CEO James Foice confirms very positive outlook for serviced apartment sector at flagship European event at a time of exceptional growth

An ‘incredible event’ at this exciting time in the sector’s evolution –  that was the overall conclusion of the 400 delegates attending this year’s ASAP 2017 Serviced Apartment Convention in London on Thursday 7 December.

In his opening address James Foice CEO confirmed that the UK sector contributes almost £950k towards the UK Exchequer, with over 22.5k serviced apartments currently in operation.

He confirmed that the future pipeline is particularly exciting; future growth is conservatively predicted at 17% – or 3,677 serviced apartments by 2020.

Foice also highlighted the key findings in the newly released  Sentiment Survey with ASAP/Savills which confirms a very robust outlook for the sector with over 40% of ASAP’s member operators  looking to accelerate their expansion plans in 2018.

In terms of occupancy, the serviced apartment sector is delivering above-average growth: ASAP Business Partner STR confirms that overall occupancy for the UK to end October is 82.4% and RevPAR is £122.86 compared to the accommodation industry overall the UK the accommodation industry is reporting occupancy of 78.2% occupancy, and Revpar of £72.25.

Interestingly the real driver of improved operational performance in 2017 would appear to be coming from the improved demand from the leisure segment, with a significant increase in inbound leisure visitors in view of the favourable exchange rate in 2017.

Foice also confirmed that the Association will become  ‘accredited–only’ from September 2018 with each one of its members being required to be ASAP Quality Accredited, which was confirmed as the Association’s key differentiator since it delivers the all-important ‘duty of care’, particularly important for corporate travellers.

A number of initiatives by the newly-formed ASAP Strategic Action Groups were highlighted.  For example the HR Group has delivered 2 ASAP Leadership Academy programmes in 2018, as well as establishing a closer partnership with the Universities of Bournemouth and Surrey.  And the Communications Action Group has set up the ASAP Instagram Account and a competition was launched for members to submit images to build the Instagram image library to ensure this develops as an important new marketing channel as quickly as possible.

A pilot project with STR to deliver a new bespoke solution for the sector’s occupancy data requirements was also announced, driven forward by the Data Action Group is seen as a very positive step forward.

ASAP also launched a dedicated Jobs Board during 2017 as well as running the largest ever programme of networking events which will be expanded even further next year.

Keynote speaker Cathy O’Dowd, the first woman to climb Everest from both the north and south sides, wowed the audience with an incredible presentation.  Delegates were completely captivated as she challenged the audience to ‘think like an explorer’.  She looked at how to navigate uncertainty with fluid planning as she took the audience on a journey exploring the many challenges faced on a hazardous expedition, and the many tough decisions involved when leading a team and executing a plan when under intense stress.  She explored how critical decisions were made, and crucially how risk was managed in a life and death situation.

Some key takeaways included the Importance of being flexible when ‘you can’t always hang on to the exact plan’, and the need to accept that very challenging tasks and projects more often than not do take longer than planned.

The seminar programme which followed on from the keynote featured 6 educational seminars on a range of topics and these will be reported on separately on this news hub later this week.

An exhibition with 39 suppliers ran throughout the event giving delegates the opportunity to find out about new products and services for the sector.

Deirdre Wells, Chairman of the Tourism Alliance and Chief Executive of UKinbound concluded the day delivering the closing address where she highlighted some of the key challenges the industry faces particularly the staffing issue in the face of BREXIT, which such a high percentage of the industry’s workforce coming from mainland Europe.

The importance of the industry delivering a world class welcome to visitors has never been more critical and she stressed how our welcome needs to match our world class product.

She believes there ‘the quality of our accommodation’ is the single biggest issue facing the sector and suggested that the serviced apartment sector was particularly well suited for small group travel as well as for families and multi-generational groups. Similarly the importance of offering ‘experiences’ which are instagrammable alongside the accommodation is important.

In terms of the challenges ahead she raised the issues around the visa situation particularly from India and China and confirmed that the Tourism Alliance would be meeting with the relevant Government Migration Advisory Committee before Christmas to raise this.

The Tourism Alliance is also running a campaign highlighting the career progression opportunities by showcasing the careers of some hospitality leaders to inspire the next generation.

She concluded telling delegates never to lose sight of the fact that we are a people based industry’ and how advantageous it is to ‘cross market’ with relevant partners eg with neighbouring visitor attractions to encourage guests to stay longer.  She believes ‘we could have double digit growth if we make the most of this potential.’

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