Serviced Apartment Awards winner interview: John Wagner, Cycas Hospitality, and Kirsten Jones, Staybridge Suites Liverpool

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John Wagner, Cycas Hospitality co-founder, and Kirsten Jones, Staybridge Suites Liverpool hotel manager, talk to SAN about their Serviced Apartment Award for Best property 71+ units.

• What does it mean to Staybridge Suites to win a Serviced Apartment Award (for Best Property 71+ units)?      

(JW): "To have won this award in the same year that the hotel is celebrating its tenth anniversary is a huge honour, not just for the hotel but Cycas Hospitality as a whole. Not only was Liverpool the first hotel within Cycas's portfolio - and the property where we pioneered Cycas's distinctive personality-driven approach - but it was also the very first Staybridge Suites hotel to open outside North America. For us to win this award demonstrates how hard our hotel team has worked to keep the property as relevant to today's customers as those when we opened back in June 2008."

(KJ): "I was part of the Liverpool team when we first opened our doors ten years ago and know that we were the only branded extended-stay property anywhere in Europe. Being singled out amongst our peers at a time when awareness of aparthotels and serviced apartments is at an all-time high is an incredible achievement and something that all our team can be extremely proud of."

• What makes Staybridge Suites Hotels unique? Is this to do with making them feel more like a home than a hotel?

(JW): "When I first started working in the extended-stay sector I was struck by how important the connection between hotel employees and long-stay guests was if you want to make travellers feel at home. This was something we kept front of mind when I helped IHG translate the Staybridge Suites brand for the European market. Taking this to the new level, the Cycas approach is to recruit people who find it easy to build genuine connections with others and to encourage our teams to take time to really get to know them. By inspiring this style of casual approach we've been able to create the relaxed atmosphere that our longer-staying guests value so much."

(KJ): "We know that business travellers who are regularly on the road appreciate the additional facilities and homely touches that traditional serviced apartments wouldn't be able to offer them. As an example, one of our longest-standing guests is a TV drama producer who has lived with us in Liverpool for six years now! What's especially interesting is how this style is proving increasingly popular with weekend and leisure guests, who appreciate how we bridge the gap between hotel and home."

(JW): "It's worth pointing out that the success of our Staybridge Suites properties goes far beyond bricks and mortar. In Liverpool, one of the most unique things about our hotel (NB: Cycas owns the property) is its incredible team and how they are firmly part of the Cycas family. That 90 per cent of the people we recruited when Liverpool opened a decade ago remain within the Cycas family, along with all four of the hotel's former General Managers, is something that helps create a relaxed atmosphere in our properties. We've always set out to make our hotels the best places to work, as well as stay, and - with our Liverpool hotel consistently achieving +93 per cent guest satisfaction scores, coupled with an enviable staff retention rate - it seems our people-focused strategy ensures employee satisfaction translates into happy, loyal guests."

(KJ): "Something that helps demonstrate the different approach we take to creating an environment that makes our guests feel at home is the refurbishment work we undertook in Liverpool last year. With so many regular, long-staying guests it was particularly important to us that any changes we did make exceeded their expectations and delivered on the developments that they felt would add value to their experience. We therefore included guests in the consultation process of our proposed upgrade plans and worked their feedback into the refurbishment activity across our public areas. In doing so we were able to help maintain the homely atmosphere that we know is so greatly valued by our loyal guests."

 Why is Manchester a good location to open up the latest Staybridge Suites hotel?

(JW): "Our new 19-storey double-decker hotel in Manchester is in the heart of the Oxford Road Corridor, in Manchester's Innovation District. Within walking distance of Manchester city centre, the Oxford Road Corridor has a workforce of 60,000 and is home to big-name institutions such as The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, so we know there is big demand in this part of the city for both short and long-staying business clients as well as leisure visitors."

(JW): "One of the key benefits of dual-branded properties is that it gives our longer-staying guests access to the facilities of a full-service hotel - in this case Crowne Plaza; the first time the two brands have been brought together outside North America. As a result, guests at Staybridge Suites Manchester - Oxford Road also have access to extra on-site possibilities, such as an on-site restaurant, buzzing bar and dedicated conference floor, which means they have everything they need under one roof."

• What makes your hotel good for disabled access and has this always been a priority for you and Cycas?

(JW): "One of the biggest things that helps aparthotels stand out from traditional full-service hotels is space. According to the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP), guests can enjoy 30 per cent more space than the equivalent standard of hotel. Obviously, whilst this has a positive knock-on effect for all our travellers, we have always recognised each guest has different needs and expectations. Accessibility is therefore a key priority across all our properties."

(KJ): "Taking Liverpool as an example, we were recently ranked one of Liverpool's most accessible venues - the only hotel to make the list - which obviously reflects how important it is for us to make our properties as accessible to all our guests as possible."

(JW): "As blogger Simply Emma recently said about her experience of our Staybridge Suites Newcastle property, which has five DDA suites:'The accessible suite was so big and so lovely that we would have loved a few days to check it out. It was an absolute pleasure to stay and experience this hotel. I really can't praise it enough. Everything felt right from the moment we arrived until the moment we (sadly) left. Staying at Staybridge Suites is the perfect option for a trip to Newcastle whether it's for one night or an extended stay'."

• What are your future plans for Staybridge Suites with the 116-unit Manchester hotel opening this month?

(JW): "As the largest operator of IHG's Staybridge Suites hotels outside North America, we see the great, untapped potential for the brand; not just in the UK (where we currently run five of the six Staybridge Suites), but across Europe. Given our proven track record of success, we are better able to demonstrate the financial viability of serviced apartments, and the Staybridge Suites brand in particular, to developers and financial institutions looking for strong and steady returns. Having helped develop the group's dual-branded hotel concept in Europe, we have big plans to grow our company on the back of IHG's ambitious expansion intentions for their extended-stay brand and, in doing so, capitalise on the record growth predicted for the serviced apartment sector."


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