After a day’s work, many world-weary business travellers spend their evenings in the anonymity of a hotel room which, however luxurious, lacks that homely feel. Now, increasing numbers of top-of-the-range serviced apartment chains across Asia are offering very viable and exciting alternatives that emphasise space, personal service and all the comforts of home – and sometimes more. Instead of cookie-cutter bedrooms, you can end the day in a fully-furnished home-away-from-home, complete with a kitchen and dining space that make late-night snacking a lot more interesting than consuming the minibar.
To stay ahead of the game, these service providers are constantly upping the ante on their offerings. Some are taking guests on cultural outings to find out more about their host city or are arranging fun cocktail evenings to help residents meet and mingle. Others, meanwhile, are emphasising their eco-friendly credentials.
The focus everywhere is on making business travel less stressful and more comfortable. Many service providers place growing importance on the excellence of their staff training, which can make the serviced apartment experience a truly memorable one for guests. They also claim to offer a serendipitous bonus for cost-conscious companies – long-stays in serviced apartments tend to cost less than those in hotels.
“Long-stay travellers and companies seeking accommodation for their employees are increasingly aware of the value that serviced apartments provide,” says Joan Tan, assistant vice-president of corporate communications at The Ascott Limited, purportedly the world’s largest serviced residence owner-operator.
Increased demand is being reflected in the host of new properties that have just opened or are under development across Asia and beyond. Here’s our run-down of the ethos, offerings and activities in some of Asia’s best serviced apartments companies.
Oakwood’s serviced apartments are designed to meet all kinds of temporary housing needs in locations around the world. The group has almost 15,000 apartments, with another 4,000 in the pipeline. Oakwood Asia Pacific has 12 properties in the region, covering China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou), India (Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune), as well as leading Asian capitals Jakarta, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila and Bangkok. A further 23 properties are planned to open across the region by 2014. They are divided into Oakwood Premier, Oakwood Residences and Oakwood Apartments.
Oakwood Premier is designed for luxury travellers and offers elegant apartment and luxury hotel service in prime city-centre locations. Limousine pick-ups, designer furniture and top-notch health and spa facilities are the order of the day.
Oakwood Residences are located in commercial and residential areas. Here, guests will find larger, comfortable apartments which are ideal for families, coupled with many hotel services and amenities, including 24-hour reception.
Contemporary comfort is offered alongside onsite hospitality staff available during business hours at Oakwood Apartments. Housekeeping service is provided once a week.
Oakwood is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new campaign entitled “Trust us to surprise you”. The campaign offers guests at Oakwood properties in Asia the chance to enjoy a host of surprises, including artisanal gourmet products, spa treatments and weekend getaways.
The surprises are designed by the staff in each property so that Oakwood can say “thank you” to guests in the most personalised, appropriate way. For example, guest surprises at Oakwood Apartments and Oakwood Residences are designed to be about spending quality time with loved ones. Treats include breakfast in bed, the use of a car and driver for a weekend and Family Day, where families are taken to a beautiful park to enjoy a wonderful picnic. At Oakwood Apartments, where the clientele includes a lot of executives who often travel alone, surprises include networking cocktail parties to help residents relax and meet with others in a fun environment.
In Tokyo, guests from the Oakwood Premier Tokyo Midtown have been taken on exclusive tours to the Tsujiki fish market and Yokohama Landmark Tower. Other guests have received tickets to the trendy Billboard Live Tokyo club, while others visited Kyoto by bullet train.
The more than 25,000 apartment units in 195 properties around the globe under Ascott operate in three distinct brands – Ascott, Somerset and Citadines.
Ascott is designed for executives looking for a premium apartment and an exclusive environment. Somerset caters to executives travelling with their families and offers children’s facilities such as playgrounds and swimming pools. Citadines is geared to independent travellers looking for a good city location with quality accommodation and value for money.
“What differentiates us is our strong customer-centric approach and our focus on providing guests with a truly unique and memorable home-away-from-home experience,” says Anthony Khoo, the company’s senior vice president of brand and marketing.
The customer emphasis is taken seriously – Ascott has its own dedicated staff training company and Khoo says staff and residents often develop long-term friendships. “It’s this special warmth and personalised service that sets us apart from the rest,” he says.
The company’s flagship property is the Ascott Raffles Place Singapore, which features an art-deco façade and an award-winning building restoration. It has eight other properties in the Lion City.
Ascott is also present in 13 cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai and Hongkong, and many major cities in Asia such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Tokyo.
Serviced apartments are increasingly appealing to business travellers and leisure travellers are also a growing market. “In particular, our larger units such as the two- and three-bedroom apartments are popular with those travelling with their family,” says Khoo.
Ascott’s value-added services include a residents’ programme that organises day trips to places of historic and cultural interest around Bangkok and takes guests to celebrate local festivals.
The latest additions to the Ascott portfolio include the Somerset Sukhumvit Thonglor, located in Bangkok’s vibrant and popular Soi Thonglor district. Citadines Melbourne, designed as a laneway connecting two well-known shopping areas and featuring original artwork by local Melbourne artists, is another new kid on the block. Citadines Jakarta will open later this year.
Shama was the first organisation to offer boutique serviced apartments in Hongkong, in 1996, and has expanded rapidly across the territory to become the city’s market leader in terms of reach and number of properties. In 2007, it opened its first property on the mainland – the Shama Luxe at Xintiandi in Shanghai, which was also the first property in the premier “Shama Luxe” range. The company now operates around 2,000 apartments spread across 16 properties in Hongkong, Shanghai and Dalian, with more scheduled to open soon. Shama – the name means “tranquility” in Sanskrit – aims to have at least 40 properties by 2013. The clientele mostly consists of young professionals who stay for at least six months.
“We believe that what we have is personality with passion,” says Bhupesh Yadav, Shama’s chief operating officer. “We consider ourselves a lifestyle provider, as opposed to just being a serviced apartment operator.”
Shama’s apartments focus on providing style, service, location and lifestyle. Hip, locally inspired design is blended with functionality to create comfortable interiors with an east-meets-west feel.
“Each of the Shama properties has a distinct personality, yet there is a vein of similarity that runs through them all,” says Yadav.
The company prides itself in its highly trained and experienced staff. Locations are chosen in the top commercial and residential districts of each city. Studios average 29.7sqm-53.6sqm, one-bedroom apartments are 35.5sqm-118sqm, two-bedroom apartments measure 86.5sqm-220sqm, three-bedroom units start from 128sqm and penthouses extend up to 970sqm.
Shama operates a “No Boundaries” programme to help residents kick-start their social life and experience a sense of belonging in their host city. Exclusive privileges include membership to private clubs and fitness centres, as well as discounts at the neighbourhood’s trendiest restaurants and shops – with insider tips included.
Shama notes an upswing in customers from the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Australia and, increasingly, China. Customers are appreciative of environmentally-friendly operations and Shama is responding by choosing eco-friendly air-conditioning units and using natural, high-quality silks and cottons for its curtains and bed linen.
Shama will open in Bangkok in the last quarter of this year, its first foray into Thailand. Shama Sukhumvit, located in the prime residential area of Sukhumvit 2, is geared to the needs of business and leisure travellers and offers 90 apartments comprising one-, two- and three- bedroom units. One of its big draws is the clubhouse, which is equipped with a swimming pool, fitness centre, children’s area and yoga and meditation rooms. Another Shama property will open in Bangalore in 2011. Branded boutique residences – managed but not owned by Shama – are planned for China.
A truly global company, Frasers Hospitality has 37 properties in Asia, the Middle East, the UK, France and Australia and a swathe of developments is planned for the next few years.
Asia-Pacific properties include seven in China (two each Beijing and Shanghai, plus Shenzhen, Shekou and Nanjing), four in Thailand (three in Bangkok and one in Pattaya), three in Singapore, one in Hongkong, two in Korea (Seoul and Insadong), plus New Delhi, Hanoi, Sydney and Osaka.
Location tends to be in the happening parts of cities to cater to the preferences of Frasers’ clients, 70 percent of whom work for Fortune 500 companies, many in banking.
“A lot of senior VPs from the banks are actually very young and like to be where it’s happening,” explains the company’s chief executive, Choe Peng Sum.
After surveying the preferences of its customers, the focus at Frasers is on providing comfort, service and especially space.
“Lots of operators try to make the room tighter and smaller when they want to make money. But if you want customers to stay longer-term, you have to give them space,” says Choe. The company also tries to do common things such as providing clean surroundings, fast check-ins and fast internet connections “uncommonly well”, he says.
One trend Choe has noted is the growing demand for meeting facilities, which doesn’t necessarily mean narrowly-focused business centres, although Frasers has well-used meeting
facilities in Sydney and Paris. Guests also enjoy spaces that encourage more casual mingling and easy-to-access internet-browsing areas, he explains. Customers with long working hours appreciate 24-hour gyms and spa services as they need to fight stress.
One of the fastest-growing serviced apartment providers in the market, Frasers has several new projects in the pipeline throughout Asia and the Middle East. Fraser Residence will soon open in Kuala Lumpur. It has just opened in Bahrain and Dubai and will be opening in Oman within two years. It has also started construction in Saudi Arabia.
As well as opening new properties, Frasers is renovating existing ones, with Manila, London and Singapore on the list.
Lanson Place operates serviced apartments in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hongkong. The focus is on providing stylish, comfortable homes-away-from-home that also offer excellent service for business executives and their family members.
“The Lanson Place brand puts the certainties of a home in place for residents as soon as they move in. The sense of assurance is immediate. Then we bring on the personal service of our exceptionally dedicated staff,” says Graeme Laird, senior vice-president of Lanson Place Hospitality Management.
Locations are chosen for their ease of access to business districts as well as accessibility to shopping, dining and entertainment areas. The design focus is on creating simple, elegant and calm interiors.
“We see a growing demand in intra-regional business travelling and these expat guests and their families inevitably have higher expectations and slightly higher demand for home comforts and excellent guest services,” says Laird.
In May, the group celebrated the eighth property in its portfolio. Lanson Place Jin Qiao Residences opened in Pudong New District, Shanghai, the group’s second premises in the city (the other is Lanson Place Jinlin Tiandi Residences in Puxi). The new building houses 206 one- and two-bedroom apartments and offers the same level of service found in five-star hotels. One-bedroom apartments measure 81sqm while two-bedroom apartments are 122sqm. All apartments overlook a beautiful 929sqm European-style garden. Guests have access to a 24-hour gym, a business centre and an elegant residents’ lounge.
The next Lanson property to open will be Lanson Place Bukit Ceylon in Kuala Lumpur, located in the city’s Golden Triangle area and within walking distance of the central business district, shopping malls and restaurants. It is scheduled to open in early 2012.
More new properties are currently under development or planned for China and other major Asian cities. “We have great confidence in the serviced apartments market in China,” says Laird. “Lanson Place will continue to expand its presence in primary cities like Shanghai and Beijing and secondary cities like Chengdu and Tianjin.”