Moving to another country for a period of time, whether it is for a short- or long-term assignment is not easy on an employee. The person has to adjust for many changes, from a different work environment to settling down to a new place.

To ensure that employees are comfortable in their host countries, companies have to choose the right accommodation from the many options that are available for them. Service providers say that organisations overwhelmingly prefer serviced apartments as they give a “home away from home” environment, as well as provide other services such as helping employees settle into their new city.

Experts say that an increase in short-or long-term international assignments for businesses, as opposed to permanent relocations, is also a cause for increasing interest in serviced apartments.

The wish list

Companies and employees have a list of preferences when it comes to choosing an accommodation overseas – both want to ensure that the staff member is comfortably housed. Service providers say that location, amenities and affordable rates make the top of the list.

Cherie Tan, Area Director, Sales & Marketing, Singapore, Frasers Hospitality, says that employers prefer to house their employees in a place that has close proximity to their work locations so that commuting time is reduced. The apartment should also be spacious and with good security. Moreover, “easy access to facilities, with a choice of recreation amenities at the doorstep, are all important considerations that go towards promoting a happier and healthier lifestyle for business executives,” she says.

Caroline Leong – Oakwood Asia-Pacific Director, Marketing, says that single business travellers are concerned about the apartment’s proximity to the office and nearby entertainment and variety of restaurants in the vicinity. “Those bringing their families consider the size of the apartment, as well as the security of the environment. They also prefer close proximity to the schools, office, malls and availability of outdoor activities,” adds Leong.

Overseas stay

Studies show that companies are increasingly looking towards short-term or long-term assignments for their employees compared to permanently relocating them, saving costs in the process. The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2011-12 revealed that serviced apartment fits relocation needs for international assignees on short-term assignments, as well as long-term assignees requiring temporary accommodation until they find a property to rent. Weekly commuters also find serviced apartments fit their specific needs.

“We have observed an increasing trend of companies sending employees on shorter term assignments, ranging from one to six months, instead of a more long-term stay. Perhaps this way, they save on costs by not offering a relocation package with numerous benefits, and yet are still able to send their experts to the destination,” says Leong of Oakwood Asia.

She adds that compared to renting a house or a condominium for long-term assignees, a serviced apartment comes as a better option since utilities, housekeeping and maintenance costs are already included in the single rate.

Tan of Frasers Hospitality, says with the trend of business executives being assigned overseas for project work rather than long-term relocations “serviced apartments fill the gap between hotels and fixed-term corporate rentals by providing the win-win situation of flexible leases, value for money, location and most importantly the comforts of home.”

Marc Hediger, CEO, Lanson Place Hospitality Management Limited, says that Singaporeans in particular are moving to major cities on more assignments. Movement to key Chinese markets such as Shanghai and Beijing have become very active in recent years.

Similarly, Leong of Oakwood says that company sees most number of Singaporeans being assigned to cities such as Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing and Jakarta for work.

Helping employees settle in

Experts say that serviced apartments providers should ideally go the extra mile to make their guests stay comfortable, including things such as helping them settle in to their new environment and helping guests network and make friends. Some properties do this by throwing get-together parties and facilitating hobby groups.

Lanson Place has properties in Singapore, Malaysia and different cities in China. Hediger says the normal duration of stay for employees that move to China is one to two years, while those who move to Southeast Asia stay for between six months and a year. During this period, Lanson Place staff organise regular social activities with the residents’ community, “to make it easy for residents to settle in the new place”. Also, the service provider offers tours to nearby shopping and business districts, as well as help residents look for schools for their children.

Other service apartments also provide key services to help their residents settle in. Residents in Oakwood properties are typically corporate clients and business travellers, and 60% of residents stay from less than one month to six months, says Leong.

She says that Oakwood Asia-Pacific makes it a point to help its residents move in with ease. “Prior to relocation, we ask for any special requests they may have involving details such as searching for a school or setting things up according to their preference in their apartment.”

Oakwood has regular get-together sessions among residents and the company staff during which residents are able to meet and chat with the general manager and key property personnel. Leong says that many residents find new friends during these events and even organise their own excursions and events. Other activities, such as cooking classes, out-of-town trips and crafts making, also help to teach residents know about their host country and its culture.

This particular service provider also has an innovative way to keep its residents connected, through its Oakwood Neighborhood Mobile Application. “Using the information in the App, it allows guests to easily integrate themselves into their Oakwood community, by providing tips and “secrets” to daily living in the neighbourhood in their new city,” explains Leong.

Frasers Hospitality also goes out of its way to help its residents settle down. “We offer our residents the flexibility of customising their current living space by incorporating personal pieces of art and soft furnishings to make the apartments as homely and as comfortable as possible,” says Tan.

Also, she adds that Frasers Hospitality offers a variety of family-friendly arrangements in its residences to make guests’ stays enjoyable. These include regular social and recreational activities. “Fraser residences also feature the Fraser Kids Club, which includes a well-equipped playroom, wading pool and stimulating activities like movie screenings, sightseeing and recreational trips,” she says.

Furthermore, “Frasers takes initiative to build and maintain relationships with our residents. We place a specific emphasis on ensuring that our residents are served by the same housekeepers for the duration of their stay,” she says.

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