Once the domain of the business traveller, serviced apartments and aparthotels are on the up among regular visitors too. Click. went along to the opening of the newest ‘hometel’ in the UK to find out more about this fast-growing sector
by Lottie Gross, Click. Travel Writer
Set back from a pretty park near the waterfront in Southampton, UK, the new room2 ‘hometel’ is in a prime location. Right in the town centre, it’s an ideal base for business travellers, it’s close enough to the hospital to attract the contractors and consultants working for the NHS, and from its park-view rooms you can see the port from which cruise ships leave for New York, the Caribbean or the Med.
It’s this location that will likely define the diversity of room2’s clientele when it opens in June 2018, and they’re prepared to cater to all.
“Tourists will likely come for a shorter length stay,” explains Robert Godwin, Founder of room2. “They will use us as more of a leisure space: they’re looking for services, attendance from staff members, they want friendly faces they can chat with. For those people we wanted to create a good atmosphere in the lobby: it’s lively, there’s social energy, food on offer, and it’s a platform for them to go an experience the city.
“For the corporate traveller we wanted to create spaces where people could return freely, so we have a frictionless booking system, frictionless arrival, they are able to leave items here if returning frequently. They can use the space as much or as little as they want and these apartments give them maximum flexibility to eat in the room or eat out.”
Room2, rather than sitting in the category of aparthotel, sells itself as the “world’s first hometel” and Godwin believes they’re doing something unique in the industry. “A lot of aparthotels lack personality, character and design detail. We’re a family business and we’re so hands on that every single detail is considered by a number of members of the team, including myself.
“That level of detail – every bit of customer service, every bit of design in the buildings – has helped us to go a step beyond aparthotels and serviced apartments.”
A rapidly growing industry
It’s a good time to be capitalising on the serviced apartment industry. Hotel data and benchmarking organisation STR Global estimates that the industry is worth £684m, and according to a UK-based survey by Savills, more than 40% of serviced apartment operators are hoping to accelerate expansion plans in 2018.
Extended stay, as it’s called in the the US, has been the fastest growing segment in the US lodging industry for over 10 years, too.
John Wagner Co-Founder of Cycas Hospitality who operate a number of serviced apartments in Europe, says this is thanks to the evolving ways in which people travel.
“Since we first pioneered the branded extended stay concept in the UK back in 2008 we’ve seen some big differences in the way that people travel, for leisure as much as business.
…one thing the industry has identified over the last decade is that many millennial travellers like the opportunity to live like a local – John Wagner, Cycas Hospitality
“As travellers place more importance on authentic experiences, one thing the industry has identified over the last decade is that many millennial travellers like the opportunity to live like a local. [The likes of] Airbnb played a key role in making more people aware of the alternative forms of accommodation out there and driving home the benefits of self-catering. Aparthotels take this one step further, by combining the flexibility of home with classic hotel services.”
Wagner believes there’s ample opportunity for growth, even in the most accommodation-saturated cities around the world. In London, for example, extended stay makes up just 7.5% of the total accommodation offering, and with budget travel a challenge in the expensive English capital, it’s likely that more flexible accommodation such as aparthotels would be a welcome option for both business and leisure visitors.
Who is booking into aparthotels?
The changing travel habits and preferences make for a much more varied customer base. Wagner explains: “While our hotel apartments remain very attractive to business travellers, our central locations, spacious suites and the customer service provided by our onsite teams have made us increasingly popular with couples and families looking for a more home-from-home experience.”
Godwin expects to see the same trends at room2, especially as the price point can make aparthotels a far more attractive prospect for families and groups of friends when sharing a suite.
A 2016 study conducted by HotelPlanner.com in the US found that 45% of the extended stay bookings on its site were actually for leisure travel, and just 36% for business. In the UK, serviced apartments and aparthotels are the accommodation of choice for visitors from China, according to the China Daily newspaper.
The future looks bright
Since the extended stay concept was developed in the US in the 1970s and later brought to Europe, with the aim of making hotels feel more like a home, the industry has evolved and will continue to do so as travellers’ needs change.
Wagner believes it remains crucial to deliver a home-from-home feeling, but adds, “it’s important that the sector balances this with quenching guests’ thirst for local cultural and community experiences”.
Brands like Marriott’s Residence Inn, for example, have introduced initiatives like the ‘Take Residence’ programme, with free themed events hosted by local residents that aim to give guests a unique way of exploring the cities they’re visiting.
There is no doubt that this is a market brimming with opportunity.
Like this? Read our interview with the Co-Founder of Dutch co-working/living space, Zoku
Lottie Gross is a freelance travel writer and journalistMore by Lottie Gross
Popular around Click.
Travel trends: what 2017 taught us
Insider tips on boosting your review score
What I wish I knew: lessons in holiday rentals
Adapt or die: surviving in the era of digital Darwinism
Five travel trends that will shape customer experience in 2018
Spotlight on: the impact of food tourism
Entrepreneur Bruce Poon Tip on the art of ‘letting go’