10 industry figures to watch for 2016

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 05 January 2016

Serviced Apartment News editor George Sell chooses 10 industry figures who will be making the sector headlines over the next 12 months.

Mohammed Al Marzooqi, Cheval Residences
Renowned for its luxury London serviced apartments in top drawer locations such as Kensington and Tower Bridge, Cheval Residences is going international in 2016. Led by Dubai-born Mohammed Al Marzooqi, Cheval is looking at key cities across the Middle East, the US and Asia. Until now, it has purely been an owner/operator but is preparing to widen its approach to manage properties under the Cheval brand for other owners. Speaking at the 2015 Serviced Apartment Summit MEA, Al Marzooqi said: "The time is right for us to go beyond London." The company is in talks with owners in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and also has its eye on New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Expect a first announcement soon.

Zed Sanjana, Quest Apartment Hotels
Since chairman Paul Constantinou appeared in this article last year, the leading player in the Australian market has announced it is set to make its UK debut in 2016. Having undergone a $10 million rebrand and name change to reflect the evolving nature of its properties, Quest CEO Zanjana is ready to use some of the investment it received from its deal with The Ascott Ltd to develop serviced apartments in London's suburbs and other regions where the market for apartment hotels is undersupplied. "No one has captured and dominated the market in the UK. They have a lot of old and unbranded stock in the UK, that accounts for about 70 per cent of their hotels," says Sanjana. "This will keep us busy, I think the market is there. But we are not going to kid ourselves. It will be difficult. We need to build a brand from scratch like we did in New Zealand." The search for suitable sites is underway.

Jack DeBoer, WaterWalk Apartment Hotels
2016 is the year when the pioneer of the US extended stay sector gets some real traction with his fifth major brand. Having created and launched Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, Value Place and Candlewood Suites, De Boer is focused on rolling out WaterWalk, described as "a game-changing real estate investment opportunity that combines extended-stay hotels with apartment ownership, borrowing the best economics and customer service features from both." Wichita-based WaterWalk has secured a $100 million deal with UK private equity house Henley to add five franchises across the US. Henley will open WaterWalk Hotel Apartments facilities in Albany, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and North Orlando, Fla. Many more expected to follow in 2016 with a variety of partners and franchisees.

Bill Duncan, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Bill Duncan is the man charged with overseeing Hilton's recently announced plans to merge three of its extended stay brands to create the All Suites collection. Under the initiative, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton will be combined under the new single brand, creating a new portfolio of more than 600 all-suite hotels across the Americas. Between them, the three brands to be merged comprise nearly 15 per cent of the company's current inventory and almost 20 per cent of its pipeline, in terms of rooms. "As the first hospitality company to take an integrated approach to managing suite-style brands, we are transforming the All Suites category to provide a more intuitive offering for owners, as well as our guests from around the world who look to us as their home away from home," says Duncan.

Tom Walsh, Staycity
Staycity's CEO has a particularly busy year ahead. The Dublin-based company will open more than 800 new apartments across Europe in 2016, including sites in London (Heathrow and Covent Garden), Birmingham, York, Lyon, and Marseille. The Heathrow property will be the first to include restaurant on the site, offering breakfast and light lunches. To ensure Staycity maintains its impressive momentum, Walsh has assembled a string team around him, bolstered by the recent appointments of Patrick Dempsey - the man responsible for the huge growth of the Premier Inn brand as a non-executive director, and Barry Hickey as development director. "We are forging ahead with our European expansion plans which will take us from 1,000 to 3,500 apartments over the next 24 months. Further sites will come on stream in 2017, with a number of new property deals yet to be announced," says Walsh.

Lee Chee Koon, The Ascott Ltd
Making his second consecutive appearance in this feature, the CEO of the world's biggest serviced apartment operator is never content to rest on his - or the company's - laurels. As it pursues its goal of 80,000 units by 2020, a relentlessly innovative 2015 has seen Ascott form JVs with Tujia, China's equivalent of Airbnb; and the Qatar Investment Authority, as well as introducing new marketing concepts such as the Citadines travel capsule. As well as consolidation in existing markets, Ascott's newest markets will be the US and Africa. It bought its first US property last year, with Ascott Residence Trust's US$163.5 million purchase of a hotel in New York's Times Square, and is exploring opportunities in Africa. "If you look at the continent as a whole and its one billion population, there's a lot of potential," says Lee. His ethos is summed up when he says: "We just had a retreat in Hanoi and I told the team: 'If you want to achieve something you've never had, you have to do something you have never done'."

Christabelle Morgan Desouches, Aparthotels Adagio
Adagio, the aparthotel brand formed by a JV between Accor and Pierre & Vacances, is seeing growth in its European heartland, as well as establishing a presence in Brazil, but it is the Middle East where it has really stolen a march on its rivals. Under the auspices of international hotel development director Morgan-Debouches, Adagio has signed a deal for a whopping 15 aparthotels in Saudi Arabia with Alesayi, to sit alongside other Saudi and UAE properties. It has also developed the Adagio Premium brand for the Middle East market, with properties open in Dubai and Doha. Establishing a brand in the Middle East is vital for success, and for Adagio to have established such a strong presence and pipeline in a relatively short space of time bodes well for its mid-range alternative to the established supply of upscale apartments in the region.

Amruda Nair, Aiana Hotels & Resorts
Amruda Nair is the third generation of her family to make their mark in the hospitality sector. The granddaughter of the late Captain C P Krishnan Nair, founder of The Leela Group, Nair is the joint managing director and CEO of Aiana Hotels & Resorts. Aiana is a joint venture hospitality company backed by Qatari and Indian interests, which will operate upscale hotels and serviced apartments in the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia. The company will operate upscale hotels and serviced apartments in the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia. It also has  plans for acquisitions in key destinations including London and the US. Its first project, a serviced apartment development with 180 units will open in Q2 of this year in West Bay, Doha. Before taking the helm at Aiana, Nair held roles at Mandarin Oriental in New York, and JLL in Singapore before a stint with the family firm. She is now ready to develop Aiana in to a major player in the serviced apartment, hotel and resort sectors.

Marc McCabe, Airbnb
The serviced apartment sector has been marginally more receptive to the likes of Airbnb than the mainstream hotel sector which still generally states that Airbnb is not a competitor. Serviced apartment operators are beginning to see the value of a product which has opened consumers' eyes to hospitality alternatives, especially apartments. Airbnb has been busy forging alliances with serviced apartment companies, starting with BridgeStreet. Oakwood is also in talks with Airbnb, and many companies are now listing unsold short-stay inventory on the platform, using it as another string to their distribution bow. It is in the field of business travel that Airbnb making the most striking inroads. Its Airbnb for Business programme attracted more than 1,000 companies - including Facebook, Google, Salesforce, TBWA, Twilo, Soundcloud and Eventbrite - within a month of launching and is gaining major momentum. Marc McCabe, who heads the programme, said: "The corporate community's response to our business travel programme has been staggering and confirms our findings that business travellers increasingly want to redefine the business trip. The average business travel stay on Airbnb is 6.8 days, which shows how customers are looking for a mix of business and leisure, and often adding a weekend to explore a new destination."

Naveen Ahmed, Roomzzz
One of the industry stories of the year has been the startling improvement in the UK regional market, both in terms of occupancy and average rate. One of the companies capitalising on this phenomenon is Roomzzz, which has an ambitious expansion plan underway. With director Naveen Ahmed at the helm, the family firm has opened properties in Nottingham, Chester during 2015, with York and Newcastle properties submitted to the planning authorities. Its list of target locations also includes London, Birmingham, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh and Glasgow. "Most regions have been doing better since the recession. We're very fortunate that we didn't suffer during the economic down turn. We believe our continued growth is down to our unique offering of flexible aparthotel accommodation that makes us stand out in the market," says Ahmed.

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