E-BULLETIN EXCLUSIVE August 2013 Finding the Right Serviced Apartment Katsumi Sugawara, property management department manager at Space Design Inc., provides expert advice on choosing a serviced apartment for employees or visiting family members. How do you recommend firms choose a location for a serviced apartment? We recommend prioritising clear rates and payment terms to avoid misunderstandings. Certainly the quality of a facility and its location are important, but the ability to rely on full support from dedicated staff is key to selecting the best serviced apartment for an employee. Such support would allow employees to focus on their work instead of domestic issues. How do the needs of families travelling with small children differ from those of independent business travellers? Multilingual concierges are very helpful for families, as living overseas can be quite stressful. Beyond language, if support staff behave in a caring manner and strive to genuinely facilitate the initial settling in period and guests’ overall satisfaction, this can be quite beneficial. For guests with children, location and access to daily necessities are important factors. For example, residential areas with easy access to a park or playground, supermarkets and medical facilities make for a more comfortable and stress-free life in Japan. Guests with families may also be interested in optional rental furniture such as baby cots or twin beds for increased convenience. Finding a serviced apartment provider that can accommodate such requests and make the guests feel at home is vital. On the other hand, for a single visitor, complimentary breakfast, housekeeping services and proximity to stations and transport are top priorities. How far in advance do you recommend starting to select serviced apartments for overseas visitors? We recommend firms begin the process two to four weeks ahead of time. The speed at which we are able to respond to clients’ requests is one of our strengths and, if necessary, we are able to prepare everything within a week. That said, the earlier the start, the better. Having sufficient time will ensure the client finds the most suitable accommodation. Spring and autumn—particularly between April and May—is the high season, when the availability of accommodation is limited in all areas. Which aspects of your properties are most appreciated by guests? Our bilingual concierge service, complimentary breakfast, free shuttle bus, gym and spa facilities are most popular among guests. In addition, the warm and friendly support our staff offer is always appreciated. What information do you need to start the search for a serviced apartment? When we work with firms, we ask about: 1: Office location (for commuting/access) 2: Budget 3: Desired floor plan (size, number of bedrooms) 4: Length of stay 5. Special requirements According to the Space Design website, serviced apartments can be more affordable than hotels. What is the average amount that might be saved by not staying at a hotel? There are several hotel categories with various specifications, so it is not easy to give an exact figure. However, I would say that a saving of 20–40% is possible if one compares staying at a serviced apartment with staying at a hotel with facilities of a similar quality. Another major benefit is that serviced apartments do not charge taxes or service fees, such as accommodation tax, consumption tax or hotel tax. What factors are often overlooked when a firm brings over employees who have little or no experience in Japan? Overall, I have the impression that most difficulties arise from cultural and linguistic differences that people find greater and more challenging than they had imagined. For example, even something as simple as using electrical appliances can be complicated. Catching a taxi and ordering in a restaurant are not easy either, because most drivers and waiters do not speak English. Guests often find that these little things can be harder than they had previously expected. Having a concierge or service staff on hand can help with such difficulties. At Space Design, we offer a free 24-hour bilingual hotline, which guests seem to really appreciate. Is there anything else firms should do to prepare employees who are new to Japan? Business cultural preparation is important. A briefing should be arranged to teach the newcomer about effective business practices in Japan, such as how to express one’s opinion in meetings, and standards regarding overtime and punctuality. We highly recommend firms set up this sort of training prior to an employee’s arrival so that newcomers can smoothly adapt to the working environment. Equally important is the reception by the Japan local team. Team members should be prepared to receive the foreign employee in a welcoming manner. Communication skills are critical for creating an environment in which foreign employees feel warmly welcomed. These skills are also necessary to ensure an effective workplace. Finally, we also recommend: – Giving clear directions on how to reach the workplace, as the abundance of train lines and station exits can be confusing. Plus, English signs are not always apparent. – Providing new arrivals with a mobile phone on arrival to ease communication and prevent any difficulties. This can also be instrumental in resolving any issues employees may experience in organising themselves due to language problems, etc., which can be stressful and time consuming. 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