Home Comforts, Hotel Convenience

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Tired of sterile hotel rooms, cramped work spaces and miles of buffet breakfasts when you travel? Would you prefer more personal space, the opportunity to meet clients in a comfortable space, or reciprocate the home-cooked dinner invitation from a colleague? Kate Kennedy suggests you might prefer an executive apartment over a hotel room on your next trip.

The longer the trip, the more you’d like to feel like you weren’t living in a hotel, right? A night or two in cramped quarters, trying to work on a small desk and packing your things away before bed each night, isn’t too much to ask. But when you’re spending your weekends alone in a strange city and would like nothing more than to put your feet up on a coffee table and watch your favourite TV show while sipping a beer, a hotel room just doesn’t cut it. Enter executive apartments – a place that gives you more space and more home convenience.

“An executive apartment is defined as a four to five-star establishment offering luxury ‘home away from home’ and self catering amenities, combined with a full hotel service offering such as laundry, daily room cleaning, concierge, parking, room service, Wi-Fi, meeting and conference facilities,” says Kim Koen from Kitso Consulting, a business management consulting and research provider with a specialist focus in corporate travel management.

Where are they?

These short-term, serviced apartments are springing up around the business districts of Cape Town and Johannesburg in complexes close to the offices of the influential companies based in high-powered cities.

“Our data analysis shows that Sandton, Johannesburg and Milnerton, Cape Town, are the most popular areas for this accommodation,” says Koen. “Stays don’t seem to be restricted to lengthy bookings.”

“We do have guests who check in for one or two nights,” says Pamela Niemand, Business Executive Developer of Westpoint Executive Suites in Morningside, Johannesburg. “But most of our guests stay for between two and three weeks.”

While most guests at Westpoint, according to Niemand, are from China and India, the property also sees travellers from the United States, Australia and the UK. About 40% of Westpoint’s guests are local and the place is popular – the 80 apartments operate at an average occupancy of 95%. Niemand feels, though, that the hotels aren’t suffering because of places like Westpoint.

“I think we appeal to a different market,” she says.

South African support for Lawhill Luxury Apartments in Cape Town accounts for about 35% of its monthly business. The remainder of the business comes from international guests – India and Saudi Arabia mostly.

“We see many families during June and July,” says Tristan Indrisie, General Manager of Lawhill. “We assume the guests from India and Saudi like to visit during our winter months, and apparently our modern self-catering style of accommodation is ideal for larger travelling families. The rest of the year, international guests are made up by a mix of Europeans, many Americans and, of late, many Australians.”

It’s not only South Africa that offers this accommodation. Lagos, Nigeria also has its fair share of executive apartments. According to Morisola Obisesan, Manager of Business Services & Marketing Communications at Topcomm, there are quite a few establishments offering short-term rentals, but they are only found through TripAdvisor and other similar websites. The ones we were able to get hold of all showed up on a Google search with their own websites, offering services and amenities at a standard expected by the business traveller.

Amara Suites launched in 2011 and manages 22 apartments in Lagos. Last year it ran at 76% occupancy, with a 70/30 international to local split.

“The majority of our clientele is from the USA, UK and Dubai,” says Managing Director Abi Adisa. “Our Nigerian guests are mostly holiday makers or people who are relocating to Lagos.”

Sigma Apartments operates 48 one, two and three-bedroom apartments midway between the northern and southern retail hubs of Abuja, Nigeria. The majority of guests at Sigma are travelling on business, and the occupancy rates fluctuate between 40% in the early part of the year, to 70 to 100% late in the last quarter of the year, according to Vivian Chukwurah, Customer Services Manager of Sigma Apartments.

Yaya Towers in Nairobi offers 70 furnished luxury apartments above the Yaya Shopping Centre just outside the city centre, with offerings similar to those in South Africa.

A growing trend?

The fourth edition of the Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report for 2013-14, published by Travel Intelligence Network for The Apartment Service, found 4,634 serviced apartments in 76 locations throughout Africa. Based on its estimates of the world’s total supply of serviced apartments, the continent accounts for just 0.714% of the global market in 0.86% of locations. 

Kitso Consulting conducted a three-year research project, between January and May 2011 to 2013, into the phenomenon of executive apartments, and it found that in South Africa, this type of accommodation is mostly reserved for very senior staff and is popular with the finance and retail business sectors.

The research looked into whether people still preferred hotel stays to alternative accommodation that offered self-catering options.

“Guesthouses are not necessarily considered due to their self-catering option,” says Koen. “Our findings indicate that although there is growth in all of these other accommodation types such as apartments and rentals etc, they still form a very small percentage of nights across the sample base. The main alternative to a hotel is a guesthouse at this stage.”

Anecdotal insights indicate that when travelling to smaller cities, corporates will often make use of a long-stay rate at a preferred guesthouse that offers a self-catering option, in order to secure a lower daily rate.

According to Kitso’s report, “executive apartments comprise the largest proportion of nights at these alternatives, and show an increase in popularity with 124% growth over the three periods.”

Ultimately, findings suggest that executive apartments fulfil a niche requirement for clients within professional sectors operating in key business hubs. There seems to be significant growth in the rental category, further cementing the niche solution finding.

Pricing

A hotel rents out its rooms at a daily flat rate, anticipating that guests will stay only a few nights. It will often have in and out-of season rates. Executive apartments often work on a sliding scale and usually have rates that are fixed for a calendar year.

“The longer you stay, the cheaper our rates. However, even our most expensive rates are highly competitive with hotels in the area,” says Niemand.

And because most have at least two bedrooms, there is space to send a second person on the trip without incurring extra accommodation costs.

“Many clients from India bring their families,” says Niemand. “They’re also the ones who use the kitchen – the guys like to cook, it seems.”

“It certainly makes accommodation more affordable to share an apartment,” says Marcos Ledesma, Sales Manager: Mantis Marketing, of Lawhill Luxury Apartments in Cape Town.

Location

It’s an important selling point. You don’t travel on business only to have to sit in traffic or be stuck far from your place of business. Which is why most executive apartments are located in the important central business districts, or close to them.

Kitso found that executive apartments are most often used in key business centres where hotel availability and traffic congestion are addressed by the convenience of the location and amenities offered by apartments.

“Being so close to the V&A Waterfront is a huge plus for Lawhill,” says Ledesma. “And the fact that it’s a safe seven-minute walk for our guests means they’re right on the doorstep of the harbour and a large array of entertainment and restaurants.”

What to Expect

“Our apartments are a home away from home with hotel convenience,” says Niemand. And a quick look at the offered services and amenities attest to Niemand’s claim.

An executive apartment should have all of the things essential to running a home, along with a few luxuries. A fully-functioning kitchen should include a washing machine and tumble-dryer, as well as cutlery, crockery, glassware and cookware. The living area will have comfortable seating, a good TV, satellite connection, DVD player, dining table and chairs, and a workspace. The higher profile apartments will usually have air-conditioning. The bedrooms should be comfortably appointed and ‘homey’.

“All 30 of Lawhill’s apartments are furnished the same in a modern contemporary style,” says Ledesma. “We also offer free Wi-Fi, so that our guests are always connected.”

Apartments should be serviced during your stay – up to six days a week – as part of the daily rental rate, including washing and ironing.

Safety

This consideration is as important to managers of executive apartments as it is to you.

“Lawhill is very secure and patrolled 24/7,” says Ledesma, “making it perfectly safe for business women travelling alone. We also have a 24-hour reception desk and concierge, so there’s always someone around to provide assistance.”

Westpoint is not open to the public, meaning anyone who wishes to gain entry has to be a guest or visit a guest. On top of a bullet-proof guard house, there are numerous other safety features in place, including 24-hour guards, armed response, cameras and electric perimeter fencing.

Relocation

These fully-furnished, serviced apartments aren’t just for the traveller. They’re great for anyone relocating to a new city. Not only are all the conveniences immediately available, but all the maintenance is someone else’s worry. You’re renting the apartments with all the appliances as part of your agreement, so if something goes wrong, you make a quick call and someone will sort out the problem. That’s about as hassle-free as life gets.

There are certainly many advantages to choosing an executive apartment over a hotel room, but it seems that, for the time being, you need to have climbed pretty high up the corporate ladder, in order to take advantage of this desirable accommodation.

Why Choose an Apartment?

Location – Commutes are minimal, whether to the office or surrounding entertainment areas.

Personal Space – It’s not just a single room – you get a bedroom, living area and kitchen, and often a balcony. There’s also space for the family, if you’d like to bring them along. Or, you could share with a colleague travelling to the same area.

Home Comforts – You can put your feet on the coffee table and enjoy watching TV, cook your own meals (if that’s something you enjoy) and work in a dedicated space.

Hotel Convenience – Apartments are cleaned, laundry is washed and ironed, and the larger establishments offer a gym facility and grocery shopping. You really couldn’t ask for more.

Further Findings of the Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report

As business travel to Kenya increases, so the serviced apartment community is growing to meet the demand. High occupancy is experienced between January and June, and September and November. Leisure bookings fill gaps in July, August and December, when the expatriates tend to go home. The Tamarind Group predicts that the serviced apartment sector in Kenya will increase by 500 to 800 units in the next two years, and it plans to roll out two branded serviced apartment concepts – Tamarind Tree Residence and Tamarind Tree Extended Stay – in the three and four-star segments.  

The Tamarind Group also operates serviced apartments in Lagos and Mombasa, servicing a primarily ex-pat assignment worker market in both locations. There are around 100 serviced apartment buildings in Nairobi, most of which are independently operated, having been intended as, or converted from residential stock. In Mombasa, there has been a significant number of serviced apartments developed in the past two years. However, occupancy levels are low – below 40% in many cases, compared with 75%+ in Nairobi.