Event review: Association of Serviced Apartment Providers conference George Sell

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Around 300 attendees heard welding addresses from ASAP's chairman David Smith, deputy chairman Don James and managing director James Foice, before keynote speaker Geoff Ramm gave an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation about going the extra mile to offer clients "celebrity service".

A day of seminars then followed, with a session corporate travel providing some interesting opinions and statistics. Moderator Gill Upton of the Business Travel Magazine set the scene by stating that ASAP members generate £500 million in annual revenue from corporate travel.

Samantha van Leeuwen, head of hotels and venues at PwC, said that the company originally looked at serviced apartments as a cost-saving measure but they "became a way of offering better accommodation for long-stay employees".

"We now recommend that our travellers use a serviced apartment for stays of over four nights," said van Leeuwen, adding that PwC has an annual spend on serviced apartments in the UK of £4.5 million to £5 million, representing 30,000 night annually and accounting for about 25 per cent of its total accommodation spend. The main reasons for booking serviced apartments are value, extra space, and staff wellbeing and retention, she added.

Christabelle Morgan-Desouches of Aparthotels Adagio said that more than 60 per cent of Adagio's guests are corporate travellers, returning more than 50 per cent of the company's revenue. The average stay is around 10 days, while one-third of guests stay for less than four nights.

While acknowledging the growing popularity of serviced apartments, van Leeuwen said the sector isn't as dynamic in terms of pricing as it should be. "For example we aren't offered a cheaper rate if we extend a stay from three months to six months," she said, adding that "TMCs aren't as au fait with serviced apartments as they should be".

In a session on technology moderated by CLSA CEO Max Thorne, Jason Grist of Booking.com said: "A good website is all about catering to the customer experience - you must have the functionality that the user wants." He added that 43 per cent of people booking travel are using multiple devices, and that one in four bookings on Booking.com is on a smart phone or tablet.

Antonio Silano of Flock Associates said: "We are living in the age of uber-personalisation - customers expect the exchange of their data to result in a better experience for them." To the agreement of the plane he suggested that the era of the app could be coming to an end: "Developing an app is very expensive - it's more cost effective for smaller companies to develop a mobile friendly website that behaves like an app," said Silano.

Tailoring product to meet the needs of guests from the Middle East and China was covered in an afternoon session. Jo Knudsen of Visit Britain said: "The British summer weather is a big draw for Middle Eastern visitors," adding that "91 per cent of UAE and 84 per cent of Saudi visitors to the UK are repeat stay visitors".

Gary Grieve, director of Capela China, came up with some staggering statistics about China. He said: "In 2000 there were 10.5 million border crossings by Chinese travellers. By 2014 this has risen to 112 million, and by 2020 is expected to be 200 million. And while all this is happening, fewer than 10 per cent of China's population own a passport."

Grieve also said that China sees an enormous level of social media use, "partly due to a lack of trust in official information. This means a greater reliance on friends' opinion and review sites such as the Chinese version of Trip Advisor".

When the seminars had finished there were networking drinks before a dinner and presentation of the 2014 ASAP awards. Full story on the awards to follow on Serviced Apartment News.



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