Talking Business: Patrick Dempsey, Staycity

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• What made you decide to get involved in the serviced apartment sector?

"I knew Staycity through somebody who went to work for them, a guy called Keith Freeman, who used to work for us at Premier Inn. After I'd finished at Premier Inn I was going to Edinburgh to play golf with a friend. rather than stay in a hotel, and book two separate rooms, we wanted a bit more space and freedom so I phoned Keith and asked if I could try a Staycity apartment."

"So we stayed in a very smart two-bedroom apartment in the centre of Edinburgh, with parking. I think there is something unique around the Staycity model. It's different from staying in a hotel, you have more freedom, you can come and go when you please, you don't have someone knocking on the door to service the room when you don't want to, you can make your morning coffee and breakfast yourself- I think it's a very good business model."

"From there, I met Staycity CEO Tom Walsh, and went to see his business in Dublin, and their sites in Greenwich, and I thought it was a unique opportunity. It's also my belief that if you take Staycity's core market of the UK and Ireland, the company is still very small at the moment and there is a huge opportunity to grow that. Particularly given that there are a lot of mid-market and budget hotel brands who have a lot of properties all over the country, and quite large market shares, whereas the serviced apartment market share is very small. I think there is an opportunity to grow it quite rapidly in these markets, and in Europe. "

• How did the relationship with Staycity become official?

"Staycity asked me to come on board as a non-executive director, and I said I'd like to do that, and maybe spend a little more time on the business. I've agreed to spend some more time with Tom Walsh to help him and the team focus on how they can grow the company in its core markets, how they position their brand as they get bigger and how they make sure it's attractive to the consumer. The business operates at a very high occupancy, the challenge is to speed up the growth and keep the brand intact as it grows."

"Given my background, when I joined Whitbread we had 24,000 rooms with a brand called Travel Inn, and when I left we had 60,000 rooms and were called Premier Inn. That has given me very good knowledge of branding, of the UK and Ireland marketplace, and also of Europe."

• Do you think there will be some overlap between Premier Inn customers and Staycity's customers?

"Staycity, like Premier Inn, is good for both business and leisure guests. It's a fantastic product for families who want to go away for the weekend and need two or three bedrooms, and want to cook their own breakfasts in the morning. And it's also great for business people - if I was travelling weekly to London or Scotland and I could go and stay in an apartment, where I'm used to the product, I think that's a very attractive offer. The only problem is there just aren't enough rooms at the moment. It's a very different offering from a budget hotel. I think people would like to have some other choices, and the apartment hotel offers that."

• How do you see the potential for growth, both for Staycity and the wider serviced apartment sector?

"It took me eight years to grow Premier Inn from 24,000 to 60,000 rooms - it takes time. But I think that given time serviced apartments could become a significant player in the budget and mid-market sectors."

"Tom and the management team have got a good grip on where they want to expand - as a non-exec my role is help and support them, and challenge them to think broader and bigger, and at the same time to think about who is the consumer and whether the brand is meeting the consumer's needs. One of my main areas of focus at Premier Inn was achieving consistency - when you start to get scale, you need to have a consistent product. As Staycity grows people want to know what they are getting as soon as they arrive, they don't want surprises."

"As brands grow it's very easy to change your product, but if you can get it right from the beginning - something that meets your customer needs whether it is one-bedroom, two-bedroom or three-bedroom serviced apartments - as people travel they get used to what the product is and what it provides."


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