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Room for variation

27 Mar 08

The hotel is not the only option for business traveller – an aparthotel may be preferable, particularly for people who expect to be staying for a while

by Gary Atkinson

Home may be where the heart is, but when it comes to working away from familiar surroundings, the head still needs a place to hit the pillow.

For many, the only clear option is a hotel within their company’s budget, but there is an alternative that could save firms money and provide the traveller with a home away from home. That option is the serviced apartment – from the basic flat where you are given a set of keys and left to fend for yourself, to the aparthotel that aims to provide the best of both worlds.

Fraser Suites in Glasgow is one such apartment provider that offers most of the services of a hotel with the flexibility of being able to settle into a more homely environment. Jennifer Thomson from Fraser Suites explains: “We offer similar kinds of facilities to a three-star or four-star hotel such as 24-hour reception, a fitness suite, a 24-hour city centre shuttle bus, and a daily maid service.”

One key difference between serviced apartments, particularly those at the top end of the market, and hotels is that an apartment has self-catering facilities – which can be a make-or-break difference, particularly on long stays away from home.

“People have the option to go out or stay in and cook for themselves,” Thomson says. “When you are away for a long time, the novelty of going out for dinner does wear off fairly quickly, especially if you are by yourself.”

The downside, however, is that even aparthotels do not typically have a restaurant.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association says: “They don’t serve food so, unless there is a link to a restaurant nearby, you need to go and sort out your own food. But, it is all reflected in the price, and it’s down to what people prefer anyway. Sometimes, people don’t want to use such facilities.”

What you lose in dining a few paces from your room, you make up for in space as well as price. Thomson says: “We are price competitive with four-star hotels, but offer more for your money in terms of space. Our standard room is probably three times as big as a standard hotel room.”

Hospitality industry veteran Susan Reid agrees that there is typically much more room in apartments – and that there could be savings to be made. The hospitality sales and marketing specialist represents both a hotel – the Royal Scots Club – and a serviced apartment business – Holyrood ApartHotels, both in Edinburgh. The prices are very similar for both – the corporate rate for a hotel room is £90, and for an apartment £101 – but each apartment has two bedrooms. Two people sharing an apartment would bring costs down to £73 a night. Some serviced apartment providers charge per apartment, however many people stay – offering even greater savings.

Reid points out: “Costs in most cases depend on factors such as how long clients are staying and the possibility of repeat business.

“There tends to be more scope for negotiation with apartments compared with hotels. We are finding that our larger corporate clients are realising that it can be more cost-effective.”

The reason that apartments can offer better rates than hotels is quite simple. Reid explains: “When you are a serviced accommodation provider, your costs aren’t as high as hotels – you run with a smaller team and don’t have restaurants and bars, so don’t need to recoup money from that side of the business.”

Cutting costs by sharing is not just for colleagues. For very long stays, apartments could be the beter option in terms of flexibility and price for travellers accompanied by their families.

One Fraser Suites client, from India, stayed in an apartment for more than a year and was joined by his family. “The customer was charged for the room, and not per head, for that period,” Jennifer Thomson says.

For stays of a day to months, serviced apartments could offer a good alternative to the traditional hotel but it would be wise to determine what level of services the provider offers. Perhaps the hotel should no longer be the default for business travellers?

“There is the traditional image people have of the three-star, full-service hotel, but clearly an apartment is another option. But you find aparthotels in towns and cities whereas you find hotels all over,” Martin Couchman says. “There is space in the market for serviced apartments, but it is relatively small in comparison to the hotel industry. Although it is a small part of the market, it is still a growing one.

Gary Atkinson is a editorial executive at Connect Communications.

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