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SERVICED APARTMENTS - RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

Wednesday April 13, 2011 by Alex Wood

There's a great article about Serviced Apartments in Re:locate magazine this month and we also get a mention!  Here's a precis of the key points.

Serviced accommodation: Rising to the challenge

At Re:locate, we recognise that the fast-growing serviced accommodation sector is of great importance to companies relocating employees around the UK or sending assignees overseas - particularly as the global economy starts to recover and different parts of the world respond in different ways. Perhaps not surprisingly in our increasingly global environment, a Deloitte poll in 2010 showed that 80 per cent of business travellers expected to take at least as many, if not more, business trips in 2011 as they did in 2010.

As the global upturn gets into its stride, the signs are that business travel is on the increase. Fiona Murchie looks at how the serviced apartment industry is meeting the needs of people on the move, and meets some of its key players.

A growing industry

Serviced accommodation is now seen as a real alternative to hotels, with all of the service combined with more flexibility. Final 2010 figures from the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP) confirm that demand continued to increase steadily last year.

Average overall occupancy for London was 89 per cent for the year overall, up three percentage points on 2009. Quarter 3 delivered the highest occupancy for the year, averaging 94 per cent from July to September.

For the rest of the UK, the overall occupancy for 2010 was 76 per cent (up four percentage points on 2009), with Quarter 3 once again proving to be the best-performing quarter, achieving an average occupancy of 81 per cent for July, August and September.

Serviced accommodation has claimed to be nationwide, but in reality there are, at present, only around 70 UK locations. However, the number has increased dramatically since last year.

Attending the Business Travellers Show in February, I was encouraged by the regional facilities emerging, which reflect shortages in particular areas. Outside London, Cotels caters for the hub of activity in Milton Keynes and the outlying areas, with major offices for well-known brands, such Argos, Homebase, T Systems and Red Bull Racing. Nearby Northampton has Carlsberg, Coca Cola and Barclaycard, which create more demand.

Other recent new openings by ASAP members include properties in Nottingham, Norwich, Salisbury, Farnborough, Bournemouth and Swansea. Roomspace Serviced Apartments has opened new apartments in Windsor, within easy reach of the business parks of Staines and Slough. The M3 and M4 corridors are already well catered for.

Scotland has a long history of serviced accommodation, with demand from the oil industry in Aberdeen and the mix of tourism, business and financial-sector needs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and remains buoyant

Flexibility - and knowing what you're getting

It is important that corporate users know exactly what level of accommodation they are purchasing. Serviced accommodation can range from basic to luxurious, with everything in between.

The model of servicing the core needs of the business traveller first, and then providing value-added extras, is an increasingly popular one, enabling serviced accommodation providers to offer everyone what they want.

Savvy business travellers and assignees want hotel standards with home-from-home comforts that reflect their business and personal lifestyle preferences. Providers are now offering a worldwide brand that will appeal to corporate users across the globe, and want their customers to request their product not only in the UK and the US but wherever they may travel to.

Tips for choosing serviced accommodation

If you are new to finding short-term accommodation, or your normal provider is fully booked, how do you find the right solution for your employee? Try getting personal recommendations from contacts, and find out who the companies you are considering are affiliated with, what accreditations they have, and what associations they belong to.

And don't forget the obvious - read the small print and check the terms and conditions, including the cancellation policy and criteria for getting your deposit back.

Booking and online

With the big providers already at around 80 per cent occupancy or higher, how can those new to the concept of serviced accommodation take advantage of it?

The obvious answer is to use a booking agency. However, things are, perhaps, not as clear as they might be, as some providers are operators and booking agents. If you go to your favourite operator/agent, they will endeavour to find you compatible property within their network, and they go to great lengths to try and match the quality.

If you are time pressed, rather than search all the providers yourself, you can use the services of a specialist booking agency.

Choosing a booking agent

"Most individuals would be able to find a serviced apartment, but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and, to ensure the very best results, the services of a specialist are required," says Richard Majewski, who has been in the industry for many years and is one of the founder members of the Serviced Apartment Bookers Association (SABA).

The association brings agents and property providers together, with the aim of encouraging greater communication and trust, thus engendering a better trading environment, which can only be of benefit to the client. It is currently developing Codes of Conduct to protect all parties, which will be represented by the SABA logo.

I asked Richard for his advice for corporate clients and relocation professionals on choosing a good booking agency - what to look for and how to check them out.

"After the summer, look for the SABA logo," Richard advises. "Otherwise, there is actually no way of telling or being able to trust by website alone. Contact details with phone number are a good sign, but misrepresentation and fraud are widespread, and clients should gauge according to the availability and responsiveness of the agent.

"If you don't use a reputable booking agent, you could lose the money you paid to book the apartment - and the possibility of staying anywhere, if there is no alternative accommodation available. That means also loss of money on travel expenses and wasted time.

"I should add that not only agents but also properties need to be reputable - and that is why it is so important for SABA to bring together both agents and providers to safeguard and benefit the clients."

It is well worth doing, because searching can be a time-consuming business, and, as another SABA founder member, Alex Wood, puts it, " You need total confidence in your supplier and your booker to ensure the wellbeing of the employee and the overall success of the relocation or business trip. Make sure you are dealing with reliable and dependable people who are able to handle queries quickly and efficiently."

To see the full article visit: www.relocatemagazine.com


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Posted by Alex Wood

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