Talking business: Gary Moore, Suite Hub

Piers Brown By Piers Brown
Uploaded 30 October 2017

Gary Moore, Managing director of Suite Hub, talk about evolving from operator to agent, and the future of serviced apartment agency.

• What is your background and what gave you the vision to start Suite Hub?

"I grew up in Maidenhead, just west of London. When I was about 20, I helped my Dad start a small serviced apartment business (as an operator) after he retired from a long career at a telecoms company. He'd stayed in hotels for years while travelling on business, so after becoming aware of the new trend of serviced accommodation, he believed local businesses would benefit from this new alternative."

"Those early years running as a small operator allowed me to recognise a young and growing industry but most importantly experience first-hand what our business travellers wanted and cared about during their stays with us. The transition from operator to an independent agent was a natural result of fulfilling the demand we had from existing clients. I started reaching out to operators in other areas and sourcing serviced apartments for our clients. I'd experienced first-hand as an operator how other agents worked and the service they provided to both their suppliers and clients and always believed I could offer something unique and on a big scale that our clients would love."

"It's important I mention my colleague and good friend Miles Milner who saw my vision shortly after we left college. He's now the sales director here and has been a critical part of Suite Hub's success to date. I wanted to create a simple and efficient booking service for our clients and a brand we could be really proud of. I felt the industry lacked a simple platform where busy accommodation bookers could keep enquiries, bookings, cases (issues/requests/queries), invoices and management information all in one place but still have that personal human touch so they felt a someone was looking after them."

• Describe the Suite Hub product offering and service.

"Suite Hub provides a simple and efficient booking service for its clients, allowing them to book and manage their stays in serviced apartments in key towns and cities worldwide - all from one simple to use, cloud-based platform."

"From one simple login, our clients can submit new serviced apartment enquiries, view all existing and past bookings, create support cases against bookings (so that issues are recorded and resolved quickly) and provide the ability to view and download reports. Although this platform is our primary service offering, we cater also for individual travellers and one off bookers via a simple enquiry>quote>booking process."

"Each client is assigned their own serviced apartment expert (or team of experts), that gets to know them and their needs well. We believe we provide the perfect mix of technology and human interaction; the understanding and expert advice that technology can't replicate."

• How many apartments does Suite Hub offer as an agency?

"Suite Hub currently provides just over 100,000 individual serviced apartments from more than 800 operators worldwide, with these numbers growing each day. We're continuously securing new relationships with suppliers and adding new developments to our global portfolio as and when they are released to the market."

• Has the guest profile changed over time, and if so how?

"We've certainly experienced more clients from particular vertical markets contacting us in search for something more than a traditional hotel room for their employees. For example, it's evident that clients from certain industries are getting savvy to the idea that employees can comfortably share larger apartments and slash costs. Everyone needs and expects Wi-fi these days which is no surprise - especially those from the media and production industry that certainly test our operators' internet speeds to the limit!"

• In which regions is Suite Hub seeing the most growth in bookings, and what do you think are the reasons behind this growth?

"On a domestic level, we've experienced a consistent growing level of bookings made in central London as well as other UK cities such as Manchester, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Glasgow, to name a few. On an international level, we've been booking in key towns and cities around the world, but we've definitely experienced a growth in bookings in cities such as New York and Singapore."

"We're investing a lot in marketing at the moment, both pro-actively reaching out to new clients as well as nurturing and developing existing clients. This is primarily the reason for our general growth and increase in bookings, no matter what location they may be in."

• Where and how is Suite Hub looking to expand?

"We're in a big growth phase, which is exciting. In terms of our supply chain, we are both pro-actively seeking and connecting with new suppliers across the world while also receiving in-bound requests from suppliers who wish to market their properties with us - many of which are new to the industry, which is great to see. We're constantly improving our booking platform and there are many exciting updates in the pipeline that will do just that. Our main focus is client satisfaction and building long term relationships."

• What are your thoughts on the growth of short term rental operators and landlords using booking platforms like Airbnb and Home Away?

"I love services such as Airbnb and Home Away and what they offer. I think it's a great service that connects both leisure and business travellers with landlords and home sharers. I do feel however that these services have their place and can't offer the same level of service and quality control that we can here at Suite Hub."

"Our corporate clients value having one simple relationship where everything is in one place. The nature of business travel dictates that bookings get cancelled, postponed, shortened and extended. Having one relationship to manage and negotiate all of this on their behalf can be a life saver. Furthermore, our clients can have peace of mind that all serviced apartments booked through Suite Hub are meeting a minimum standard of both quality and safety. Both of which are hard to achieve when dealing directly with lots of landlords and short term rental operators though the sites mentioned."

"For landlords and property investors, I think it's only natural to see an increase in those looking to maximise the rental income they can achieve. The large booking sites/home sharing sites provide an effortless channel of leads which can deliver higher ROI compared to the traditional buy-let strategy. For short term rental operators, I think it makes sense to make a proportion of your inventory available to instant online booking platforms like booking.com, Airbnb and Home Away. You can choose which apartments and which dates to free up and this can really help maximize occupancy levels and 'fill the gaps' - so to speak."

"I believe that the vast majority of serviced apartment operators prefer and cater for the mid-long corporate bookings, especially as the industry continues to grow and more companies are looking to book more than a hotel room for their employees. It doesn't make business sense to expose your full inventory to these sites in question. It takes the initiative of a person to carefully move guests from one unit to another, ensuring that current guests are not disappointed whilst freeing up availability for other longer bookings. "

• What do you think the serviced apartment agency business will be like in five years time?

"I'm really excited for the future. I think the demand for fully independent, unbiased agencies will continue to grow as more and more companies transition away from hotels and seek a simple and efficient way to manage their bookings and travelling employees."

"Parallel to this, I believe the more and more operators that enter the market place, the stronger the need there will be for regulation. This will help expose operators that are not keeping in line with minimum standards of quality and safety. Serviced apartment agents will be in a prime position to limit the exposure of such operators, which is good for the end consumer."

"It's inevitable that technology will continue to improve the service that serviced apartment agents are able to provide to their clients in the next 5 years. It's exciting to see where this will take us."

• What challenges do you think the serviced apartment industry faces now and in the future?

"Currently there is still a variation in the way that serviced apartments are both defined and sold on an international level. From country to country you can find many names floating about such as 'serviced apartment', 'short stay apartment' and 'corporate housing' to name a few, which is natural in an evolving industry. Serviced apartments are also packaged and sold quite differently, and not even as far stretched as country to country. Some operators provide nightly rates but require a deposit payment and post check-out clean payment and sometimes with utility bills also paid separately. Others offer a fully inclusive package, and then you get those that offer something in-between."

"Some operators in the USA for example charge per 'day' and not per 'night' which effectively means the consumer pays for the day they check-out. I think the ongoing challenge is to try and simplify how serviced apartments are packaged and sold which means altering the way some operators do business."

"I think another clear challenge is trying to steer companies away from solely using the global distribution systems (GDS) when booking accommodation. With so many serviced apartment operators either not on the GDS or never intending to provide their full inventory on the GDS, it's a challenge to convince larger companies and TMCs to book serviced apartments outside of such systems which are so heavily embedded in their policies."

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