Serviced apartments in the UK can now be graded under a star-rating system, the first standards programme for the industry. Visit Britain and Quality in Tourism (QIT) along with the Association of Serviced Apartments (ASAP) have launched the grading system to "legitimise" the sector.
Alison Barham, quality manager for Visit Britain said: "It's a positive move because it will give the consumer a clear choice - at the moment it is rather pot luck."
Although the serviced apartments sector is well-established worldwide, it has not until now been regulated. It has also mistakenly been linked with the self-catering sector, which could range from a bed-sit or a holiday apartment. David Smith co-founder of ASAP and director of City Apartments said: "As an industry we have been looked at slightly sceptically in the past, so it will be nice when it is managed and monitored and regulated."
ASAP is now partnered with The Corporate Housing Providers Association (CHPA) in the U.S. to try and help them push through a similar system for the U.S.
The problem in the past was deciding on what criteria should be used for grading serviced apartments. Much of the grading for a hotel (around 80 per cent) depends on what is provided by the hotel in its public areas (the restaurant, fitness facilities and so on), whereas for serviced apartments around 80 per cent of the grading focuses on the private living space.
The grading system, which was finalised at the end of May after three years in discussion, will mean that QIT assessors will visit properties which apply, and award a star rating from one to five. One example of the system would be in a one-star property where the guest would not be welcomed personally on arrival and the key may be left for pick up, while in a five-star property you would be welcomed personally and there would be a follow-up call 24-hours later to make sure all is well. To get a detailed look at the star rating system you can download the entry criteria as a pdf from the QIT website (details below).
Jo Layton of BridgeStreet Worldwide and a co-founder of ASAP says: "We believe the industry needs to be legitimised and until an external body does this, then anyone can open up and say they are three-star or four-star."
But although around two and a half thousand properties in the UK will be assessed and rated by October this year, (including ASAP members such as BridgeStreet Worldwide and City Apartments), other well-established providers such as The Cheval Group and the Ascott Group have decided not to take part.
George Westwell, group director of Cheval comments: "I think what has been disappointing with regards to these standards is that there is a need to define serviced apartments before you start grading them." Rebecca Hollants Van Loocke vice president of operations for the Ascott Group agrees: "It's not something that we wish to partake in. We are not really sure what value it will give us. There are various criteria involved that don't conform with what we deliver in our properties. We are an international company with different brands, and those brands are portrayed differently around the world. We offer an a la carte service instead and people like the opportunity to choose and pick what they want or need. A star rating may not always reflect the service."
The hope is that with the grading system in place, it will be easier to select the appropriate level of apartment for a member of staff, but groups such as Ascott argue that they already have this system in place through brand awareness.
Hollants Van Loocke says: "I don't think it will adversely affect us – people are buying a product that they already know and believe in and 90 per cent are corporate clients who know us and we don't feel it will be detrimental to us at all."
Report by Felicity Cousins