Traditionally, many corporate travellers were satisfied knowing their branded hotel would deliver its usual amenities: breakfast buffets, restaurants, a laundry bag with a price list, a minibar and room service to pop on expenses. Or, for the more active, a lap around the pool, a circuit in the gym, before dropping the towel on the floor and heading out before the daily housekeeping trolley arrived, knowing they’d come back to a checklist-led re-ordered bedroom.
Meanwhile, there we were at ASAP head office, representing the serviced apartments sector, pushing the less-obvious benefits of cooking your own tea, washing and ironing your own shirts, and actually picking up after yourself, not to mention rattling around an apartment on your own without the lounge bar or spa for people-watching.
Of course, over time the serviced apartment offering has adapted. Operators have become more flexible over shorter stays, making an apartment suddenly more viable for a stopover. The rise of Airbnb-and-co opened travellers’ eyes to ‘living like a local’ and serviced apartments started to gain more fans.
At the same time, we started responding as a sector to a perceived lack of facilities.
Some serviced apartments began partnering with hotels, where an apartment stay came with entry to the hotel restaurant, pool, gym, concierge services.
Housekeeping could be arranged. Some apartment providers responded to the lack of human contact through weekly get-togethers for guests, from cocktail evenings to cookery classes, building mini communities – and brand loyalty. And as a trade body, we at ASAP introduced independently-verified accreditation to reassure, in particular, our corporate guests that professional standards and safety are part of the deal. And then came Covid-19.
Surveys show that travellers are still wary of mixing with others. Hospitality brands, from the giant hotel chains to individual Airbnb hosts, have rushed to promote their own deep cleaning protocols. At ASAP, we’ve added ‘Infection Protection and Control’ to our own members’ accreditation.
The least buyers and guests should expect is that they’re being kept as safe as possible.
And then suddenly some of those previous benefits of hotels – the reception area, the daily knock on the door from housekeeping, the camaraderie of the gym – are exactly the kind of things that travellers are now finding make them uneasy.
So this truly is the time for serviced apartments to claim that ‘sweet spot’ somewhere between hotels and the coolness, independence and flexibility of the sharing economy, but with none of the enforced contact – and with the peace of mind that your temporary home has been checked against stringent standards.
We are told we should all be constantly aware of our own hygiene, we should work from home where possible, and we should avoid travelling too much or having contact with strangers. So, amid the pandemic, surely now is the time for business travellers and travel buyers to recognise the benefits of serviced apartments; kitchens (usually with dishwashers), laundry facilities, grocery and food deliveries, empty days between stays, extra space for working and living in comfort, contactless check-in, privacy, flexibility, and more.
Kim Ashmore is Global Partnerships Manager for ASAP, the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers, a not-for-profit trade body dedicated to championing the serviced apartment sector.