Serviced apartments: Community spirit

30 Jun 2022 by Hannah Brandler
Adagio Paris Bercy Village

The serviced apartment sector continues to innovate and thrive, reports Hannah Brandler.

Fifteen years ago, serviced apartments and aparthotels were largely soulless; an inferior choice to hotels because of their bland design, corporate atmosphere and lack of buzzy social spaces. The last decade, however, has seen the emergence of several exciting brands, driven by the rise in remote working lifestyles, demand for flexibility and interest in design and interiors.

Progress from pandemic

The pandemic has accelerated the shift in attitudes towards once-deemed-boring serviced apartments. For one, the sector fared better than hotels thanks to the self-contained nature of the properties. In a world where contact was deemed dangerous, apartments with kitchenettes and living spaces proved to be a safe and reliable alternative to hotels.

“Serviced apartments weathered the storm better than most,” explains Daniel Johansson, director of development and acquisitions at Cheval Collection, adding that the group did not have to close a single property across its Cheval Maison and Cheval Residences brands during lockdowns. Aside from the exemption from restrictions, serviced apartments were a more attractive choice during the pandemic. “If you didn’t want to be locked into a 20 sqm room and wanted independence or to stay for a quarantine period, serviced apartments were perfect,” he adds.

Coupled with the convenience of serviced apartments was the acceleration of contactless technologies, with providers introducing digital keys and mobile check-in and check-out for a more seamless and touchless experience. Singaporean company The Ascott Limited, which has several serviced apartment brands and the Citadines aparthotel brand, used the opportunity to upgrade its Discover ASR mobile app so that guests could make contactless payments and perform mobile check-in and check-out. It went one step further in China, with service robots in properties and self check-in kiosks with facial recognition – a milestone that we haven’t yet reached in the UK.

Staycity, which operates its namesake aparthotels along with the Wilde brand, also brought forward remote check-in/check-out and keyless entry as a result of the pandemic, rolling out the latter across its estate.

Customer contact

The risk of relying on technology is that the sector loses its customer-facing touch. Stephen McCall, chief executive of Edyn, which has the serviced apartment brands Cove, Saco and aparthotel brand Locke, maintains that this won’t be the case. “We’ve spent a lot of time finding exciting human beings to host the front of properties. I would never want to remove that element.” Instead, the group wants to “automate the mundane and the repetitive”.

Cove - The Hague

There are check-in terminals at Locke properties to manage queues at peak times or cater to those that want a more independent stay. Likewise, Whatsapp is used as a form of 24-hour customer service for any assistance guests might need during their stay, but they can also head to reception and get advice on the local area.

Edyn’s newest brand, Cove, is different in that some of its properties don‘t have staff on-site, but the brand is aimed at a more autonomous crowd for much longer stays.

Call for co-living

Over the past two years we have reviewed various serviced apartment properties during our travels, finding them an excellent substitute for an office. We aren’t the only ones – many digital nomads are using such accommodation for both work and socialising.

Providers have seen a growing interest in products that offer opportunities for networking and chances to connect with other guests as a way to remedy the solitude of remote working and digital nomadism. This has prompted the creation of ‘co-living’, a concept described by global hotel consultancy HVS senior associate Maria Coll as “a student flat share but for the corporate world”. Simply put, the properties tend to have en-suite bedrooms with shared living and kitchen spaces along with communal spaces such as co-working areas and leisure facilities.

Ascott has addressed this target market with its Lyf brand, which is designed for digital nomads, creatives and self-starters “to plug into the local community and form connections with one another”. The focus on social interactions is abundantly clear from the names of its facilities – the ‘Wash and Hang’ laundromat, ‘Bond’ kitchen where guests can prepare meals, and the ‘Connect’ co-working and lounge area. Ascott currently has 18 Lyf co-living properties with more than 3,400 units in 14 cities and nine countries. It’s a clear focus for the group, with plans to sign 150 properties providing 30,000 units by 2030, including the European debut in 2024 with Lyf Gambetta Paris.

Accor’s Adagio brand, meanwhile, introduced its first co-living property within the aparthotel Adagio Paris Bercy Village earlier this year. The property offers self-contained flats with four rooms accommodating up to eight people, and a separate ‘hub’ area which has both leisure and business amenities including a large fully equipped kitchen, a high-top table with power sockets, a TV, games consoles, books and board games.

While it’s certainly a trend, co-living does not appeal to all providers. Staycity remains focused on a model that offers private facilities and multi-functional public areas, while Edyn’s McCall says: “Our guests tend to love community but more on their terms and so we give our guests their own kitchens and living spaces along with animated public spaces.”

Driven by design

The blurring of business and leisure customers has also shaped the approach of providers, which must now cater to both sectors. “We find that business guests are behaving a bit like leisure guests. It’s hard to tell if a guest is there on a corporate stay,” says Johansson. Earlier this year Cheval Collection launched its My Locanda brand, an affordable upscale serviced apartment concept which is targeting properties with 150-200 keys and compensating for the size of rooms with activated public spaces. The first 168-key property will open in Glasgow in 2024 and include an on-site grocers and a back-door concept so food deliveries don’t take place in the lobby.

My Locanda

“The pandemic has challenged, what is in effect a binary industry. The hospitality sector has always catered to quite a specific type of traveller – you’re business or leisure, luxury or economy. It’s been very segmented,” says McCall. Design has been key in expanding the demographic of serviced apartments, with exciting décor and a programme of experiences transforming it from a B2B offering to a form of accommodation that appeals to business and leisure travellers alike. “Serviced apartments were quite out of touch with people staying there. It was very functional, very transactional, and in my experience quite lonely,” explains McCall.

As long as you provide the necessary tools for business travellers – a desk, comfy chair and high-speed wifi – what’s the harm in adding some personality to the properties? “We don’t think music, art, etc, are trivial pursuits. We want to give people an experience and I don’t know why that would be confined to leisure travellers. It’s just as important for business people,” adds McCall.

Edyn’s Locke brand, in particular, is very design-led, drawing inspiration from the local area for its décor and programme of events. Most of its properties have different designers, meaning that every Locke is distinctive, right down to the bespoke keycards designed by local artists. At first glance you might take it for a millennial-focused brand, with its trendy on-site cafés and co-working spots a hit with hipsters, but McCall is keen to steer away from the term ‘millennial’. “I don’t think millennials have a monopoly on edginess or design and aesthetics. If anything, my generation is waking up to what’s on offer, it’s just not been there before.”

WunderLocke Munich

Ascott, meanwhile, sees millennials and Gen Z as a core part of its target market, with the former making up a quarter of its customers. “Millennials are the largest generational group today, and most likely to travel compared with other generations.” In 2021 the World Economic Forum reported there are 1.8 billion millennials worldwide (those born between 1980 and 1994), making up 23 per cent of the population.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Ascott is firmly focused on the future. In April, the company launched its Lyf Innovation Lab in collaboration with Singapore’s Temasek Polytechnic school to explore immersive virtual reality, with the recently opened Lyf One North in Singapore acting as the test-bed for such digital innovations. “The idea is to find the best value-added usage of the metaverse to enhance our guest experience beyond physical boundaries,” says Frédéric Carré, Ascott’s regional general manager UK, Germany, Spain and Georgia. It all sounds quite sci-fi, but essentially the brand is considering creating a virtual space so guests can meet those staying in Lyf properties around the world, or transforming artworks, wall murals and logos into live games where you can interact with guests.


While it may have weathered the pandemic, the sector is not immune to concern about climate change. The good news is providers are taking the issue seriously, incorporating environmental standards into their strategies. There’s also the argument that people are likely to travel less but for longer, with serviced apartments ideal for such trips.

Staycity has launched sustainability initiative Staygreen this year to reduce its overall carbon footprint. Jason Delany, director of brand, product and marketing, says: “We will be setting targets that take us to the edge of what’s possible in the industry based around three pillars: greenhouse gas emissions; health and wellbeing; and waste management.” The company is currently measuring and documenting its energy, carbon, water and waste usage, and emissions.

To make further progress with its green credentials, Ascott has launched a new programme, Go Green at Ascott, which will track its efforts and identify concrete targets in various areas of the business – from the construction process to employees’ actions and the use of sustainably sourced products. “We believe it is our responsibility to do our part to help our hurting Earth wherever we operate,” says Carré.

Edyn is currently building its sustainable strategy to define its pathway to net-zero. If its Turing Locke property in Cambridge is anything to go by, the future looks promising – the aparthotel uses renewable energy sources, responsibly sourced furniture and lighting, and has more than 200 bike spaces and 20 electric vehicle charging spots.

Into the future

The current state of play is not easy to navigate for serviced apartment providers. The pandemic brought about staffing shortages, increased operational costs and delivery issues making life tough for these operators, but the future looks much brighter. A report published in March by global consulting firm HVS – ‘Serviced Apartment Sector in Europe’ – revealed that more than half of operators expect operating cash flows to recover to pre-pandemic levels in the next two years, though the war in Ukraine and pressure on oil and gas prices may impact this timeframe.

In the meantime, this burgeoning sector is set to see further innovation and a renewed focus on community. “It’s important to evolve as the market evolves otherwise the danger is you get left behind. We don’t intend to do that!” says Delany of Staycity. I’m sure all providers are tracking new trends as you read – perhaps you can even start one.


  • By 2028 Staycity will be operating 15,000+ keys
  • Ascott had an additional 15,100 units across 72 properties globally last year, and had its highest-ever property openings with 8,200 units in 40 properties launched across 25 cities and 10 countries
  • Adagio expects to open more than 13,400 branded serviced apartment units in Europe over the next four years
  • Staycity has plans for 6,000 apartments across 30 properties by the end of this year in countries including France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the UK

‘Serviced Apartment Sector in Europe’, HVS, March 2022

  • 13,400 units expected to open in Europe over the next four years
  • 35% will open in 2022
  • 32% will open in 2023
  • 23% will open in 2024
  • 10% will open in 2025
  • The sizes of the planned projects vary from 32 to 369 units, with an average
    of 139 units 77% of participating operators said top-line performance across the portfolio improved in 2021 compared to 2020, with most noting annual improvements of up to 25%
  • 26% of participating operators expect to reach pre-pandemic cash flows this year; another 26% by next year, and 48% forecast reaching 2019 levels by 2024
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