I think it’s fair to assume we’ve all come across the phrase “home away from home” during our travels, with serviced apartments being particularly guilty of overuse… But while this marketing slogan may not have changed in two decades or more, the concept itself, at least, is getting a total overhaul.
Typically, a “home environment” has come in the form of a smart, residential-style apartment with DIY facilities, often bolstered with hotel-style services (house cleaning, 24-hour reception, etc). The idea is that guests can relax in a cosy living room, rustle up some dinner in the kitchen or put on a load of laundry, just as they would at home.
However, with all trends pointing towards greater personalisation, serviced apartments are starting to move beyond the perfect “show home” and push the boundaries of how to deliver a customised home-like experience. Material things are no longer enough – now the focus is on intuitive service, helping guests settle in to their environment, creating neighbourhood communities and utilising tech to offer individualised accommodation solutions.
“Travellers are yearning for more unique experiences where profession and adventure come hand in hand,” says Tommy Pao, founder of Hong Kong’s boutique residence Little Tai Hang. “We’re starting to see brands focus more on consumer experiences and invest more time in ensuring consumers’ journeys are unique.”
Creating a space that’s distinctly “you” is a core part of what makes a house a home. Offering personalised welcome amenities or stocking a fridge with special requests has been happening for a while, but now serviced residences are going a step further.
“At Lanson Place, our guests can basically personalise their ‘new homes’ based on their actual homes, from mattresses, pillows, bed sheets and towels to a special set of cooking utensils they are accustomed to using; we can arrange these prior to arrival,” says Paul Hugentobler, group director of operations for Lanson Place.
Meanwhile, at Ascott facilities have been tailored to suit guest preferences, for example providing high-quality water purifiers and Toto Washlets for Japanese guests, and VPN network services for European and American guests. Ascott’s new millennial brand Lyf ups the ante again, with guests encouraged to move the furniture around. Apartments even come with doors that can be flipped into ping-pong tables and dining tables that pull apart into work desks.
Even small players are getting in on the action. China World Hotel, Beijing recently announced the opening of the China World Residences (two floors dedicated to serviced apartments). Here, residents are invited to personalise their space by replacing any decoration with their own items, while at Little Tai Hang in Hong Kong, details like Apple TVs in every room ensure guests can pick up where they left off with their favourite series.
For Singaporean provider Far East Hospitality, the very essence of each of its brands is based on creating profiles for distinct customers. “Our Village brand caters to guests looking to explore living like a local; Oasia targets the wellness-conscious traveller, while the Rendezvous brand is for art enthusiasts,” explains CEO Arthur Kiong. “Given that each element of the property – from location to interior design – is chosen specially to meet the needs of different traveller groups, it offers them that sense of belonging.”
Settle in to your 'hood
Peppering your new “home” with personal knick-knacks, ordering your favourite bedding or rearranging furniture can certainly help to personalise things – and this is just the start. Another tactic employed by purveyors of serviced apartments is introducing guests to their local neighbourhood and creating a sense of community.
At Shama, the “no boundaries” lifestyle programme is all about fast-tracking the social lives of guests to help them obtain a better understanding of the neighbourhood, city and community. A key part of this is the “Hoodtours”, which offer a guided orientation of the local area around the property.
A similar concept takes place with the WOW walks at Lanson Place. “During this walk, our guest service team take guests on a personal tour around the neighbourhood to explore places they will find essential during their stay, such as the nearest metro station and the shortcut route, bus stops, 24-hour supermarkets and convenient stores, etc. We also arrange visits to the local food markets so that they know what it’s like to live like a local and blend in to the community,” says Hugentobler.
At boutique property Little Tai Hang, the neighbourhood itself is a major focus and a partnership with local tour guide company HoHoGo lets guests explore the quirky area. Little Tai Hang has also recently launched The Hang Space – a new event venue that allows guests to take part in local events, exhibitions and happenings.
In addition to orientation tours, serviced residence providers are also starting to develop a social calendar with a regular itinerary of events to help nurture the sense of community amongst residents. After all, getting to know your actual neighbours is – for better or worse – another key part of what makes home, home.
“Our properties in China organise regular gatherings at the residents’ lounge for staff members and residents to mingle. Last year, for example, Parkside Serviced Suites by Lanson Place in Shanghai organised a Chinese water-painting class in the guest lounge. Our residents had a wonderful time creating their own masterpieces whilst learning more about traditional Chinese culture,” reveals Hugentobler.
At the group’s Winsland Serviced Suites by Lanson Place in Singapore, the idea of a “communal kitchen” was also recently installed – Cookhouse@9 – allowing residents to make dinner together or host dinner parties.
Meanwhile, at the newly opened Shama Lake Asoke Bangkok, general manager Sukamal Mondal has wasted no time in coordinating an action-packed event calendar: “Travellers are always keen to improve their familiarity with the local area, no matter how long they are staying. We arrange cooking classes from different regions of Thailand as well as international dishes, baking and cocktail classes. Once a month we organise excursions to nearby local historical places such as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. These monthly activities also help us to understand out guests and their needs.”
At Frasers Hospitality, each property has an entire team dedicated to the activity calendar, with everything from language classes to movie outings and off-the-beaten-track cycling adventures. To further deepen the connection with the local community, Frasers also focuses on opportunities for guests to “give back” during their stays, by working with disadvantaged children or getting involved with events championing local artistic talent.
Serviced residences are also doubling down on their efforts to provide the crucial “human touch”. You can expect personalised addresses and designated housekeeping attendants attuned to your schedule and habits and on the lookout for ways to enhance your stay. Lanson Place says guests are “treated as family members”, while for Frasers Hospitality, personal service means going above and beyond.
“No request is impossible,” says CEO Choe Peng Sum. “For example, after going to 16 different hotels, one group finally got lucky with their quirky request at Malmaison London (part of the boutique hotel collection in the UK), when staff provided guests with a life-sized cut-out of Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr in the room, and even offered to mail it to their home address after their stay.”
While the human element is important, serviced apartments are also quickly responding to a new tech-savvy customer base. Like Ascott’s Lyf, other providers have launched new brands dedicated to the millennial consumer including Capri by Fraser, launched in 2012. From laundrettes equipped with foosball tables and car simulators, the next stage is to “digitise the core”. Opening in Singapore next year, Capri by Fraser China Square will be a test bed of innovation. Those interested in fitness will find state-of-the-art gym equipment that gamifies workouts and allows you to compete with other travellers around the world, as well as an interactive training system that combines innovative flooring with music and lights for an immersive experience customised to their fitness level. Frasers is also looking at services based on guest feedback such as waterproof audio showerheads to enjoy music while showering, rock climbing walls, and a dedicated microsite featuring recipes for guests to try out for themselves.
In April 2018, Ascott China and Yunji Technology signed an agreement on commercial service robots with a view to bringing more robots to Ascott’s properties, to help with showing guests to their rooms, supplying toiletries, express room service delivery and more.
Technology is also revolutionising back-of-house operations, with smarter systems able to better profile customers and alert staff to preferences and requests, along with more options to book stays, seamless check-ins, room service requests via an app, and tablet controls in the apartment.
Ultimately, as Choe Peng Sum says, “Guests no longer want cookie-cutter experiences. It’s become more than just generous, well-designed living spaces – it’s about that personalised service to exceed the expectations of our guests and make their stays memorable.”