Talking Business: Benjamin Subedar, Apts Colombia

Piers Brown By Piers Brown
Uploaded 05 December 2017

SAN talks to Benjamin Subedar of Bogota-based corporate accommodation provider Apts Colombia about the growing serviced apartment market in Colombia.

• What is your background and why did you start the company?
"Previously as a European brand manager, I was on the road a lot. At that time furnished apartments where in their infancy, lacking the quality and professionalism required to take them mainstream. So, from a personal perspective I understood the pain points for business travellers, particularly those assigned to projects lasting a week or more."
 
"10 years ago, I moved to Colombia, and started to offer my city apartment for short-term rentals as a market test. In reality I had moved out to dog sit a golden retriever so it was the perfect moment to try something which was considered quite radical being pre-AirBnB and where vacation rentals only existed on the coast and countryside. I was amazed at the demand and went about acquiring inventory to meet it. In the first five years our growth was over 30 per cent and now we sit as the main corporate apartment suppliers in Bogota with over 200 managed units. The dog owner continues to be a regular guest of ours!"
 
• What proportion of your guest profile is made up of business and leisure travel?
"We currently run at 80:20 business to leisure guests. Bogota, as the economic and political capital, is the major business destination for the region, with many multi-nationals trading from here. Our clients tend to be expats and executives on short to long term assignments, and we work closely with travel managers and relocation agencies to find bespoke solutions for groups of 10 to 50 assignees at a time."
 
• How do you create demand and distribute your corporate apartment offering?
"We have strong relations with the business community both here and abroad, for many companies we are the 'go-to guys' for service and quality at a price which fits most corporate budgets. We have a strong online presence which helps to drive business directly to us through our website, therefore we are not reliant on OTAs, which account for less than 10 per cent of our business. We also work with niche portals, and agencies to deliver our product to specific groups like remote digital workers, overseas students and interns."
 
• The Central and South America region is renowned for fragile economic growth and political instability, how is the serviced apartment market performing in Central and South America?
"Thankfully Colombia sits apart from the rest of the region, with strong political governance and consistent GDP growth. Aligned with the recent peace accords it is hoped that progress will continue to be stable and attract foreign investment which ultimately drives apartment occupation rates. Both the alternative accommodation and hotel sectors where underdeveloped 10 years ago and only in the last three years has the supply caught up with the demand, and growth in serviced apartments is still strong."

• Colombia is benefiting from foreign investment, a settled currency and robust education systems - are you seeing this reflected in growth within the sector and your business?
"Our growth is very much aligned with foreign investment, so global brands establishing a physical presence (eg H&M opened in May 2017) and others using BPO offerings like call centres, all help to strengthen our business. Colombia continues to offer lots of opportunity and global companies continue to seek to establish themselves in this once inaccessible market, and we are on hand to provide robust living solutions to support this process."
 
• What are the challenges and opportunities for serviced apartments in Colombia?
"Ten years ago, the main challenges were finding quality inventory and convincing foreign visitors that there was little personal risk in visiting. A construction boom added a large stock of well-located and high-quality properties to the inventory, and security concerns continue to fall with Colombia receiving positive international press and the President winning the Nobel peace prize. As country growth continues to rise, opportunities for the sector will start to develop in other major cities outside of the capital which are currently underdeveloped."
 
• Which operators are active in Colombia, and what's the product mix?
"In the hotel sector the main global operators have entered the market in the last five to 10 years: a W hotel was opened a couple of years ago. Serviced apartments tend to be independent single-site operators or national chains with a local presence in the main cities. Corporate housing is operated by mid-size specialist agencies like ourselves managing over 150 units, traditional real estate agencies offering a mixed offering of furnished and unfurnished units, small scale one-man operations managing less than 20 units and direct-to-owner single units accessed through online portals like Airbnb."
 
• Do you think Airbnb, Oasis Collections and other short-term rental products have a positive or negative effect on your business and why?
"Competition is always an indicator that there is demand, so it can only be a good thing for our business. It also gives us an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and provide a truly local, reliable, bespoke and professional service to our guests. Consumer choice is great for the sector and ensures that we are constantly striving to improve our offering to win guest loyalty."
 
• What's your outlook on the future?
"Personally, it is exciting to be part of a sector which is changing so rapidly on a global level. No doubt there will be more changes to come as technology increases accessibility, there is more consolidation and products continue to be refined. On a business front, we will look to leverage our near decade of experience to develop nationwide and regionally in the coming years offering guests a stress-free quality service. I don't see myself going back to dog sitting duties anytime soon!"

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