Hospitality April / May 2010

More Than Location

Service, security, furnishings make the difference

Serviced apartments have weathered the recession well, partly due to the nature of the industry, said Martin Fluck, Japan country manager of Oakwood Asia Pacific.

“Unlike a hotel where guests stay for as little as one night, our serviced-apartment stays are for a minimum of 30 days. Once guests have signed up, they tend to stay long periods. Our business, therefore, has an advantage in that it is steadier and less susceptible to the ups and downs of hotel occupancies”.

Fluck, also general manager of the flagship Oakwood Premier Tokyo Midtown, says about 80% of Japanese guests who moved in at its opening three years ago still live there. Indeed, all two- and three-bedroom apartments, a popular choice for families, are booked.

“Our occupancy percentage rate over the first three months of 2010 registered in the mid-eighties, up about 15% year on year, although everyone in the hotel or serviced-apartment industry is still under pressure when it comes to rates”, he cautioned. “We have had to be very flexible and realistic on this point. In our industry it also means investing a lot of time ensuring new guests find the best fit for their personal needs. Our sales team personnel have to be very well trained in articulating personal guests’ needs. People don’t sign up for several months’ accommodation as they would for one night at a hotel chain, because selecting a serviced apartment is more like renting a private home”.

A second key advantage serviced apartments generally enjoy is a high level of privacy and security. “Whereas hotels are open to the public, our access is strictly limited exclusively to guests [and their visitors]”, said Fluck. “That makes it private and exclusive, an aspect some well-known people, single female business travelers and families prefer.”

Thirdly, Oakwood serviced apartments are fully furnished, making them attractive for longer stays. “Kitchens at our Midtown property are also very well-equipped”, said Eiichi Ishimaru, director of sales and marketing. “We have a lot of families staying with us, so this is very important. We also offer all sorts of other support to make it feel more like home, such as a Welcome Basket and special activities for residents”.

The personalised service that core staff offer is something guests usually comment on, said Fluck. “Since we do not have any restaurants or banquet facilities, our main focus is on the 24-hour front desk and concierge service. The staff really gets to know guests personally and by name. Some guests feel so much at home they even bring us omiyage when they return to us”.

A lack of in-house restaurant facilities does not appear to be a constraint, especially since Oakwood serviced apartments tend to be located in central, highly accessible locations with a wide choice available locally.

“The Oakwood Midtown, which has an exceptional lounge area, also offers a breakfast service”, explained Fluck. “In addition, we host a very popular weekly event for between 40 and 60 guests where we serve wine and snacks. Every four months we have a Tokyo Premier Collections Event, a networking event that draws about 180 of Tokyo’s business elite. It is a joint partnership between Asian Tigers Premier, HSBC Premier and Oakwood Premier. Seeing is believing, so events like that are great exposure for us”.

After 25 years in the hospitality industry working for hotel giants such as Hilton and Hyatt in Japan, and at other properties in places such as Vietnam and Bali, and with eight years working for US-based Oakwood, the traditional Swiss hotel-school-trained Fluck is clearly excited at the positive turn the market has brought to the immediate future of hospitality. “The market has bounced back tremendously for us during the first three months of this year, while the next three look equally good. We hope that the following six months will be even better. Historically, our peak period commences in October, when business traffic increases”.

Founded: 1960
HQ: Los Angeles
One the world’s largest providers of temporary, serviced apartments
Nearly 23,000 apartments in 4,000 locations in North America, Europe and Asia
Seven serviced-apartment buildings (462 apartments) in Japan, with monthly rates from ¥300,000 to ¥2.4 million[/greybox]