SAN talks to Peter Heule, managing director of Amsterdam-based Short Stay Group.
• Tell us about your career in hospitality/property and
how you came in to the serviced apartment sector?
"I am a graduate of the Hotel School The Hague. During my studies I did traineeships for IHG and Marriot and decided that I wanted to become a hotel owner but. Taking it step by step I decided to move from Shanghai to Amsterdam and learn about Dutch law and hotel operations in Europe. I was asked to run a 3-star, 200+ room hotel in Amsterdam because it was on the urge of going bankrupt. I did for two years. A great learning experience!"
"After this project I was requested to develop Expedia in the Dutch market. In my opinion it is key for a hotel manager or owner to understand the online travel industry. So I decided to go for it. From Amsterdam I managed The Netherlands focusing on expansion in number of hotels and getting demand for regional destinations. 2008-2012 was a great period for online travel. Amsterdam was a great place to be as the battle between Expedia and Booking.com started there and in that period (like Coca Cola versus Pepsi).
A short four years later I was asked to become general manager for one of the iconic properties in Amsterdam, the Wyndham Apollo Hotel Amsterdam, which had just become a franchisee of Wyndham and belonged to the Dutch hotel chain Apollo Hotels & Resorts. After a short period I also became responsible for e-commerce for the whole group. Maybe too soon I was contacted by the owner of Short Stay Group asking me to join him and the team to bring Short Stay Group to the next level, focusing on quality and profitability. We discussed the timing, which for me was not good, and decided to have a chat six months later. Exactly half a year later I was called, and only a few weeks after that I started as managing director of Short Stay Group."
• How well known are serviced apartments in the Netherlands, and what is the split between leisure and business use?
"Serviced apartments are not really known in The Netherlands. In Amsterdam we talk about apartment hotels, short stay and holiday homes. Apartment hotels (or aparthotels) are officially hotel licenced, short stay is housing which has a licence to be rented out from seven nights (the licence has an expiry date of 10 years) and holiday homes are privately owned homes that can be rented out from one night, but with a maximum of 60 nights per year. Short Stay Group does not work with holiday homes, only with aparthotels and short stay."
"The serviced apartment industry is still in development in Amsterdam. Business use of the apartments is mainly driven by location. Overall we now have around 40 per cent of business use and 60 per cent of leisure use. More and more we see the trend of 'bleisure,' where businessmen are staying longer and have their families come over during the weekend to enjoy the city. We also see more and more families travelling to the city to celebrate a holiday for 7-14 days. We expect this to happen more and more as demand is there and this type of booker prefers and apartment over a standard hotel room."
• Can you give us a brief history of the Short Stay Group?
"In 2005 the owner of Short Stay Group, Arnoud Litjens, started the company with just one apartment. It was only in 2009 official licences for short stay were created. At that time Short Stay Group had around 50 apartments. In 2010 we started to create or own PMS (called Proboss) as we could not find a proper system fulfilling our needs. Around 2011 we had a huge development period. We opened Barcelona, Paris, Rome and Istanbul. In 2014 when I started we decided to focus on the three main cities: Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona, where we now have around 500 apartments. In early 2015 we started to create the base of our brand: Yays. This month we officially launch Yays with three buildings in Amsterdam, with just over 100 apartments in total."
• What was the thinking behind the launch of the Yays brand and how has it been received by your customers?
"During the last three years we have seen an increase in demand from both families and businessmen in the specific demand for apartments. Families prefer apartments over hotels as they can have their own pace during their holidays. For people traveling for business we see that if they stay longer they prefer an apartment especially if the family is coming over during the weekend. Average hotel length of stay in Amsterdam is 1.7 days, at Yays it is over six days (and we just started). We also see that there is a lot of pressure in the touristic city centre of the bigger cities across Europe. For that reason we focussed on the outskirts of the centre. With Yays we focus on the local economy, therefore we partner up with local entrepreneurs. Of course we provide a full kitchen, but no restaurant or café."
"The buildings that we obtain through lease should be buildings with character in a neighbourhood with a rich history. We make sure this history is reflected in the apartments. At Yays we want to make sure that visitors feel like residents of a real Amsterdam neighbourhood. In everything we do we have a strong focus on four brand pillars: local, personal, unlock and comfortable. The first comments so far on our three Yays buildings in Amsterdam are great. Reviews on the familiar OTAs trend above 8.5 (on a scale of 10). People love the fact that the apartments are self-serviced, with the addition of having a 24/7 concierge desk where they can go to for help."
• How will the decision by the Amsterdam authorities to only grant approvals to apart hotels rather than serviced apartments affect your company and the wider industry over the next few years?
"The local rules and regulations considering serviced apartments will change in the upcoming 10 years. At this moment in time the aparthotel structure is in favour, nevertheless there is high demand for short term rental of (serviced) apartments overall. Short stay (serviced apartments) is a great concept, but with a minimum length of stay restriction of seven nights there is false competition versus holiday homes (which have no minimum length of stay restriction). It could be that the short stay licences are extended or that only the licences for whole buildings will be extended (not for single units). As there is some guessing we go for the sure thing in Amsterdam, and that is aparthotels."
• What plans do you have for the growth of Short Stay Group/YAYS?
"We now have around 500 apartments in three cities - in the next five years we aim to have 2000 apartments in five cities. Especially with Yays we aim to be in at least three cities in five years. Our focus will remain on expansion in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris. Besides these we are looking at London, Rome, Berlin and Prague. But if we find an investor or real estate partner willing to open a Yays in another European city, let's discuss it!"