The serviced apartment sector across Asia is continually expanding and diversifying to keep pace with the needs of corporations, business travellers and increasingly, tourists. In most of the region’s capital cities brands like The Ascott Limited, Frasers Hospitality, Oakwood and hotel chains such as Pan Pacific offer a wide choice of locations, designs, facilities and services to long and short stay guests. A burgeoning boutique serviced apartment sector also now complements these global names, with independently operated, Asia focused companies like the Onyx Hospitality Group’s Shama brand providing highly personalised living experiences, and new concept offerings such as Chi Residences in Hong Kong introducing contemporary urban residences for savvy travellers seeking a combination of comfort, convenience and affordability. In a highly competitive market, the range of benefits offered to residents is growing all the time, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish serviced apartments from quality hotels in terms of the facilities and amenities they provide.

Branded living

Although the best hotels in Asia now cater to guests’ every conceivable need, the much touted idea of a ‘home away from home’ is what really distinguishes serviced apartments from their hospitality sector cousins. Not everyone has the same idea as to what makes that ideal home, however, so the choices offered by the larger serviced apartment brands target a broad range of tastes and personal preferences, supported by a wide selection of add on services that cover everything from in-home massage to personal sightseeing tours.

With over 25,000 locations throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific region, Oakwood offers a full spectrum of serviced accommodation to meet the needs of corporations and individuals. Oakwood Premier is designed for luxury travellers with elegant apartments complemented by high-end hotel services such as designer furniture and onsite spa facilities. Oakwood Residences meanwhile, offer spacious, comfortable apartments suited to families and the brand’s proprietary ACE Survey methodology is used to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and provide detailed data to determine how to better assist clients with their future needs.

The Ascott Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CapitaLand headquartered in Singapore, pioneered Asia Pacific’s first international-class serviced residence back in 1984. Today, the company’s serviced offerings are divided into 3 separate brands with 22,000 serviced residence units in key cities across Asia Pacific, Europe and the Gulf region, as well as over 8,000 units under development. Each brand caters to a different need and budget. The Ascott brand offers executive level, luxury apartments focusing on comfort and business services, Somerset is geared more towards families with additional amenities for guests with children, while Citadines targets individual business and leisure travellers looking for convenience and value for money. “Generally, our serviced residences in Asia are doing well,” said Alfred Ong, managing director for South East Asia and Australia. “We see strong demand in gateway cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in China, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Singapore, as well as Bangkok in Thailand, where many multinational corporations have set up operations. Our main clients comprise diplomats and business executives from the automotive, banking and finance, construction and engineering, education, electronics, information technology, and oil and gas industries.” In terms of nationalities, the bulk of guests staying at Ascott’s serviced residences in Asia are from Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, as well as the United Kingdom and the United States. “Our guests appreciate that our staff are like friends to them, going the extra mile to provide useful local tips such as information on schools for their children. They can therefore enjoy a home away from home where their needs will be taken care of, and stay focused on their assignments while on the road.”

Also based in Singapore, Frasers Hospitality is a value-based organisation built around an intimate, family oriented culture with a vast choice of high quality apartment types ranging from studios, to one to four bedroom apartments and penthouses. Frasers’ residential offerings incorporate 4 brands: Fraser Suites, Fraser Place, Fraser Residence and Modena, and each property type distinguishes itself through a focused design scheme, with dedicated facilities such as a a Business Lounge with a full suite of secretarial services at Fraser Suites, a Recreation Hub with games consoles at Fraser Place and Wellness Centres with spa treatments at Fraser Residence.

Boutique niche

With the larger, established names drawing consistent demand from the a deep pool of corporate clients that have offices in Asia’s main business hubs, the boutique serviced apartment sector has expanded to meet to the needs of business and independent long stay travellers. Shama was the first boutique brand in Hong Kong and has since expanded regionally to become a market leader. ONYX Hospitality Group, a Thailand based hotel management company, acquired Shama in mid October 2010 and it is now one of ONYX’s key brands with properties in Hong Kong, China and Bangkok and more planned in gateway cities across the region. Shama apartments combine style and functionality with local design touches, welcoming communal spaces and a community approach that creates a sense of belonging for residents through the brand’s “no boundaries” programme, which fast tracks tenants’ social lives by offering a personal concierge service, access to the city’s leading members- only clubs and fitness centres and a constantly updated selection of retail and dining privileges.

Another niche provider based in Hong Kong is CHI Residences, a unique serviced apartment brand launched in 2007 by the same family that created (and later sold) Shama. CHI Residences recently acquired Le Rivage on Connaught Road West, adding 52 units and bringing CHI’s serviced apartment portfolio to 173 units. “Our philosophy at CHI is to create affordable luxury,” said Pilar Morales, executive director, CHI International. “Features such as our Oxyvital air purifier can be considered aluxury,butforusitisa basic necessity to offer our residents clean safe air, especially in a city like Hong Kong. Smart technology is important given the constant connectivity society demands, and we have an integrated communications system in each apartment allowing our residents to access Internet on their TVs and receive communications/notices from our team. Additional services offered at CHI include in room massage, shoeshining, shuttlebus services, yoga classes and social BBQs help our residents balance life and style.”

With the boutique approach to serviced living proving so appealing to those looking for more homely accommodation choices in the region, developers and management companies in every major city in Asia have introduced long and short stay options with added services to entice independently minded guests. The concept is also taking hold in resort destinations, where couples, families and groups can now rent studios or multi-bedroom apartments with onsite services as an alternative to traditional hotel and resort accommodation.

Independent trends

Although the range of fully serviced accommodation options now available means the larger properties attract a significant percentage of professional and leisure travellers across the region, recent trends have also seen short term visitors opting for private homes and apartments made available though online agents. One of the most successful companies in this sector is roomorama, a Singapore based online booking portal that witnessed exponential growth last year, reporting an average gross booking value of US$1,330 with over 80 per cent of bookings for 8-14 nights. Statistics from roomorama show that compared to Q1, 2011, 200 per cent more APAC travellers booked their accommodation via the online platform in the first part of 2012. The website currently lists 50,000 properties in more than 3,600 locations worldwide, and is aiming to more than double the inventory by the end of 2012, with over 20 per cent of the listings in the Asia Pacific region. “We started as a peer to peer service but soon realised that there were plenty of specialist management companies and small, family owned apartment buildings offering mid- to high-end accommodation that appeals to smart, sophisticated and independent business and leisure travellers.” said roomorama co-founder Jia En Teo. “Less than 10 per cent of our clients look for shared accommodation. Couples, families and groups of friends want added privacy and amenities such as their own kitchen and living room and we fill the gap between budget and high-end luxury when it comes to longer stays.”

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