Talking business: MJ Paschall, AKA Hotel Residences

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• How has trading been in 2016 been to date across the AKA portfolio? What have been the biggest challenges in maintaining occupancy and ADR?

"The good news for AKA is that the upscale/luxury bleisure traveller is very active in key urban markets in 2016, and prime urban locations continue to be an important decision factor for both business and leisure travellers. An interesting shift we are seeing is shorter booking windows for stays in the daily and weekly category. In addition, these travellers are seeking a true experiential stay. We have had a focus on this since our beginnings 12 years ago, and have continued to stay ahead of the curve in this area."

"In 2016, we continue to add new partners to our LiveIt Program to assure we are providing many options to immerse the guest into the local culture. We continue to increase our global digital footprint , to seek out these individual travellers, as they are not typically those travelling through a standard travel program. Many of these travellers are using their mobile devices to book their preferences. Our mobile website has helped support this trend. We have also shifted our human sales force efforts, to support targeted visibility to those TAs, TMCs and corporate contacts who influence their RMCs, with a focus on their VIP programs. In NYC we have shifted the sales team into a vertical segmentation approach.  This has each sales professional focused on a few key segments, where they become the 'expert' or 'specialist' in that segment. Since NYC is home to so many key clients, the program supports an intense focus on clients and their specific needs."
 
 "Finally, and likely the most important factor impacting our ability to raise ADR and RevPar, is that in 2016 we have added specialty residences to all properties. We really do have something unique and different to share with our existing and new clients. These residences are a step above the core offering, which in itself is elevated, and resonate well with the well heeled executive , and leisure traveller. By way of example, our sales and marketing team, (inspired by our owner and pioneer of the serviced apartment in the US, Steve Korman), created packages such as the Luxury Retreat in AKA Marylebone, where the guest is booked into one of these premium residences, and many added services are built into the reservation. As the urban  markets have had many new pertinent players in the hotel residence /serviced apartment space, (Ian Schrager, has now invested in the segment) these are just a few of the ongoing 'tweaks' we have done to maintain occupancies, ADR and our overall perception as a 'best in class' provider in this space.
 
• Given your presence in NYC and DC, have you noticed any positive or negative effect on trade from the build up to the Presidential election?
 
"DC historically has a great year every presidential election. The biggest up tick is six months pre- and post-election. DC sees an increase in all LOS (Daily/weekly and monthly), while NYC sees an uptick in the daily and weekly stays. This is a function of NYC having security detail and delegations travelling as an add on to a trip to DC. NYC has had a quieter UNGA this year, as it is the final year of the current president and the real increase in NYC for UNGA will be next year, the first year of the new president. DC sees security detail for diplomats, and Secret Service, Homeland Security and all other factions impacting the election during election year. From a sales perspective, it is key that the Global Workforce Symposium is held in DC every election year. AKA uses this as an opportunity to visit with mobility managers from key corporations, exchange best practices and create strong awareness of our concept."
 
• How has the new Wall St property been performing? How does the client mix there differ from the other NYC properties?

"The AKA Wall Street start up has been unlike our others in NYC. The key clients we are seeing are of course financial and not surprisingly, technology. In the past year, Downtown NYC has more technology companies setting up shop than financial. More than 65 per cent of new businesses calling Downtown NYC home are technology companies. In addition, the LOS is heavy on the daily and weekly stays during the start up, which speaks to the downtown area carving upscale/luxury hotel residence options. We are seeing a shorter booking window at Wall Street, and our first few months have indeed exceeded expectations."
 
"We do not see as much of the leisure traveller at this property; the HNW leisure traveller, both domestic and international, flock to our Midtown properties. This creates an opportunity for us to foster other business related segments to feed the longer stays, and provide a strong base business. The upcoming opening of Blue Ribbon Federal Grill coupled with the rooftop lounge, create the perfect fit for business and leisure travellers to the downtown area."
 
• Tell us a bit about the forthcoming Philadelphia property.

"AKA University City is an exciting new venture in a city with the highest percentage of teaching hospitals in the US. The property will be a mixed-use building with so many amenities it is hard to list them all. The property is situated perfectly near many of the teaching hospitals and like our AKA Wall Street location, we will be adding a much needed hotel option in this neighbourhood. The property will feel much like a luxury level vertical, neighbourhood with 103 hotel suites, 60 furnished/serviced residences and 105 long term annual rental residences. There will be a restaurant by a Michelin star chef, an entire club level dedicated to resident wellness and enjoyment including a rooftop pool, Technogym fitness Centre, golf simulator, private cinema, a lounge and the popular AKA amenities and services, loved by our residents: business and conference centre, complimentary daily coffee service, 24 hour door and desk, complimentary wifi, laundry, premium cable TV and local calls. As we currently have two AKA Philadelphia locations, adding a third in a complimentary location will create the perfect AKA trifecta."
 
• Lastly, you have one property in London - the only one outside the US - are there any plans to enter other international markets and if so, where and when?

"We hope to expand our footprint in London. It continues to be a great option, particularly to our entertainment and corporate clients as well as our leisure travellers. It is our commitment to buy in the best locations, as our growth is carefully curated by our ownership and our acquisition team. AKA Marylebone has been our highest ADR and RevPar by far, across the AKA brand. We look to continue to providing an intimate residential respite for our clients who use us in the US as well as many new locally vetted clients through our travel and mobility relationships."

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