of work to do and ASAP wants it to be graded and the industry legitimised. Now that the government body has been in, it should be in place by April."

Layton believes that the grading system will also add clarity for business travellers booking serviced apartments. She says: "There is a lot of confusion. There are an awful lot of companies that are trading as a third party and a serviced apartment provider, so it is not always very clear where people are being booked into. People want to know who they are staying with, Marriott or Hilton – it's a comfort zone for travellers to know the brand."

There are certainly different levels of "services" provided, just as in the hotel world. The Ascott group portfolio is a good example, with Ascott Apartments catering for the luxury end, its Somerset Apartments offering a lifestyle brand and Citadines a more budget option.

However, while the long-term benefits of serviced apartments are clear, McKenzie agrees there are downsides, especially for the fast-moving business traveller. "Many apartments may require some level of commitment – there may be a 28-day cancellation period. Unlike a hotel [where you can just turn up and leave], the apartments need that level of commitment."

Jo Layton believes that, although hotels are recognizing the growth in the market for the extended stay, they will not really be threatened by the serviced-apartment industry. "Serviced apartments are suitable for every kind of traveller from leisure to business," she says. "I don't think there is anyone they don't suit unless all you want is a bed and a TV and room service. Some people love room service and for two nights that is fine. Some people will never convert to a serviced apartment."

But as McKenzie says: "Imagine being in a hotel room for three months. Apartments feel a little bit more like home and people really live here." The choice is certainly there.


So how do apartments measure up? We tested the comforts of a home from home in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Paris, along with the option of ownership in London's Mayfair.

Citadines Apart'hotel Holborn

The reception and lobby of this Holborn location of the Citadines brand are spacious, smart and, at arrival time of seven in the evening, reasonably busy with people sitting around on sofas drinking wine and eating snacks, possibly bought from outside. Check-in was problem-free, and I was up to my room on the fifth floor in a couple of minutes.

Citadines Apart'hotels have 42 "residencies" in London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels, totalling 4,800 apartments ranging from studios to two-roomed apartments. The brand belongs to the Ascott Group, the world's largest operator of serviced residences, with about 16,000 serviced-residence units throughout Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. In London the residencies are in Trafalgar Square, Holborn/Covent Garden, South Kensington and Barbican. The Holborn Apart'hotel is a one-minute walk along High Holborn from Holborn tube station (Piccadilly line to Heathrow), directly opposite the Marriott Renaissance Chancery Court hotel.

Apartment facilities The 192 apartments are over six floors, including seven wheelchair-accessible flats, 152 studios for one or two people and 40 one-bedroom apartments for one to four people. All rooms are modern, clean, smartly turned out and have a fully-equipped separate kitchen with stove, microwave/grill, fridge and dishwasher. There is free broadband internet access in the rooms, and wifi in the public areas free of charge. I was in a one-bedroom apartment with a separate work area. Obviously with this being a hybrid between hotel and self-catering apartments, there is less staff contact and fewer staff, but they were helpful and able to direct guests and provide assistance. Each Citadines in London offers a business corner with a computer and printer, plus free internet access and wifi zone and L'Espace Club relaxation area to read or watch TV on a large flat screen. In addition, there is an à la carte option available for room service, daily cleaning, laundry, and meeting room hire (with fax and computer).

Restaurants A buffet breakfast is available on the ground floor from 7am (7.30am weekends), for an additional charge of £9, though with the eating options available locally only the truly unadventurous or weary would use the facility. There are branches of Café Pasta and Pizza Express on either side of the reception. Directly opposite is the Renaissance Marriott with its Pearl restaurant (see review Business Traveller, June 2006).

Verdict A truly impressive product at this price, and one which for both short and long stays makes sense for travellers who either have no use for a full-service hotel (because, for instance, they are out for the majority of the day) or those who want the freedom to make their own food rather than rely on either a hotel or external restaurant.

Prices Decrease according to the length of stay, from £130 for one to six nights in a studio at Citadines Trafalgar, to £114 for seven to 29 nights, or £93 for 30 nights or more.

Contact Citadines Holborn Covent Garden, 94-99 High Holborn, London, tel +44 (0)207 395 8800, citadines.com.

47 Park Street

If many self-catering apartment groups now strive to market themselves as a hybrid between a hotel and an apartment, then 47 Park Street might be regarded as continuing the trend. It is possible to stay here for just a few days and use the extensive facitlities as one might either an apartment or a hotel, but there is a third strand to the equation which allows, and encourages, fans to buy a fractional ownership of the property. This is an alternative to either the five-star hotels of Mayfair or having a pied à terre in the area. On Park Street, which runs north-south parallel with Park Lane, it is convenient for the West End and also Knightsbidge, and there are good public transport connections on several underground lines.

Aimed at both the US and domestic market, this is a model more common to resort areas, and indeed ownership of a share of one of the apartments ("Membership") gives access to the Ritz Carlton Residents' Club, though the property is marketed under the Marriott brand, partly as a result of a territorial agreement with the Ritz Hotel, London not to use the Ritz-Carlton brand.

Apartment facilities The 49 one and two-bedroom suites, which offer a range of living space (51-106 sqm), have been designed by architectural and interior design firm Wimberley Allison Tong & Goo. They are anything but spartan: a combination of Neo-classical and Regency styles have been chosen to complement the building's early 20th-century Edwardian architecture. Gold, cream, red and blue furnishings are easy and luxurious on the eye. Each apartment (or "residence") has a separate high-ceilinged living room with dining area, crystal light fixtures by Vaughan, elegant drapes and plush furnishings by Bowden and Tolit. Period bouillotte desk lamps and hand-painted decorative lamps allow for adaptable, atmospheric lighting, while the entertainment systems are hidden away in decorative armoires designed by Archer & Smith of Chiseldon, Wiltshire. Kitchen are equipped with Emerald Pearl granite worktops, hand-cut counter tiles by Cerbran of Portugal, a microwave oven, a deluxe stove, refrigerator and dishwasher.

The beds have carved mahogany head-boards and Belgian linen, while the baths and sinks in marble bathrooms are adorned with period-style nickel fittings and taps by Perrin and Rowe of Mayfair. It may be aimed at an American audience, but it is homely, elegant and very pleasurable to live among. The service is as you would expect from a very small five-star boutique hotel, and the location fantastic.

Restaurants A wide choice in Mayfair, and the concierge is good for both recommendations and reservations.

Verdict Very top end, and offering real value for money for those staying for long periods in London who need the advantages of their own apartment without paying for it year-round.

Prices One-bedroom Residence £382 per night, two-bedroom Deluxe Residence £699. Memberships are available in fractions of 21 nights per year; one-bedroom Executive Residence £104,000. Additional fractions can be bought. Five different room categories.

Contact 47 Park Street, Mayfair, tel +44 (0)207 591 500, 47parkstreet.com.

LivingBase, Birmingham

With an entrance just opposite the City Inn hotel at the west end of Birmingham's new Brindleyplace development, Livingbase manages to be both convenient and discreet. If you like nightlife, the apartments practically overlook Broad Street, yet being new-built and on the top four floors of Eight Brindleyplace (the RBS building), they are very quiet. 

Apartment facilities There are 35 apartments, from studios through to double duplex suites, some with large outdoor terraces and great views. All are very modern in style, with wooden floors and new kitchens. As you'd expect, Livingbase has all the facilities of a five-star hotel, including widescreen television, home entertainment system and satellite television, as well as free wifi in the apartment, but despite the best attempts of the staff I never managed to make this work, which was a frustration.

Additional facilities include an iron and ironing-board and some apartments have laundry rooms with a washer-dryer plumbed in, although strangely only the 12th floor apartments have air conditioning (the other floors have fans.) There is discounted gym membership and guaranteed parking in the award-winning Brindleyplace car park.

This is a very high-end operation, with a huge welcome pack of food provided for new arrivals as well as helpful maps of the Mailbox shopping area (home to Harvey Nichols) and lots of information. For guests staying more than three months, there are money-off vouchers for the shops and restaurants in Brindleyplace and a welcome hamper courtesy of Harvey Nichols with brand-labelled olives, ground coffee, morning tea, champagne truffles, mixed nuts and Baci di Dami "ladies kisses" biscuits.

Restaurants A huge selection in Brindleyplace.

Verdict Outstanding. Modern, clean, and the sort of pied à terre you'd choose in a location that's hard to beat.
Prices From £95 per night for a studio or £120 for a one-bedroom apartment (1-2 nights) dropping to £65-75 for more than seven nights. Further discounts available for longer stays.

Contact Livingbase, 3 Brunswick Square, Brindleyplace, tel +44 (0)121 643 8585, livingbase.com.

The Chambers, Leeds

This seven-storey apartment block built in 2003 is in the Riverside West complex on the banks of the river Aire in a former industrial area currently undergoing redevelopment. It is 10 minutes' walk from Leeds train station and town centre. Security is good, with a gate for cars and pedestrians needing two codes to enter the complex and the building. Inside the corridors are warm, with numbered letterboxes and a lone goldfish in a bowl by the lift. Some guests stay a weekend, some buy an apartment and use it for one or two nights a week or month.

Apartment facilities There are currently 34 apartments, which differ in size from one bedroom (38.7 sqm) and two bedrooms (64.1 sqm-81.2 sqm) up to a penthouse suite (101 sqm). When the new development opens this spring there will be an additional 63 apartments. A welcome pack is provided which contains a map of Leeds and information on supermarkets, restaurants and bars, as well as phone numbers for taxis and instruction manuals for the various apartment appliances.

My apartment was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom on the fifth floor overlooking the river and railway line. The Chambers opened in October 2005 and the décor is clean and modern, with wooden floors, cream walls and light cream furnishings. The bedrooms are carpeted and have plenty of wardrobe space and a telephone, and the beds are large with warm duvets. I found the central-heating system over-effective and it was hard to find the right balance between hot and cold.

The open-plan living area and kitchen had a dining table set for four people and two leather sofas around a coffee table. The TV has Sky and you can call reception to hire DVDs listed in the welcome pack. The kitchen is modern and fully equipped and the fridge was stocked with milk, eggs, bread, orange juice and cereal. Basics like tea, coffee and sugar were also provided as a complimentary welcome gesture.

When I tried to plug in my laptop to the broadband I was disappointed to find that the only port was in the hallway and, without an extremely long lead, I would have to sit in the hallway to check the internet. But the management would no doubt provide a long lead if this was requested.
The Chambers offers many of the same services as a hotel. You can call someone to do your laundry (even though there is a washing machine in each apartment), a cleaner will come when you wish, you can have your shopping done for you and delivered, and you can call reception at any time (although preferably not late Saturdays and Sundays) for any queries. There is also underground 24-hour secure parking available.

Restaurants No, but some are recommended in the welcome pack.

Verdict Beautifully appointed spacious apartments, both stylish and homely, in a great location a few minutes from the centre of Leeds. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.Prices One-bed, one-bath £100 per night, £600 per week and £1,550 per month; two-bed, two-bath £130 per night, £700 per week and £1,900 per month.

Contact The Chambers, Riverside West, Whitehall Road, Leeds, tel +44 (0)113 394 6379, morethanjustabed.com.

Le Claridge, Paris

Le Claridge is the second of Fraser Hospitality's serviced apartments to open in Paris, joining its new-build property (Fraser Suites Harmonie) in the business district of La Defense. Le Claridge is more upmarket than its sister property, with an enviable location on the Champs-Elysées. It was first opened as a hotel in 1914 and welcomed Ella Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Ray Charles at the height of its elegance in the Thirties and Forties. Fraser took over the property in May 2006 and has smartened up the exterior of the listed building. It also plans gradually to renovate the guestrooms. Gare du Nord is about 30 minutes by taxi (€20), and Air France has buses that leave regularly from the Arc de Triomphe for Charles de Gaulle airport.

Apartment facilities The 110 rooms are split into 62 studios, 38 one-bedroom apartments, nine two-bedroom apartments and one, three-bedroom apartment (the presidential suite). The building is split into four wings – A to D – with most of the best views of the Champs-Elysées (and the presidential suite) in wing A. From my one-bedroom apartment (B407) I had a view of the inner courtyard of the hotel, which was peaceful and pleasant.

The studios are around the same size as a large hotel guestroom (around 35-45 sqm), although they also have a small kitchen off the main bedroom. The apartments are far bigger: each has a lounge that feels very large, partly because it is simply furnished, with a sofa and coffee table, desk and a cabinet, plus a TV, DVD player and hi-fi system in the corner. The décor and furnishings are on the neutral, light side, but guests can bring some of their own belongings to make their apartment more homely. There is also plenty of wardrobe space for long-term guests to fill.

The bedroom is large and the bed very comfortable – I slept well and, because the curtains are so thick, woke up at 7am thinking it must still be night-time. Despite being on the Champs-Elysées there was no noise at all – it felt very peaceful. There is a door between the bedroom and lounge that can be locked. The kitchen is modern and well equipped, with a dishwasher, microwave, cutlery and crockery, a table and four chairs, an oven (electric with two rings) and a fridge. A kettle is provided, along with some instant coffee and teabags (but there was no milk, no toaster and no minibar). Many of the usual hotel amenities are provided, such as daily maid service, room service, laptop-sized safe, air conditioning and laundry services. The bathroom is large and equipped with a combined shower and bath and toiletries by L'Occitane de Provence.
During my stay in September I wanted to check my emails but my room did not have an internet cable (though I was pleased that there was an adaptor for my laptop power cable). I asked reception and they told me, apologetically, that internet access would not be available for another week (since my visit broadband is now available).

Restaurants Guests can have breakfast between 7am and 10.30pm in a room opposite the courtyard (or in the courtyard itself in summer). A buffet with selections of pastries, fruit salad and continental breakfast is available for €17 per person, as well as à la carte items such as scrambled eggs or an omelette.

Verdict The best aspect of Le Claridge is its fantastic central location, but it is also surprisingly peaceful, with a lovely old-fashioned inner courtyard feeling like an escape from the busy Champs-Elysées. As a hotel it clearly has a glittering past, but parts of it do feel in need of refurbishment, and this has not been lost on its new management. Some of the facilities were not up and running during my visit (a fitness centre is planned for 2007) but the apartments are wonderfully spacious and would be great for an extended stay.

Prices Daily rates: Studio Prestige from €263 for one night, €236 per week, €223 per month. Two-bed Deluxe from €739 per night, €665 per week, €628 per month.

Contact Le Claridge, 74 avenue de Champs-Elysées, Paris, tel +33 144 13 33 33, paris-claridge.frasershospitality.com.

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