Talking business: Ola Bjørnstad, Forenom

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Forenom's new CEO for Norway, Ola Bjørnstad, talks to SAN about raising awareness of serviced apartments and the company's growth plans.

• Can you give us some background in to your career?
"I have years of experience from the travel and hotel business. Prior to Forenom, I was the CEO of Grand Hotel in Oslo, managing director of Hurtigrutens hotels at Svalbard as well as the head of the Baker Hansen franchise."

• What attracted you to the role with Forenom?
"Forenom is the leading serviced apartment company in the Nordic countries and has experienced a healthy growth in Norway over the last three years. Forenom operates the fastest growing aparthotel chain in the Nordics, providing a totally new hostel concept for project workers and provides the most extensive offering of serviced apartments in the Nordic regions. I am really looking forward to taking charge of Forenom Norway during this exciting time. All the positive experiences from Finland, Denmark and Sweden will be valuable assets here in Norway."

• What plans do you have within the Norwegian market over the next few years?
"Since the majority of Forenom's guests are business travellers based in Oslo for a fixed period, we are going to expand our presence in Oslo and create even more living environments that feel just like home. Our company can offer clean and state-of-the-art apartments of high quality, where our guests can move right in. In our apartments, you are not a guest, you are a resident. There is no secret - we want to grow in the upcoming years. We are now focusing on closing in on our biggest investment in Norway as 163 apartments open in our new flagship, Lakkegata 3 this week."

• How well established and well known is the serviced apartment sector in Norway?
"The media does not write too much about serviced apartment operators in Norway. This is of course something we want to change; our goal is to spread awareness of the serviced apartment industry and our solutions for business travellers. We want to show how important a role the serviced apartment and extended stay sector has in terms of helping companies moving their workforce, reflecting the need for more flexibility required by local businesses."

• What are Forenom's main markets outside of Oslo?
"Forenom is the leading serviced apartment company in the Nordics. At the same time, we are also the only provider having operations in all Northern countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland."

• What is the minimum length of stay in your properties?
"Forenom can accommodate you from one night to one year in all major Scandinavian cities. Due to the high amount of customers and how we keenly listen their needs, we have a diversified portfolio ranging from a city centre aparthotel to a cottage on an island. Roughly, hostels and aparthotels are suitable for short-term accommodation. But at the end of the day there are always exceptions. Ultimately, it is the customer that decides, our role is make their stay as convenient and smooth as possible."

• What is the ratio of business v leisure travellers in your properties?
"Our core is to help companies moving their workforce, being their growth partner and making things possible for their employees while they are away from home. We are a strategic b2b partner helping our clients to plan their future activities. However, from our perspective a business and leisure travelling are partly merging. 75 per cent of our business comes from b2b, however, we see serviced apartments as an industry gaining more interest among leisure customers, who appreciate the comfort and freedom that an apartment provides."
• How has Airbnb and its ilk affected the serviced apartment sector in Norway? Do you think it has a broadly positive effect?
"Airbnb has done good work by making apartments more visible as an option. We see that a variety of different offers is crucial to give even more people the chance to experience Oslo and also enhancing the offering while high demand peaks. We believe we need other alternatives to hotels in our city. Further this is also positive for tourism and Norwegian economy."

"However, while Airbnb is acting more as a platform, it is too often mixed up with the professional serviced apartment providers. Airbnb is up front in the discussion, but it is important to understand also the professional providers' role in the market and how they can contribute to the local community. All in all, no one can stop a natural development in housing, which is leaning towards more flexibility and services. Airbnb definitely has its place in the market by providing an excellent platform to meet customers' needs."

Forenom is a sponsor of the 2018 Serviced Apartment Summit Europe which takes place in London this week.


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