Star quality: Alistair Sandall talks AA serviced accommodation rating

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 02 August 2016

SAN talks to Alistair Sandall, commercial manager at AA Hotel & Hospitality Services, about the AA's newly launched serviced apartment star rating programme. The AA scheme will differentiate the segment by use of "designators" akin to the hotel and guest accommodation schemes, including: Aparthotels, Corporate Housing, Residences, Suites, Studios and Extended Stay. The rating scheme will be from three to five stars.

An extension to the number of accreditation schemes in the serviced apartment sector, bringing it in line with the mainstream hospitality industry, was one of our predictions for 2016.

• What made you decide to launch the serviced accommodation category?
"We've been looking at doing this for some years. We obviously want to increase our business levels, and we see serviced accommodation as the next big emerging sector in the hospitality industry. It made sense for us develop a star rating scheme for the sector. We're aware that various tourist boards have their own schemes but they tend to be adapted from their self-catering schemes, and we've written a bespoke programme for serviced accommodation."

• Have you seen demand for the new category from existing member properties or travellers?
"I've had discussions with booking agents such as Portman Travel, who concur that a star rating scheme for serviced accommodation would be of assistance to the business traveller market. Plus, I'm aware that the serviced accommodation sector is still a very grey area for the general public so anything that carries the respected AA brand will help raise awareness of the sector to the, There is a pent-up demand out there, and we are looking to tap in to that, supplying a way for accommodation provider to increase their levels of leisure travel business. When I attended the Serviced Apartment Summit last year, it was clear there is still confusion among the general public about what serviced accommodation is."

• How many properties that fall under the serviced accommodation bracket are currently AA-rated in other categories?
"I don't know specific numbers but I would think there are at least 100 or so. We deal with a lot of clients such as Red Carnation who have six or seven apartments at several of their hotels. Similarly Park Plaza Victoria has 20 apartments which are serviced accommodation units."

• What are the main benefits to a property of receiving the accreditation?
"First and foremost, it's an approved accreditation scheme with the AA, which is the most trusted brand in the UK at the moment. To have that brand associated with a property enhances its credibility. We'll also offer free booking links and representation on our website. It's all about the strength of our brand standing together with theirs."

• There is a big and growing market of serviced accommodation in the UK. How are you planning to attract new properties to the scheme that AA perhaps hasn't already got an existing relationship with?
"I've sent emails to half a dozen of the key players, all of whom I met last year, asking their thoughts on an AA star ratings scheme for the sector. Some were very positive, some perhaps less so until they see the benefits. I'll be maintaining contact with those people over the next six weeks, plus we're going to be doing a mailshot to a lot of serviced accommodation providers in the autumn. Additionally, of course, all our inspectors in the field, are looking for new opportunities and lead generation, so they will be putting the word out about the new scheme on a daily basis, creating organic growth."

• Do you have any plans to roll out the scheme beyond the UK?
"If there is demand, yes. At the moment AA Hotel Services is just UK-based, although we cover Gibraltar and do some consultancy work in Cyprus, but if the demand's there we'll do it."

• How many properties are you targeting in the next year, two years and five years?
"In the first year we're looking for 100, then the plan is to double that in year two and double it again in year three."

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