• At your service: An insider’s guide to serviced apartments

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    Just like home, but with all the comforts of a hotel, corporate serviced apartments are a stylish accommodation alternative for business travellers, says Simon Morrison.

    The serviced apartment sector is growing fast and one that you may not have previously considered as a business travel solution. The industry is going through a huge growth spurt and as it does, it is important to understand the pitfalls as well as the huge benefits serviced apartments can have both on your company’s purse strings and the flexibility it offers the traveller.

    For the traveller, serviced apartments offer more of a ‘home away from home’ experience with more living space than an average hotel bedroom, combined with the flexibility that self-catering offers. This is particularly important for longer stays, as it allows you more freedom to come and go as you please, stick to you daily routine, and shop at the local supermarket rather than have to eat out at restaurants every day.

    For the company, it helps to keep down food and beverage costs, as serviced apartments have fewer extra charges and are usually 20-25% less expensive than staying in an equivalent standard hotel. And if you are staying longer than 30 nights it becomes even cheaper.

    So, you want to explore this area, but how do you know which provider to go with? There are many well-established suppliers/owners as well as independent agents. However, as our sector grows, there is still a lack of awareness and knowledge among corporates about who the key players are. The reason for this is that the industry is still in its infancy and there are no particularly large players that have global recognition.

    As an industry we are flying below the radar, unlike hotel brands and the likes of new kid on the block Airbnb, who have invested heavily in marketing and have saturated the market with awareness. Reputable serviced apartment providers such as BridgeStreet and Oakwood have joined forces with them to provide this to the corporate sector, resulting in controversy within the sector. It may work well from a leisure perspective if you don’t mind taking a risk, but would you book a senior executive into accommodation where you have no guarantees and you don’t know what they will find on arrival? Unfortunately, it appears that certain companies do not carry out due diligence and there doesn’t seem to be the same degree of accountability and duty of care as you would get if you booked with a reputable serviced apartment provider.

    So unlike the hotel sector, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really work in the serviced apartments industry. How then can you confidently navigate the serviced apartment landscape and be sure you are using a trusted provider?

    Take note from these 10 top tips:

    1. Only use reputable companies that are either part of a trade association such as ASAP and HBAA.
    2. Ask colleagues to recommend somewhere they’ve used before or a brand they trust. Never book apartments blindly from the web, as you can’t always guarantee the quality or standards – duty of care is key.
    3. Work with a company that puts customer care at the forefront of its business – the relationship with your travel consultant is key to ensure your needs are met and costly mistakes are avoided.
    4. Make sure the apartment company you are booking through offers complete transparency; some operate as both owner/suppliers and as agents for other brands – you may find you have been booked into another provider and not know until check-in.
    5. Time and location permitting, arrange to visit the apartments to ensure their suitability for the occupant.
    6. Try and establish the seniority of the person for whom you’re booking and the equivalent star rating of hotel that they would normally stay in so you can match to the same standard of apartment.
    7. Only book for the period you know that you definitely require. It’s generally easier to extend a booking than reduce the length of stay without the required notice period.
    8. Set a nightly or weekly budget and be clear about the payment terms and cancellation policy.
    9. Are there any “added value services” or benefits that the company can offer you, such as chauffeur service, vouchers, food in the fridge on arrival, etc.
    10. Last but not least, choose a company that has 24/7 customer support – this is crucial and a service you would expect to receive if you were staying at a hotel.

    Simon Morrison, Owner and Managing Director of Select Apartments, set up the company in 1998. He has more than 19 years’ experience in the serviced apartment sector. Prior to setting up his own business he worked for Euracom and Best Western Hotels. Twitter: @SelectApartment

  • AUTHOR

    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson