Hotels can live with – and learn from – apartments
By Paul Wells, Partner at Dexter Moren Associates
In the last few years, many predicted that new models such as serviced apartments and online accommodation marketplaces would bite great chunks out of traditional hotels’ market, yet these establishments have continued to thrive.
With travel so far unaffected by the predicted Brexit slump, it’s little wonder that investors ploughed some £5 billion into the UK hotel sector in the last year.
With demand for rooms staying strong, it seems that traditional hotels and Airbnb can coexist with ease, not least because they serve two very distinct markets with different expectations. What, then, should hoteliers make of the rise of the latest entrant into the market – aparthotels?
Business and leisure travellers value aparthotels and serviced apartments because they provide a more immersive experience that puts them at the heart of the local community, while offering the chance for families to stay together in a self-contained space.
There is an appeal, too, for business travellers who welcome the chance to lead a semi-normal life during work-trips, instead of enduring the sometimes-sterile and dislocating environment of a hotel chain.
With aparthotels broad appeal, does this represent a threat to traditional hotels?
We don’t believe so. Just as Airbnb proved not to be the existential threat once feared, serviced apartments and aparthotels cater to very different needs and types of travellers.
There are still plenty of people who appreciate the convenience and services that come with the hotel experience.
What’s more, the difference between ‘traditional’ hotels and more informal accommodation has greatly decreased in recent years.
In the past hotels were formal places separated from the local community. They were not environments that invited guests to dwell longer than necessary. Few people, for example, would dine in the hotel restaurant without good reason.
Now hotel dining rooms are destinations in their own right, with several boasting (multiple) Michelin stars.
Hotels are also beginning to engage with their local community.
It’s becoming more common for them to open up spaces such as bars, restaurants, lobbies and gyms, to non-guests.
All this helps to create a more inclusive atmosphere, generating a sense of place and connection to the community that is so important to travellers today.
Of course, this model does not suit every establishment. Some guests value the privacy and exclusivity that comes with staying in a private hotel.
Ultimately, it’s by serving their clientele and playing to their strengths that traditional hotels can continue to thrive.
That being said, the serviced apartment /aparthotel model does provide lessons for hotels which will enable them to attract the biggest possible share of the market.
Hotels like Zoku in Amsterdam are fostering a sense of individuality and community interaction, which appeal to aparthotel customers.
While Zoku is not unusual in moving away from uniform décor towards highly-individualised interiors, more interesting are its efforts to integrate with the local community by incorporating shared work spaces, marketing its restaurant to local residents as well as paying guests, and providing event spaces.
There is more that hotels can learn from aparthotels.
One provider of boutique apartments, Yays (also in Amsterdam), helps to cultivate a connection to the community by offering local knowledge through a “neighbourhood concierge” service and “experience evenings” where guests can enjoy privately-escorted nights out with locals.
It’s not difficult to see how more traditional hotels could offer similar services, or invent their own way of creating that sense of place so important to business and leisure travellers today.
Just because hotels have weathered the predicted sea-change doesn’t mean that they can afford to be complacent.
Yes, they have survived the rise of aparthotels – but they should take every opportunity to learn from them too.
The Lume, located in the heart of Manchester’s Innovation District, is home to the £36 million Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, a purpose built dual-brand hotel which opened in September 2018. Client M&L asked Deter Moren Associates to rethink the interior design scheme for both brands, pushing the brand boundaries in order to create an exciting product that exceeds guests’ expectations by relating to Manchester’s industrial heritage and university – “Home away from home” (Relates to 3rd floor)