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Fri 28 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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At your service

Despite the GCC being a hub for glamorous hotels, the region’s serviced apartment market is rapidly growing. Louise Birchall explains why home comfort precedes five-star luxury in accommodating short-stay business delegates.

Despite the GCC being a hub for glamorous hotels, the region’s serviced apartment market is rapidly growing. Louise Birchall explains why home comfort precedes five-star luxury in accommodating short-stay business delegates.

With more and more multi-national companies stationing their headquarters in the Middle East, planners are increasingly required to book accommodation for overaseas delegates and consultants temporarily working in the region.

Selecting the right location can be difficult and time-consuming, with hundreds of considerations and accommodation options to choose from.

We especially try to make booking easy and we’re looking at developing a booker incentive scheme.

Getting it wrong can leave you with an unhappy business traveller with a poor impression of the company, a list of complaints, an over-the-odds bill and the rigmarole of going through the whole booking process again to find an alternative location.

According to international experts in hotel, tourism and leisure TRI Hospitality Consultants, by the end of 2008 there will be approximately 90,000 hotel apartments in the GCC. This doesn't make the decision any easier, but it does highlight that there is a growing demand for the serviced apartment concept.

Serviced apartments versus hotels

So what's the attraction? Most deluxe serviced apartments offer all of the same facilities as a hotel, including television, internet access and restaurants. The main difference is that while hotels are generally designed for leisure, serviced apartments focus on making the guest feel at home.

General manager of Emirates Hotels & Resorts Greenlakes Hotel Apartments, Dubai, Bruno Hivon says "people coming to the region on business usually come for a long stay of more than a week and are used to travelling extensively. So the option of a serviced apartment, with the convenience of a home is attractive.

"If you don't travel too often it's nice and glamorous to stay in a hotel but the frequent business traveller just wants to come back to their own kitchen, where they can make a cheese sandwich, or go and sit in the lounge and watch TV. They can have that in a serviced apartment."

Managing director of Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), whose portfolio includes EWA Hotel Apartments, Michel Noblet, says "our objective is to offer the comfort, flexibility and warmth of a home with the service and convenience of a hotel. Intimate and stylish living areas, spacious bedrooms, fully-equipped kitchens and modern bathrooms, with all the benefits of a good hotel, make these the perfect choice for business executives and their families."

Noblet adds, "serviced apartments offer the best value for money as these provide home comforts at mid-market prices."

"Another advantage," says Hivon, "is that 90% of the time people want to do work in the evenings. In a serviced apartment they have a working desk to set up their computer and generally more space even if they decide to do it on the dining table.

"Also some will meet a colleague or a business associate in the living room of their apartment, which they can't really do in a hotel suite."

"Others staying for longer may have partners who wish to join them for a holiday; in an apartment they can do this without the additional cost on the hotel bill. So it's that sort of flexibility that's usually appreciated by a frequent business traveller," he says. Best of both

This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to choose between booking your usual hotel and a serviced apartment, as more and more brands in the region are adding the hotel-apartment option to their portfolio.

Associate director of TRI Hospitality Consulting Emma Davey says "the current branded supply (of serviced apartments) is broadly estimated to be between 12,000 and 14,000 units.

"By the end of 2013, based on confirmed properties, or those under construction, the branded supply could see additions of up to 30,000 units across the GCC, if all projects are realised."

Davey says that increasingly new hotels are including apartments as part of the room product. For a city-based operation, combining hotel apartments with hotel rooms provides greater scope that can attract a wider guest market.

"One of the advantages of a serviced apartment attached to a resort is that you can access the service of the hotel," says Hivon. "You get the best of both worlds."

Happy guest, happy company

The two main markets for hotel apartments are the short-term business traveller, who stays for seven to 10 days, and the travelling consultant, who works for a month or so on a project. In each case accommodation is arranged by the receiving company.

"The main advantage for the company is positive feedback," says Hivon.

He says that the most crucial consideration a planner should make when choosing the apartment is the proximity to the office. Hivon also highlights a gym, work area and flexibility as being important.

"A lot of people give us a first try because of the Emirates name," he says, "There's a lot of comfort for the booker who can rely on a brand. I don't recall having ever let down a planner or receiving a complaint or negative feedback."

"We especially try to make booking easy and we're looking at developing a booker incentive scheme," adds Hivon.

While the serviced-apartment market is an attractive option for planners, TRI Hospitality Consulting says that the industry will have to find a niche.

"As the hotel market supply grows in the coming years, and there is increasing competition from new serviced apartments entering the market, it is likely that hotel apartments will shift focus to longer-stay guests," says Davey.

This will leave hotels free for daily rates during peak periods of demand.

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