It was such a pleasure to stay in the new Fraser Suites hotel in Abuja recently. It had been a long time coming, and before opening was the only internationally-branded hotel under construction in central Abuja. It is now the first such property to open in Abuja for eight years – whilst the pipeline of new hotels is quite large, still none of them has broken ground.
The Fraser Suites in Abuja has 126 rooms and apartments, ranging from studios to four-room apartments, all with kitchenettes or full-on luxury kitchens, which many of us would love to have at home. And that’s one of the pillars of the extended-stay concept, that guests who are staying for a long time (several weeks and more) will treat these apartment as their own, enjoying the flexibility, privacy, routine and comfort of home. Says one of the Hilton executives in charge of extended-stay brands: “the guest who has a longer stay has different needs and those needs drive behaviour: a focus on the stay experience and the living space; a desire to maintain their normal routine; and a need to feel nurtured and taken care of while away from home and loved ones.”
Many hotels claim (and surely many are tongue-in-cheek!) to be ‘home away from home’, but when you’re stuck in a bedroom with a chair and a bed, sometimes with a kettle and poor quality instant coffee to keep you company, that certainly ain’t nothing like my home! The living space experience is of great importance… I want a sofa to sit on, please, not just a chair, and enough room to spread my stuff around without having to extend to piles of paper on the bed.
Back to the Fraser Suites in Abuja. Not only a squeaky clean new hotel, but one that has been finished to a very high standard, much higher than many new hotels in Nigeria. Despite the fact that the owners are new to the industry, they understand that quality matters, and have delivered a very high quality product. Consequently, they are able to command a premium price for their rooms and apartments, and the product has been welcomed by the market, with various foreign embassies and international customers already signed up to stay there.
I love extended-stay hotels, both as a guest and as a commentator on the industry. As a guest, I like the extra space and privacy, particularly the separation between living and sleeping (no more sitting on the bed to view the TV properly). Have I ever stayed in one for a long time? Nope! That’s not my travel behaviour. I’m usually a one or two-night man, but extended-stay hotels are just as attractive to me as they are to the guy staying for weeks or months. Whilst the operator of an extended-stay hotel would love to fill the whole inventory with long-stay guests, it rarely happens, so transients like me are also welcome, when rooms are available. According to Hilton, only a third of guests staying in their Homewood Suites hotels are long-stay, the rest are transient.
An aside about terminology. In Europe, brands tend to call their properties serviced apartments (Fraser Suites call themselves that), whilst others use the expression ‘aparthotels’. Extended-stay is a US term, which I favour, because I find that serviced apartments are often merely apartment blocks with a reception, maybe a pool and occasional housekeeping services. Brands like Fraser Suites are definitely not that, they are further along the scale to being a proper hotel.
Now here’s an interesting fact – in a survey of American users of extended-stay accommodation, only 7% of business travellers, and 9.7% of leisure travellers, want a fully-fitted kitchen when on an extended trip away from home. Let’s face it, how many business travellers are likely to whip up a meal for themselves? What guests really want is a complimentary breakfast and free wi-fi – tops for almost 75% of business travellers and almost 70% of leisure travellers (Fraser Suites Abuja provides both).
Who else is in this space? In our 2017 data we have 12 extended-stay hotels in the chains’ development pipelines, out of a total of 417 properties. Marriott leads with six properties, Residence Inn and Element; Frasers Hospitality has another Fraser Suites planned in Brazzaville; and there’s a Hyatt House, an Arjaan by Rotana, Accor’s Adagio and the Executive Residency by Best Western in Nairobi (now open)…not just the first of the brand in Africa but one of the first globally.
For investors, extended-stay makes a lot of sense – occupancies tend to be higher than in full-service hotels, operating expenses lower, and therefore profits are increased. So why aren’t there more extended-stay hotels in the pipeline in Africa? Partly I think it’s because investors here are unfamiliar with the concept, and cannot envisage owning a hotel without multiple restaurants, bars, banquet halls and the like. And partly because some chains haven’t been pushing their extended-stay hotels on the continent, preferring to lead with their core brands first, and then fill in the gaps later.
Well, that’s a maybe, but as far as I can determine, Fraser Suites in Abuja has taken the top spot in West Africa, at least for now!