Be our guest: Why serviced apartments still win out

HRM Magazine takes a critical look at the advantages serviced apartments still have over both hotels and Airbnb.

Travel accommodation is frequently seen as a mixed bag; something to be approached with equal parts wariness and trepidation. It’s a sentiment often reflected in popular culture, from the iconic motel shower murder scene in the film Psycho, to the famous lyrics of the Eagles’ Hotel California describing a hotel where “you can check out any time you like (but you can never leave)”.

Nonetheless, most hotels can be relied upon to deliver a basic standard of quality, along with safety, security, and stability – important considerations when HR is sending its employees off to unknown foreign locales. A guest can expect a standard template of amenities when checking into a hotel room: bed, bathroom, desk, mini-bar, breakfast buffet, and daily housekeeping at the very least; room service and laundry if they're willing to shell out a little more.

The shared option?

Airbnb, in contrast, promises character and homeliness at a fundamental level. No two homes are the same – likewise, neither are any two Airbnb listings.

It’s also potentially less severe on the wallet. By functioning in the sharing economy, a platform like Airbnb can slash overhead expenses, making it a cheaper prospect than hotels, and not just for backpackers or tourists. If a listing on Airbnb meets certain requirements – from small details like having an iron and bathroom essentials, to smoke detectors and laptop-friendly workspaces – it is marked with an icon that denotes it as being “business travel ready”.

The diversity and scale of Airbnb listings equates to flexibility for guests.

But while flexibility might be fine for an individual traveller planning a holiday, it may not be ideal if you’re a HR professional organising multiple stays, across multiple locations, for multiple seniority levels of employees.

For a start, not all of Airbnb’s business travel listings offer “standard” hotel amenities like housekeeping or breakfast. In fact, many Airbnb hosts expect travellers to clean up after themselves, because these are actual homes, owned and possibly lived in by people who aren’t temporary guests.

Likewise, security and safety can be a mixed bag. One listing might have a state-of-the-art electronic security system, while another is located in a building where people like to prop the common door to avoid locking themselves out.

Is the WiFi down? Or the water? Hopefully the host can get through to their internet provider or a plumber sooner, rather than later. Of course, these things can and do happen in hotels and serviced apartments as well, but professional hospitality providers tend to have dedicated, in-house maintenance and housekeeping teams whose top priority is guests’ comfort.

Airbnb itself seems aware of this shortcoming in its offerings. Bloomberg recently reported that the company is working on a special tier called Select, geared towards higher-paying travellers. Airbnb has declined to comment on these reports, but Bloomberg’s sources suggested that these listings would offer amenities similar to those found in upscale hotels, and be personally inspected and curated by Airbnb.

Home away from home

Consider the Kuala Lumpur-based HR manager with a software team that needs to be deployed to Singapore for a 10-week client project. For that length of time, renting an actual home might seem a more workable prospect. But this is not always an option: in Singapore, for example, the minimum rental period for private homes is three months, and few landlords are willing to work on leases that are any shorter than a year. There are also pesky things like utility bills and maintenance that tenants – the deployed employees, in this case, or maybe even the HR manager – have to deal with.

It’s in this “in-between” space that serviced apartments prove valuable.

“Serviced apartments bridge the gap between hotels, which cater mainly to short stays, and the traditional rental market,” says Kevin Goh, Chief Operating Officer of The Ascott Limited, which hosts a portfolio of nine serviced apartment properties in Singapore – including residences in Raffles Place and the one-north campus.

“Besides providing the services and facilities available in hotels, our serviced residences offer more space, comfort and privacy.”

Goh adds that serviced residences are also a practical, wallet-friendly option for long-stay guests. “Instead of incurring a higher cost of booking multiple rooms in a hotel, companies and families are able to save on accommodation expenses by housing larger groups in a serviced apartment where each member can still enjoy the privacy of individual bedrooms.”

The increased space, privacy and independence that serviced apartments provide may be negligible for a CEO dropping by an overseas office for two days, but can be significantly more conducive for employee productivity and morale for both larger groups and longer stays. Project groups don’t have to feel like they’re tripping over the same colleagues they’ve had to spend the whole work day with. Relocated employees, especially those travelling with families, can focus on acclimatising to a new country and finding more permanent accommodation.

The ability to cook your own food – or even just having a proper fridge to store milk or leftover take-out (let’s face it – mini-bars struggle to keep more than one or two drinks cold at a time) – may seem like a small detail, but it’s a significant cost-saver, and one that allows fish-out-of-water employees some control over what is an otherwise foreign environment. Ultimately, by providing amenities like fully-equipped kitchens and housekeeping, a serviced residence can serve as a comfortable, though temporary, home, but one that doesn’t necessitate changing the sheets or vacuuming the carpet every week.

“To create the ideal ‘home away from home’ experience, we focus a lot on the comfort, security, and spaciousness of a home but with the amenities and conveniences of a hotel,” says Andrew Yee, General Manager of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard, which has two properties in the central Beach Road and Orchard areas of Singapore. “These include sleek designer furnishings, separate lounge and bedroom, and a fully equipped kitchenette with premium appliances and washer/dryer facilities in every suite.

“With our residents staying on a long-term basis, we have taken measures to ensure that both properties for Pan Pacific Serviced Suites in Singapore are thoughtfully designed with well-appointed and defined spaces for work and rest.

“To us, the comfort of our residents comes first.”

Goh agrees, adding, “In the hospitality business, it is the people who make the difference. Ascott staff around the world work hard to ensure the wellbeing of our guests as we create memorable home-away-from-home experiences.”

 

The future

Serviced residences aren’t necessarily premium options for higher level executives. MetroResidences is an Airbnb-style platform for corporate clients,that lists over 400 privately-owned condominium units across various developments in Singapore. Specifically targeting the mid-tier segment, MetroResidences listings range in location from the central town area to trade hubs like Pasir Panjang.

“You could call us Airbnb for business travellers – we occupy the space between it and serviced apartments,” says Alicia Cheong, management associate at MetroResidences. “We semi-manage the apartments and curate the details of each listing, from pricing, furnishing, maintenance, right down to photography.”

Homeowners hand over their house keys for at least six months, and MetroResidences’ team curates a specific standard quality of furnishings and amenities, including WiFi, kitchenware and linen. Serving only corporate clients, the platform stands apart from Airbnb in having its own in-house, mobile maintenance, and housekeeping teams to ensure that its listed properties are kept clean and functional.

The MetroResidences platform adds to the offerings of a sector that is likely to see increased demand in the coming years – PricewaterhouseCooper’s Talent Mobility 2020 and Beyond report notes that employee mobility is expected to have risen by 50% over the decade to 2020. Short-term assignments of a few months are becoming more popular, especially in the eastern part of the world. Hotels and Airbnb aren’t going anywhere, but in a landscape of increasing short-term deployments, the conveniences and cost savings of serviced residences remain tough to beat.

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