• Cheval Residences   Doug Greenwood (Moderator)
  • Equilibrium Consulting   Jon Bolger
  • PwC   Sam van Leeuwen
  • Redfern Travel   Kate Wimpeney
  • SilverDoor   Stuart Winstone
  • The PA Club   Michael Hislop
This panel discussion covered the growth of the sharing economy, quality accreditation, the marketing of the sector to corporate buyers and the challenges of booking serviced apartments.

Sam van Leeuwen, PwC, commented that serviced apartments were the original disruptors – ‘you started the trend’ and have come a long way in short space of time.  It used to be only for long stays and now it can be for only 1 or 2 nights. ‘You offer something that hotels can’t’.  The sector has grown enormously but ‘you don’t shout out the brands. Serviced apartments need to take advantage of the confusion in the market, but a lot of the time the customer doesn’t understand what you are offering.’

Duty of care is a key issue; some corporates won’t allow, for example, employees to use uber because of the duty of care of employees.

Travellers are demanding different solutions, often they won’t accept 3 star hotels.  But while they are expecting higher quality, the price point isn’t higher, so PwC is under constant pressure to get the price down.  But PwC don’t currently use Airbnb because it’s not a validated platform.

Michael at the PA Club said that 10% of their members use Airbnb (they have 1,400 company members).

Stuart from SilverDoor commented that Airbnb has really helped the sector’s awareness with consumers and we do really need to harness that.

Jon Bolger confirmed that work needs to be done to make quality accreditation better known especially within the ‘Group Risk’ departments within corporates.  And although the world is getting smaller, it is getting harder to move people around.

Location is absolutely key – convenience and ease of access of the accommodation for the client.

Kate from Redfern confirmed they’d seen the use of serviced apartments double every year since 2012/13 in both room-nights and revenue.  And while they started off using serviced apartments in London they are increasingly booking them in the provinces too including cities like Leicester and Nottingham.

Kate referenced their ‘Crown’ accommodation programme where pressure on rates for Government contracts  is very high, capped at £120/night (they book on average 400-500 rooms every night).

Sam commented that the serviced apartment sector should have had a really good marketing plan – ‘you shouldn’t have allowed Airbnb to jump ahead of you.  You have a better product which is also cost-effective (can be cheaper than using Airbnb)  – you need to get together to market it’.

She added that ‘no-one knows about the stock;  accreditation is good but it needs marketing to bring it altogether’.  People are surprised to see what serviced apartments actually look like, not enough is done to market them.  And  there is a massive opportunity to market the product more widely.  You need to show off the cool funky rooms you offer.’

Michael commented that 27% of PAs do book serviced apartments.

Kate mentioned it’s critical to be able to book apartments easily; they want to ensure people don’t have to make a phone call in order to book and she also stressed the importance of being able to book via the GDS.

Jon commented that it can be pot luck what product you get. ‘You go to one and it’s high quality, you go to another and it’s more basic. Sometimes the white goods are too tacky and cheapStandards can vary but accreditation should help drive standards upWith hotels you do have a minimum standard which is reassuring for corporates.’

Sam suggested the sector was ‘way behind the curve’you talked about this 10 years ago, you need to make changes now.  You can’t stand still.’

She also referenced that PwC are looking at ‘collective living’ ie lower cost options as sometimes serviced apartments are too expensive.  And she also warned the sector not to make booking too complicated or it turns people away – ‘remember the client has a 5 second attention span, if it’s too complicated it’s a no’.  

Sam from PWC also stressed they aren’t in the 5 star market, they’re looking for 3.5 star accommodation.

Finally the benefits of developing an API to be able to load inventory on to different booking platforms including the OTAs was also highlighted as being crucial to be able to work effectively with those booking platforms.  And it enables operators to manage their own inventory most effectively.

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