The art of catering to long-stay clients

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First and foremost: The guests should feel good all around. This, in a nutshell, is the main purpose of every lodging business, isn't it? What is already a huge challenge for hotels even becomes a mammoth task for operators of serviced apartments, for the needs of the individual guests in the long-stay properties differ even more than in the classic hotel. After all, you live in a serviced apartment not just for a few days, but often for several weeks or months. Therefore, not only do the prices have to be attractive, but the needs of each individual guest have to be recognised more precisely and to be fulfilled appropriately. On a two- or three-day trip, a guest may accept a minimum of services and equipment, dismissing with a smile any shortcomings in the little time available. Not; however, during longer stays - here everything has to fit perfectly.

It is not enough just to place long-stay properties in a nice location with good public transport connections and to equip the rooms with kitchens and workplaces. That's simply not good enough for a proper serviced apartment concept; You'd have to think a lot more about that. Demands on the equipment and operation of the facilities are high. It all revolves around special care and constant individual attention to the wishes of the guests. They want to express their wishes to a host directly, not simply to staff who carry out the routine work. That's why the position of house manager is so important, and why it's extremely crucial for us to appoint the right person.

Our GBI Group knows what it is talking about. Since 2007, the company has been developing long-stay properties for international hotel chains entering the German market including such heavyweight brands as Citadines, Adina and Capri by Fraser. In 2013, GBI launched its own product line SMARTments business, operating the properties on its own.

Know what the guest expects
Six SMARTments business properties are now in operation with around 750 serviced apartments, three in Berlin and one each in Munich, Hamburg and Vienna. Further projects are under construction. The first property in Hamburg has been running extremely successfully for almost six years now. We have gained a lot of experience from that and successfully developed the concept further. In all six prperties the occupancy rate is more than 90 per cent. Vacancies usually only occur when changing from one guest to another. Such results are possible, because we have realised that it does not suffice to provide only a hotel-like room for several consecutive nights. The goal should always be to offer a "home away from home". And a good service is defined above all by recognising and taking into account the needs of the guests. At SMARTments, service is therefore not defined by standard services, but as the individual response to personal needs.

That's why you have to be attentive in the case of every guest: What is the reason and purpose of his or her stay in the city? The project team member of a company has different needs than the consultant or the freelancer who visits his customers. The newcomer to the city, who has started a new job and has to find an apartment of his or her own, house-hunting untiringly out of SMARTments business, expects something different than an artist who has a long-term commitment to one of the city's stages. And expats seconded to a foreign branch by an internationally acting company have a special position anyway. Regular detailed and individual guest surveys are a key to success. Knowing what the guest really expects, not what you assume to be knowing!

Complete digitalisation of booking and check-in
To learn the reasons for the stay and to adjust the service accordingly, you should talk to the guest - with due restraint, of course. To ensure that there is enough time to do this, we relieve the house management and service staff of all the work involved with booking and check-in. Everything is fully digitalised. A soon-to-be launched SMARTments app will offer customers every opportunity to comfortably prepare and organise their stay.

As a matter of fact, guests in our SMARTments business also enjoy a financial advantage. Accommodation is cheaper than the price of a week's business stay in relevant three-star business and budget hotels. Another advantage is the transparency and simplicity of the rate structure, allowing for a clear calculation of the costs for the stay avoiding any subsequent unpleasant surprises. For this purpose, we have created a clear structure consisting of weekly and monthly and three-month rates. In the SMARTments business Berlin Karlshorst, for example, the studio costs €43 Euro per night for a stay of at least one week. If the guest stays at least one month, the amount is reduced to €33. Particularly gratifying: those favourable rates always apply to long-stay, even during trade fairs, congresses and tourist peak times. 

Key: Functionality of the apartments 
The SMARTments business as a rule are about 22 to 26 square metres in size. But the size of the studio is not that decisive in the end. What is crucial is the functionality and usability for the different guest needs in the daily routine (eating, working, staying, community activities, resting, sleeping). Therefore, equipment and design must ensure that the guest feels that the space is sufficiently large. This is possible under the following set-up rules:

• The basic concept is an open floor plan with an overlap of the usable areas, enabling efficient use.
• Thus the kitchen, dining, living and sleeping areas - as a so-called space continuum - merge into one another without the room appearing like a single large expanse. 
• The tailor-made equipment emphasises the essential features and dispenses with the unnecessary.
 • The wardrobe in the entrance area offers additional storage space. Also the suitcase can disappear directly there, which creates space. It is essential that there is not a single square metre of pure traffic space in the rooms. As soon as one enters a room, one is directly in the usable room.
• Joiner's furniture (cupboards, kitchen) in-built in niches disappear optically in the walls providing not only space, but also creating a tranquil atmosphere in the room.
• There is additional storage space in the bathroom through shelves. 
• A bed as hybrid furniture that can also be used as a sofa through the bedspread and headboard also saves space. An essential feature in the room should not only be a work area but also comfortable seating.
• The colour design with white as the basic colour creates a tidy atmosphere and has a positive effect on the feeling of space. Wood used selectively and dark surfaces create optical accents without overwhelming the room.
• Colour-accentuated finishes (kitchen area) ensure a clear room structure.
The type of vinyl flooring adapted to the room's optics, gives the floor an impression of width as well.
• The lighting is arranged over several light clusters (dining table, bedside lamp, corridor, kitchen). This gives the room a homely appearance and makes it appear larger in perception.
• Despite all its functionality, the design must be appealing - in other words, lead completely to the "feel-good" effect.

High-speed Internet and "emergency supplies" from the vending machine
The technical equipment is certainly an extremely important factor. From the very beginning, we have attached great importance to first-class high-speed Internet access in our SMARTments business. All new properties are equipped with fibre optic connections, enabling every guest to use a high volume of data.

Surveys among residents show how vital this actually is. The average SMARTments business guest wants to connect between three and four of his own devices - from smartphones, tablets and laptops to several TV sticks. He wants to be able to stream and use the same services and TV channels as at home. Mirroring and streaming naturally requires the highest quality of the Internet. Especially in the late evening, the requirements are enormous, and the entire system must be geared to this peak of use. Apropos "late evening": At this time not only the technology must be available, but also the 'emergency' food and drink supply. To feel at home calls for being served around the clock with the most vital things for your physical well-being via the vending machine - just like at home helping yourself from the fridge and pantry. In this spirit: Bon appétit in a relaxing atmosphere!

To find out more about the extended stay sector in Germany and beyond, don't miss Serviced Apartment Summit RECHARGEwhich takes place in Berlin on January 22 and 23.

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