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MYSTERY BUYER LESS OF THE STRESS


Our mystery buyer makes a plea to serviced apartment providers to up their game and make life easier for everyone in managed travel


I HAVE SPENT THE PAST YEAR-AND-A-HALF looking at the serviced apartments sector for our travellers, and I’ve dis- covered a large number of challenges along the way, with faults on the part of both buyers and suppliers. When our people are on the road, the comfortable environment of a serviced apartment can and should make being away from home less stressful for them – but only if the service works well. The aparthotel and serviced apartments


industry has not done itself any favours, because they have focused on the reloca- tion element, which is far removed from global transient travel.


I put this down to fear of the unknown,


lack of resources and treating serviced apartments primarily as an HR function for relocation, rather than bringing transient- and long- stay under one umbrella. The final figures go on the same profit-and-loss state- ment, so why not take advan- tage of leveraging it from a buyer perspective?


Another issue for me is the huge lack of transparency as to what inventory is owned by suppliers and what is sourced from third parties. This is my pet hate with this sector – when I speak to Hilton about a destination where they don’t have supply, I wouldn’t expect them to subcontract from another supplier without telling me and sell it as a Hilton. That’s the way the serviced apartments industry has been allowed to evolve. I’m all for partnerships and alliances, and together we achieve more – but be true to who you are. I had travellers in apart- ments supplied by an American company and I didn’t understand why the


54 BBT JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016


I’m all for partnerships and alliances, and together we achieve more – but be true to who you are


response to the severe issue we had was so slow. It turned out there were so many layers, I wasn’t dealing with the person who was fixing the problem. I went back to them and said I was only interested in the properties where they would deal


MADRID ZÜRICH


with problems directly – suddenly their portfolio was much slimmer. It is such a dishonest way of positioning the product. Suppliers don’t seem to understand how corporate buyers work, and are not flexible. I have two travellers going into Chicago in April and made enquiries towards the end of last year; one sup- plier told me it was too early and they would discuss it in the new year. That is because they want to balance long- and short-term stuff so they are never empty. The initial enquiry was for only 52 nights; had it been for six months, they said they would have taken it. And finally, distribution. We have been told for years that serviced apartments have to be booked by email or fax. I am not pro-global distribution systems, but it has been the only common distribution platform until recently – and now there are other opportunities to be creative. For example, Airbnb is, in effect, an online travel agent and I think it’s fantastic. If individuals can rent out a room over their garage and make money out of it, how can serviced apart- ment operators not distribute inventory through a technol- ogy platform? What a lot of rubbish. The industry needs tech- nology that duplicates what we are doing as transient buyers. Someone should bring to market something that can support any long stay over seven nights. Look at your distribution model and bring everything on to one platform and one portal. If you want corporates to know who you are and to use your apartments, you need to be visible. If you are not there, they are not going to know about you.


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