Talking international expansion: Andrew Weisz, Quest Apartment Hotels

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• What is your career background and how long have you been working for Quest?
 "I started my career in Australia as a contracts administrator for a developer/builder, then progressed to project manager, mainly working on office fit outs and residential projects. My next career move was to join a project management company, where I was exposed to all types of development including residential apartment buildings, retail shopping centres, industrial business parks and commercial office buildings. I joined Quest in 2002, primarily to be involved on the project delivery side, but the role has evolved significantly since then. 

"Over the years I have completed 16 developments for Quest, covering initial feasibility, site acquisition, planning approvals, detailed design, construction tender and award, project delivery and handover. I also acted as Quest representative on 70+ Quest properties that were delivered by third party developers in all states and territories of Australia. My next challenge is to grow the Quest brand in the UK."
 
• How long has Quest been debating entering the UK market and why? Also why were you chosen to launch the UK division?
 "There has always been a vision and desire to grow internationally (in addition to already established businesses in New Zealand & Fiji). However, international expansion was only seriously contemplated two years ago. The first steps actioned in May last year, when the CEO two general managers (including myself) undertook a scoping visit to the UK. We selected the UK, as there are a lot of synergies with Australia, particularly language and property legislation.  In addition, there are a lot of major corporates that have offices in both Australia and the UK, so there are pre-existing relationships and some level of brand awareness here.

"During the scoping study, we recognised the opportunity to establish Quest in the UK, as the serviced apartment sector is quite fragmented and only makes up a small percentage (five per cent) of the overall accommodation market, where demand for extended stay properties is growing faster than new supply. I was chosen to establish Quest in the UK because of my 13 years of experience with the company and having a diverse skill set that covers everything from site identification to the establishment of a new Quest business."
 
• What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for Quest in the UK?
"I believe the main challenge is making developers and landlords aware of the benefits of partnering with Quest. In Australia, we have an unparalleled track record of growth (on average 6 to 10 new properties each year), which can only be done by having strong relationships with development partners throughout the country. The biggest opportunity is for Quest is to provide a serviced apartment offering that provides a consistent guest experience in a number of locations around the UK, with particular focus on the corporate traveller. These may be locations where the demand exists, but an accommodation offering may not have been previously contemplated."
 
• In Australia and NZ, Quest works mainly on a franchise model. As a new brand in the UK space, will that be your eventual goal here too? And in the meantime will you operate properties yourself or use a third party management company?
"Our ultimate goal is to establish a franchise network in the UK, as we have successfully done in Australia, New Zealand & Fiji. However, we need to build brand value first by establishing a presence here. Ideally we would like to franchise all new businesses, however if we are unable to do this, we will operate or engage a third party management company to run the businesses, until such time that they can be franchised."
 
• Have you got any geographical target markets in mind, e.g. provincial cities, London etc - if so which?
"We are targeting London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham at this stage."
 
• Have you set targets for how many UK aparthotels you sign in, for example,  the next two, five and ten years?
"By the end of Year 2, we want to have three businesses established. This is ambitious when you consider the timing involved in the development of a greenfield site. By the end of Year 5, we are targeting the delivery of six to eight new properties each year. We have not set targets for 10 years, however if we achieve the same growth in the UK as we have been able to achieve in Australia, we will be aiming to open on average 10 new businesses each year."

www.questapartments.co.au

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