Serviced apartment operators are stepping up their game to satisfy the demands of more discerning guests
Some business travellers and expats may regard serviced apartments simply as temporary places to stay for, at most, a few months before finding a permanent place to live in a new city or country. They do not expect, nor require, the same luxuries one might find in high-end hotels.
For lawyer Tejaswi Nimmagadda, who moved to Hong Kong in 2016 and initially stayed in a serviced apartment, all he needed was “a functional apartment and close proximity to work and other transportation so I could easily attend apartment viewings”.
But serviced apartment owners and operators are recognising a new trend among their guests at the higher end of the market: many are seeking out accommodation that offers a more luxurious experience.
“We can look at many different accommodation projects, and a lot of them are what we call ‘cookie-cutter’,” says Paul Cunningham, general manager of K11 Artus, a 14-storey, 287-unit serviced residence on Hong Kong’s Victoria Dockside. “People are looking for something more unique.”
K11 Artus, which is set to open in the third quarter of 2019, is being billed in press releases as K11 Group’s “first ultra-private luxury residential development”. What this translates to is that guests will have the chance to enjoy suites with wraparound balconies affording views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong’s iconic skyline. There are also private lifts that go straight up to the top floors for guests who prefer to come and go discretely.
Besides offering the comprehensive hotel services that can be found in most serviced apartments, K11 Artus aims to “redefine the luxury residence experience” by introducing a new “Artisanal Home” concept.
This will see traditional Chinese artisanal works displayed inside K11 Artus, including in the 10th floor Social Salon, which is “conceived as an extension of one’s home and a place for both quiet contemplation and entertainment for residents and guests”.
Guests will be able to buy these artworks, with the proceeds used to support artists. Guests will also be able to participate in the in-house cultural salons hosted by prominent cultural figures throughout the year.
This concept is also reflected in the property’s name, with “Artus” being a compound of the word “Art” and the latin term “domus” that means “home”.
“We are trying to attract the type of clients who want to live in an inspiring environment. It’s a hub incubated for cultural creatives,” says Cunningham.
The importance of tech
K11 Artus’s guests will also have access to a 24-hour digital concierge platform called Amici. Guests simply add Amici as a contact on instant messaging apps WhatsApp, Line or WeChat and communicate with staff members for any service requests on their own devices, without having to download any additional app.
Jumeirah Living Guangzhou, the first serviced residence project of Dubai-based Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts in the Asia-Pacific region, also rolled out a similar service, called “E-Butler”, in June. This allows guests to contact their service team using WeChat. (WhatsApp and Line are typically blocked by China’s internet censorship and WeChat is the country’s most popular instant messaging app.)
This luxury serviced residence opened in February this year in Guangzhou’s Zhujiang New Town business district. Split between two towers, the property has 169 all-suite apartments fully equipped with home appliances.
“With Jumeirah E-Butler, we can delight guests by offering personalised service and more meaningful engagement, which goes hand in hand with high and luxurious levels of service,” said Pedro Deakin, president of operations for Jumeirah Group, in a press release.
“Through improved dialogue, we get a better insight into guests’ personal preferences and can tailor our service individually to each guest.”
It is clear, then, that serviced residence operators see technological innovation as key to attracting those guests seeking – and willing to pay for – a luxurious stay.
Serviced apartment brand Oakwood has also recognised this trend and has begun to work with different companies to implement smart technologies in select properties in the Asia-Pacific region.
For example, at Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore guests can use in-room tablets with a built-in app to check out useful information about the property, the neighbourhood and the city. The app also allows guests to submit service requests and feedback, read instructions for in-room amenities, and even order takeaway food and shop for groceries online.
With guests becoming increasingly eco-conscious, some serviced apartment operators are turning to tech for solutions. Gateway Apartments Hong Kong, which Business Traveller Asia-Pacific last reviewed in April 2019, has several green initiatives, from the use of energy-saving LED lighting throughout the property, water-saving limiters in all shower heads and eco-friendly housekeeping products, to no bleach in flushing water (ozone is used in the main water tank), day/night modes in the corridors, a “Waste Wise” food waste programme and a switch to paperless soft copy information updates to residents.
Technology and environmental protection may be seen as indispensable by luxury serviced residence operators these days, but they also recognise that having top-quality concrete amenities such as quality in-house restaurants and leisure facilities is crucial to wooing those more discerning guests.
“What serviced residences’ guests look for is flexibility – the ability to stretch out and feel comfortable just like being at home, and the confidence that facilities and services offered by a professionally trained hotel team are there if and when they need them,” says Douglas Martell, president and CEO of Onyx Hospitality Group.
The Onyx Hospitality Group operates the luxury Oriental Residence Bangkok in Thailand. This 145-residence property, situated along Wireless Road in the Thai capital’s business and embassy district, is equipped with two restaurants serving local and Western cuisines; a Play Deck comprising a 24-hour fitness centre, an open-air swimming pool with cabanas, and a poolside bar; as well as four functions rooms for meetings and events.
Singapore-based Frasers Hospitality Group also has properties outfitted with a range of facilities in its serviced residences portfolio. Some of them even have facilities rarely found in other hotels or serviced apartments,
The newly opened 115-unit Fraser Residence Orchard in Singapore, which opened in April, has an in-house aqua gym, a sky garden for residents to unwind, as well as a barbecue and teppanyaki pavilion.
At Fraser Suites Shenzhen in southern China, guests have access to a snooker room, media room, meditation room, exercise studio with yoga and pilates classes, Kids Playzone, rooftop infinity pool, sky bar – and even a golf simulator room.
“By introducing these facilities, we hope that business travellers and family guests can reach a balance between work and life during their stay at their residences, which, in turn, is also good for improving their work efficiency,” says Chew Hang Song, deputy country general manager of Frasers Hospitality in China.
Michael Faulkner, general manager of The Middle House Residences in Shanghai, also sees the importance of providing quality and innovative facilities for serviced apartment guests. Nowadays, he says, luxury serviced apartments are judged less on the number of square metres they occupy and more on the services and facilities that are available, not just inside the property, but also in the surrounding area.
“One of the reasons why many people want to stay here is the address,” says Faulkner. The property is part of the HKRI Taikoo Hui mixed-use development in the West Nanjing Road area. Residents can have items delivered up to their apartments from the City’super supermarket. It is also close to several other high-end shopping and dining outlets.
A social aspect
Besides extensive facilities and technological innovation, operators believe that the more discerning serviced apartment guests are looking for opportunities to socialise and network in and around their accommodation – more so than hotel guests, whose typical stay may be as short as a single night.
Fraser Suites Top Glory Shanghai says it attaches great importance to community building inside its property. Residents can take part in annual outings and barbecue parties, as well as Easter and Christmas activities aimed at families and children.
“These activities for in-house guests create opportunities for our residents to know each other while socialising in a relaxing and natural way, which further helps to build an elite circle inside the residence,” says Chew Hang Song from Frasers Hospitality.
Despite all the luxury on offer, it’s worth noting that that not every customer needs such a high-end serviced apartment to meet their needs.
“There are always going to be these guys who have semi-long-term homes in Hong Kong, so maybe these people want these amenities,” says lawyer Nimmagadda.
“But for the average expat moving here I’m not sure if the perceived need to pay more for these amenities is necessary.”
Still, if you are in the market for any kind of serviced apartment, you are going to be spoilt for choice.
Additional reporting by Michael Allen