Serviced apartments: Make yourself at home

28 Aug 2014 by Michelle Harbi
UK serviced apartment providers are on a quest to attract more business travellers, reports Michelle Harbi Have you stayed in a serviced apartment recently? According to a recent survey of more than 500 readers (businesstraveller.com/polls), only 36 per cent have checked into one in the past year. Perhaps those of you who haven’t are missing a trick. James Foice, managing director of the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP) – which numbers 73 operators and agents in the UK and Ireland as its members, representing more than 13,000 apartments – sums up the benefits. “The advantages serviced apartments bring include more space – having your own kitchen is great, you can use the apartment as a meeting place, and working is far easier than it would be in a hotel room,” he says. “For a business traveller, it’s the flexibility of it, and in terms of cost effectiveness, you’re not paying for the facilities and services that a traditional hotel has to have, such as restaurants, room service and laundry provision.” As Jo Layton, managing director of group commercial sales for the Apartment Service, points out, they can make particular sense for trips of a week or more. “If you consider the cost of a hotel suite of the same size and then compare the cost with the nightly rate for an apartment for a length of stay over seven days, the cost for the space becomes very reasonable,” she says. The sector certainly seems to be growing fast. In July, the ASAP announced that its members would open 1,276 new apartments in the UK and Ireland this year, an increase of about 10 per cent in their total stock. Some 70 per cent of these new openings will be in London. Arlett Oehmichen, director of consultancy HVS London, which published a report entitled The European Serviced Apartment Sector: Growing Up in July, said: “Over the next few years, London will see significant increases in supply, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the city.” Foice reports that demand is as buoyant as supply: “[Our members’ occupancy] continues to be extremely healthy, and they tell us that availability during peak periods is regularly at 100 per cent.” The HVS report found that the UK sector had recorded a healthy growth in RevPAR (revenue per available room) over the past three years, with the average daily rate for 2013 being about £115 and occupancy standing at 83 per cent. According to last October’s Savills UK Serviced Apartment Report – which hailed 2013 as “the year serviced apartments evolved” – there is room for further expansion. Its research suggests that central London is undersupplied compared with other global cities – it has 1.6 apartments per 1,000 business visitors, compared with 5.7 units in New York and 5.3 in Hong Kong. Look beyond the capital and figures are even lower – only 0.6 per 1,000 visitors in Birmingham and 0.9 in Manchester, suggesting potential hotspots for investors to tap into. Still, Foice has noticed plenty of development outside the capital – good news for readers who travel regularly around the country and are seeking accommodation for extended stays. “We’ve seen a lot of growth in Aberdeen. Some of our members have ventured further west, down to Plymouth. It’s about building the net around the UK and strengthening the stock that’s available, but certainly we’re seeing tremendous growth in the major cities, and also the M4 corridor – Reading, particularly.” Caroline Saunders, communications manager at agent Silverdoor – which has about 20,000 apartments in its UK network – agrees. “In Scotland, Aberdeen and Edinburgh are seeing significant investment. In England, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol are seeing more serviced apartments being erected as media, IT, finance and insurance, as well as the private job sector, demand more accommodation options,” she says. One particular growth area is “aparthotels” – as the name suggests, these are properties offering hotel-style services, facilities and booking systems with no minimum stay. Major hotel operators such as Accor (with its Adagio brand), IHG (with Staybridge) and Jumeirah have recently been making inroads into this part of the sector, and Savills predicts a growth in the variety of aparthotels on offer in the future. Where the challenge may lie is in increasing consumer awareness. In attracting business, apartment operators are often up against the well-known international hotel brands and their global points-earning programmes. Foice says awareness has increased but that raising the sector’s profile is one of the ASAP’s key objectives. “We will be trying so much harder this year to put the serviced apartment product on everybody’s lips,” he says. One way of doing that is to standardise the industry – both in terms of product and distribution. HVS’s Veronica Waldthausen argues: “The development of a classification system or a specific ‘serviced apartment’ certification in the UK is crucial to foster industry-wide understanding, security and transparency.” At London’s Serviced Apartment Summit in July, led by HVS, delegates agreed to a charter with set definitions for the marketplace. For its part, the ASAP has brought in a quality assessment programme for its operators, which they will have to pass to qualify for the association’s new full membership status. Assessors view up to ten of an operator’s apartments in a day and stay at a property overnight, scoring everything from the quality of the mattress to arrival and departure procedures. On the distribution side, meanwhile, the Apartment Service is spearheading the TAS Alliance, which unites independent suppliers under a sole representation, sales and marketing platform, “providing access to a fully connected supply chain bookable by individuals or companies”, Layton explains. To sign up, operators must agree to comply with a range of service obligations. “Five key areas that are focused on are guest care, uniform levels of 24-hour assistance, internet, commitment to quality service and a clean apartment that works,” she says. It will be interesting to see the impact such initiatives will have in the coming years. In the meantime, here is a round-up of new properties to try on your next trip to the capital. CHEVAL HARRINGTON COURT In June, Cheval opened these four-star South Kensington apartments (formerly operated by Go Native) following a four-month refurbishment. The five-floor property features a smart, hotel-style, 24-hour reception and is decked out with vintage shots of the area sourced from the Museum of London. There are 33 studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with no minimum stay, along with 14 units for stays of at least three months. Stylishly designed and with plenty of light, most have balconies and all feature Nespresso machines, iHome docks, robes and safes. A welcome pack with the likes of muesli, bread and biscuits is provided, and meals can be ordered for delivery. Apartments are cleaned every weekday and guests receive passes for the local Fitness First gym. The opening follows the launch of the Cheval Three Quays apartments next to the Tower of London in March – click here for a review. 13 Harrington Road; chevalresidences.com ASHBURN COURT APARTMENTS BY MAYKENBEL PROPERTIES Maykenbel runs 11 properties in Mayfair, Kensington and Belgravia (hence the name). In January last year, it opened its latest, Ashburn Court, following a refurbishment to four-star standard. Located in an 1870s townhouse a few minutes’ walk from Gloucester Road Tube station, the 19 studios and one- to three-bedroom units are attractively furnished with dark wood floors and sleek kitchens. Breakfast and evening meals can be ordered from caterer Room Seasons, which bikes them over for heating up. There is a 24-hour reception and six times-weekly maid service, and the minimum stay is two to three days. Other properties include 130 Queen’s Gate. 1-2 Ashburn Gardens; maykenbel.com SACO LONDON BRIDGE Saco unveiled its latest London apartments in June. Housed in a new-build off Union Street, five minutes’ walk from Southwark Tube station, there are 18 one-bed units between the third and eighth floors – some offer Shard views and all have balconies. Bright and modern, they have open-plan living/dining rooms and bathrooms with combined tubs/showers and L’Occitane toiletries. Seven-night minimum stay. Saco opened five Covent Garden apartments on Arne Street in May. Rosler Building, 85 Ewer Street; sacoapartments.com GO NATIVE MONUMENT Open since June, this new Go Native property is housed in a renovated 1980s office block a couple of minutes’ walk from Monument Tube station. Its 41 apartments – mostly studios and one-bedroom units – are chic and homely, with custom-made furniture and deep blue velvet armchairs and headboards. Copper is a recurring theme – a reference to the urn that sits atop the Monument itself, in memory of the Great Fire. All are equipped with glossy grey kitchens, and some offer views of the Shard. Reception is manned 8am-8pm, with self check-in at other times and a 24-hour guest support line. No minimum stay. Go Native also opened 19 apartments close by in India Street last month, and will launch units at Garrick Mansions near Leicester Square this month, in America Square in October and in Bear Gardens on the South Bank next year. 14 Lovat Lane; gonative.com CITY MARQUE MONUMENT Next door to Go Native, City Marque (formerly Boutique London Lets) opened eight two-bedroom units in April, along with a three-bed, top-floor penthouse with a roof terrace overlooking City landmarks. Each features stylish furniture, oak flooring and modern kitchens. Entrance is by access code, and there is a 24-hour guest support line. Two-night minimum stay. City Marque has 17 properties in Zone 1, and was in the process of opening new apartments in Clerkenwell and Lambeth North as we went to press. 10-13 Lovat Lane; citymarque.com CITY APARTMENTS PHILPOT HOUSE This serviced corporate accommodation specialist has been operating in and around the City for 15 years. Dealing solely with company bookings – it counts many of the Square Mile’s top firms among its clients – it opened its latest property in an 18th-century Grade II Listed house across from the “Walkie Talkie” building on Fenchurch Street in June. Accessed through a gated courtyard, the property comprises 36 well-equipped studios and one-bedroom units featuring timber floors and colourful London-themed artworks. Free unlimited wifi and cheap international calls are provided, along with weekly cleaning. A staff member will meet you on arrival to show you around, and there is a 24-hour guest support line. A generous welcome pack of food is provided, and staff will even do your grocery shopping for free. 2-3 Philpot Lane; cityaparts.com OAKWOOD GREAT TOWER STREET Oakwood opened a new property of nine one- and two-bedroom apartments a few minutes’ walk from Tower Hill station last month. Available for 90-night minimum stays, they are contemporary in design, with zebra-print cushions and blue rugs. Facilities include Smart TVs, good-sized wardrobes, walk-in rainshowers and video entry systems. In April the company also opened eight one- and two-bed units in a restored 13th-century building on Ludgate Broadway. 23 Great Tower Street; oakwood.com SKYLINE WORLDWIDE ALTITUDE E1/ONE COMMERCIAL STREET Skyline launched apartments in two new mixed-use towers by Aldgate East station in April. The 27-storey Altitude E1 tower on Alie Street has 20 one- and two-bedroom Skyline apartments, with a communal roof terrace on the 25th level. The operator also has ten one-bed units in the 21-floor One Commercial Street. Both buildings feature smart hotel-style lobbies manned 24 hours. Apartments are kitted out well and some overlook landmarks such as the Gherkin and the Shard. The company operates a meet-and-greet service and a 24-hour guest support line. There is quite a lot of building work going on in the area at the moment, but it’s convenient for the City. Three-night minimum stay. liveskyline.com OTHER UK NEWS
  • STAYCITY opened apartments across two Greenwich locations this summer – 68 on Greenwich High Road and 93 at Deptford Bridge. A mixture of studios and one-bedroom units, there is no minimum stay. The company is due to open 170 units in Birmingham next May. staycity.com
  • DEEP BLUE'S FLYING BUTLER APARTMENTS opened ten studios, one- and two-bed apartments in Earls Court last September. It also launched five Edgware Road apartments (two to four beds) in March, and five two-beds in Marble Arch in May. Minimum stay four nights. flying-butler.com
  • IHG’S STAYBRIDGE SUITES is to launch a 93-suite extended-stay property on Vauxhall’s Albert Embankment in December. A 168-suite property opened in Birmingham last December. ihg.com/staybridge
  • MARLIN APARTMENTS is to open a new flagship aparthotel property on Westminster Bridge Road in 2016. The 218-unit development will also include ground-floor shops and a restaurant. marlinapartments.com
  • ACCOR'S APARTHOTELS ADAGIO brand has announced its first London properties, due to open in Whitechapel and Stratford in 2016 and 2018. One will also open in Birmingham early next year, and in Edinburgh in 2017. adagio-city.com
  • LONDON'S GROSVENOR HOUSE APARTMENTS by Jumeirah Living has added a new London Suite category. The three- and four-bedroom units come with a Heathrow VIP pick-up service and Fortnum and Mason hampers. jumeirah.com
  • HOUSE OF FISHER, which operates in several locations in the Thames Valley region, opened a 50-unit aparthotel on Reading’s Kings Road in January, offering on-site parking and a gym. stayhof.com
  • OLD TOWN CHAMBERS, a new five-star property in Edinburgh, opened last year as part of a £46 million redevelopment incorporating one of the city’s oldest townhouses, just off the Royal Mile. It has 36 apartments – from studios to three-beds – with 14 to follow next year. lateralcity.com/old-town-chambers
  • APPLE APARTMENTS opened 35 one- and two-bed units in Belfast’s Obel Tower – which, at 28 storeys, is Ireland’s tallest building – in July, joining its properties in London and Aberdeen. appleapartments.co.uk
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