SAN talks to George Westwell, director of Cheval Residences.
• Could you give us a brief overview of your career and
how you came to be working in the serviced apartment
"I joined Cheval Residences in 2004 as group general manager and became director in 2005. With over 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry, previous roles have included 12 years as the general manager of the London Metropole Hotel (then part of the LonRho group), which was at the time the biggest conference facility in the UK. When the hotel was sold to Hilton Hotels & Resorts and became the Hilton London Metropole Hotel in the late 90s, as the general manager, I overviewed a second phase of expansion which transformed the hotel into one of Europe's largest conference hotels with a capacity of up to 3,000 people."
"Upon joining Cheval Residences, and the serviced apartment industry, in 2004 I helped grow the portfolio from six to eight properties, including the launch of the multi-million pound development Cheval Three Quays in March 2014. Whilst serviced apartments have long been popular in countries such as Australia and the US, the concept of booking a serviced apartment as opposed to a hotel is still relatively uncommon in the UK, something we at Cheval Residence have gone to great lengths to try and change."
• Cheval is known for its luxury apartments in prime London locations - where do you see as the next London location for you, and what do you think are the next "up-and-coming" London neighbourhoods that could be considered for Cheval developments in the future?
"We currently have eight five-star serviced residences in central London with a portfolio of more than 500 apartments, penthouses and townhouses situated in some of the most sought after neighbourhoods, including Kensington, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and the City. We are not in the process of considering London locations for future developments as we are currently looking to spread our wings further afield. However, Canary Wharf might be an area that we will eventually consider due to the fact that it is one of London's key business districts. Similarly, Soho could be considered for future Cheval Residences developments due to its ideal location for business people and leisure travellers."
• Is there a significant difference in the business/leisure traveller ratio at your properties depending on location? Is the proportion of leisure travellers at your properties increasing?
"During the past financial year we have secured direct corporate business in excess of 10 per cent within our overall split of business. We are estimating that this figure will increase by 20 per cent in 2016. This figure does not account for bookings made by individuals travelling on business made via other methods such as through the new Cheval Residences website, via an OTA or via a non-GDS agent."
"One thing that we have significantly noticed is an increase in Millennial Travellers in the form of young families, due to the fact that corporates with young families regularly tie in holidays with their business trips. As a result, we have embraced the family market by offering special benefits including - children's bathrobes, slippers, toiletries, baby baths, cots, high chairs, a baby's welcome pack, changing mats and children's activity pack to ensure that younger guests experience the same luxuries as their parents during their stay. The concierge service can also organise for DVD players and DVDS, disposable nappies, baby food and a babysitting service."
• Cheval is looking to expand beyond London - which are your key target markets and why?
"Turning to the future, my vision for the Cheval Group is to encourage organic growth with the purchase of properties outside of London as well as operating third-party assets all over the world, with the help of a highly experienced core team of operators and developers which has the flexibility to develop its business in the UK and overseas as a new improved business model."
"Over the coming years, I expect to see a wider geographical range and an even greater awareness of the benefits of serviced apartments. Our key target markets are all financial including airport hubs within the UK and Europe - from Manchester to Edinburgh, from Berlin to Copenhagen."
• Cheval gained the top score for customer reviews in the recent Serviced Apartment Digital Benchmark - what do you think the company is doing that makes it stand out from its peers, and enables it to score so highly across a range of categories?
"Cheval Residences has positioned itself as a true leader and innovator within the serviced apartment sector in terms of offering a five-star service. Cheval Residences has evolved its business model to allow shorter stays, with 70 per cent of the Cheval Residences portfolio now offering a one night minimum stay policy. This is aimed to offer business travellers on shorter visits as much flexibility as possible. It has also shown its unrivalled understanding of the needs of time pressed business travellers by introducing tailored services across the portfolio and devising both an in-house retail and spa packages, both of which will continue to be expanded throughout 2016."
"Each property's dedicated concierge team ensures that guests are provided with unrivalled levels of service 24 hours a day and the team has been expertly trained to cater for business, leisure and international markets. The team at Cheval Residences is dedicated to understanding and catering to the individual needs of guests, offering flexible and personalised service, and are deeply passionate about customer service, with five of our residences are positioned within the top 10 on TripAdvisor in the category of Speciality Lodging. Following a service review in 2014, the Cheval Residences Reservations team is now available seven days a week and has introduced a commitment to a two hour response time to all reservation enquiries."
"Furthermore, Cheval Residences has piloted and pioneered an innovative new 'Pet Welcoming' policy this year. As a result of continuous and regular customer feedback, pets are now allowed to stay in most residences and are provided with their own bed, food bowl and mat, and bed throw - one for boys, one for girls. We have found that being able to bring pets as part of the relocation process has brought many families more comfort and peace of mind. "