ENGAGE webinar: The death of ‘alternative accommodation’?

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Like the curated ENGAGE event itself, the webinars bring together the very best from across the travel-buying industry and provide a no-cost digital platform for industry leaders to engage, look to the future and challenge the status quo with their peers, through the sharing of knowledge, live debates and Q&As. The topics offer a snapshot of what is to come at the live event, hosted as part of the Urban Living Festival 2020 on November 25-26 at Tobacco Dock in London.

The latest session, entitled ‘Hotels, serviced apartments, co-living / build-to-rent, short term rentals – what’s the best option?’, covered the full spectrum of asset classes, which will all be discussed in greater detail at the Urban Living Festival itself.

Harris was joined by Vivi Cahyadi, CEO of AltoVita, Kevin Carr, associate director at UBS Travel Management, Jo Layton, director at CAP Worldwide Serviced Apartments, and Steve Lowy, CEO of Anglo Educational and The Residence.

To begin proceedings, subscribers were asked whether they felt comfortable travelling right now, and the results could not have been closer. Fifty two per cent of those polled said they did feel comfortable travelling at this moment in time, and 48 per cent said they did not.

While Carr voiced his surprise at the near 50/50 split, Lowy said he expected more people to “travel with purpose as fears grow over getting stuck or quarantined” as a result of the pandemic. Layton concurred, adding that alternative accommodation providers are seeing interest, particularly from those seeking corporate housing for short-term business projects in city centres, because more traditional asset classes such as aparthotels and five-star hotels had to close during the pandemic due to high costs of running units.

Cahyadi, meanwhile, pointed to ‘investment homes’ as an accommodation segment that was gaining traction during the height of the pandemic earlier this year. Such units are not necessarily in the same building but operated by the same property management companies, and these are able to ” deliver consistent quality and provide a blend of privacy and duty of care, according to the AltoVita CEO.

This, Carr said, was a reason why serviced apartments and other types of corporate housing are seen as one of the best types of accommodation for suiting the needs of travellers when they need to relocate or venture out for business projects. However, he added it was essential for those providers to continue to offer a flexible policy that caters to all types of requirements.

As the discussion opened up to questions from the floor, the panellists were then posed the question about whether the term ‘alternative accommodation’ is no longer relevant, especially given many hotels remained shut during the crisis.

The general consensus across the panel was that the alternative accommodation industry, if it is to be known that way, was by no means ‘dead’ but it must do more to sell itself to corporate travel buyers as an alternative to hotels. While Lowy said apartments and home stays, often considered within the ‘alternative’ bracket, are “nothing new”, Cahyadi and Layton called for an industry body to be created, which would “provide personal and security safeguards for all factors”, as well as highlight how corporate and alternative accommodation has a future in secondary and tertiary locations when projects are ongoing or families are relocating.

The conversation then moved on to how shifts in corporate travel trends would impact on the short-term rental industry post-Covid.

Lowy responded by predicting that as travellers’ sense of standards becomes more heightened as a result of the attention on deep cleaning procedures, people will look to move away from choosing simply “cheap” accommodation and start to ask questions about safety. This sense of trust between the industry and the travellers themselves will be increasingly important, he said, and providers must work together to collectively reassure people.

Layton, meanwhile, expanded on the issue of trust, citing her recent launch of the Assessment and Accreditation [SAFFAA] in collaboration with Serviced Apartment News, which has developed a global register for responsible accreditors for serviced apartments and alternative accommodation. In her words, it was essential for the industry to become “less ad-hoc” and focus on track and traceability and validity across all areas of respective businesses, especially as accreditation for the digitalisation of sanitary products begins to be implemented to establish greater accountability.

The upside of this, in Cahyadi’s mind, is that the standard levels post-pandemic will be “very high” from the moment a guest checks in. As a result, operators, particularly those which offer long-term extended stays, will be challenged to maintain a human-centric approach by ensuring reservations teams in the backend are thinking “forward and systematically”.

To conclude, each of the speakers was asked for their predictions for what the accommodation sector would look like in the next two to three years:

Cahyadi said: “The workforce will be increasingly dominated by the Gen Z bracket, who care about social and environmental issues and authenticity, and those who deliver that in hospitality could be onto a winner.”

Carr said: “There will be fewer options and more consolidation. Some operators will decide to close or convert their accommodation for more commercial purposes, which will have a big impact on choice.”

Lowy said: “Post-Covid, consistency will be everything. There will be consolidation in the market and those who don’t fulfil that will struggle more.”

Layton said: “Due to the EU’s removal of privacy shields, I would expect fewer US companies to be operating in the EU. We can also expect to see an increase in the length of stay, less business travel, and if there is any such travel, it will likely only be for one day.”

To watch the full recording of the webinar, click here.

The next ENGAGE webinar will take place on Thursday 10 September at 11am BST, entitled ‘Who leads? With corporate travel’s biggest associations in turmoil, who can industry professionals look to now?’

Registration details will be shared in due course.

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