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HOTELS & TOURISM | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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Foreign housing demand kept serviced-residences running

This is despite tougher competition against sharing economy-rooted services.

Great World Serviced Apartments, considered the largest, tallest, and one of the most comprehensive serviced apartments in Singapore, has retained the top spot of Singapore Business Review’s Serviced Residences Survey, with 304 total number of serviceable units in 2017. Great World Serviced Apartments, managed by GWC Serviced Apartments Pte Ltd and a member of the Kuok Group of Companies which also handles Shangri-La Hotel & Resorts, has been leading in the serviced residences sector in the city-state for a number of years. It is owned by Robert Kuok, considered the richest person in Malaysia and the second richest in Southeast Asia with a $12.2b net worth in July 2017, according to Forbes.

Rounding out the top developments of SBR’s serviced residences list are Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore with 268 number of units, followed by Fraser Suites Singapore and Orchard Parksuites with 255 and 233 total number of units, respectively. Treetops Executive Residences and Ascott Orchard Singapore are tied at fifth place with 220 total number of units each.

Despite the relative strong showing of the sector, the total number of serviced residences unit in Singapore fell by 1.8% to 5,735 units in 2017 from 5,843 in 2016. Average number of rooms registered at 130 rooms this year compared to 127 rooms last year.

Foreign housing demand
Roy Liang, general manager of Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore, shared that there has been a noticeable trend in the serviced residences in the city-state over the past year, with clients and travellers alike preferring these types of accommodation than traditional hotels.“Generally, we have noticed a shorter duration for corporate travels, but with an increasing preference towards staying in serviced apartments instead of traditional hotels,” he said, adding the emergence of a specific client segment—millennials and travellers with millennial mindsets that prefer accommodations fusing concepts like design, functionality, price point, and location.

To tap into such emerging markets, The Ascott Limited revealed plans to launch a new brand offering called lyf to meet the surge in millennial demand. “Designed for millennials by millennials, lyf properties will feature coliving and coworking spaces and aim to connect like-minded travellers to ‘live your freedom’ in a dynamic environment, bond in an array of social spaces and foster a new way of community living,” according to Ascott Regional General Manager for Singapore and Malaysia Ervin Yeo, adding that the first lyf property in Singapore is slated to open by 2020.

Singapore remains one of the most attractive cities in the world to work in, especially in business and finance, prompting many international companies and financial institutions to set up shop in the city-state. According to the Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report for 2016 and 2017, Singapore is ranked third as the top destination for professionals and travellers alike, after Hong Kong and London.

According to the report, 88% of major corporations are expecting increases in the international assignment of their staff, whilst multinational companies are likely, on average, will have assignees and expatriate employees in 33 different countries, as predicted by PwC. This global mobility prompted by business has risen the need for serviced apartments to house these mobile international employees, with an estimated 826,759 apartments now in existence worldwide in 2016-2017, up by 10.5% just over a year before.

Addressing tech needs
Liang shared that this spells a brighter short-term future for the sector, but industry players like Oakwood would have to continuously—and voraciously—innovate if they want to stay ahead. “Technological advancements have also greatly enhanced the hospitality scene in Singapore, with many serviced residences opting to use technology to streamline processes not just for the property but for the guests as well,” he said.

Serviced residences must therefore evolve even quicker to enhance the overall guest experience and increase operational efficiency which is crucial to consumers’ brand choices in selecting their accommodation, Yeo pointed out.

On its part, The Ascott Limited has been providing pocket butler services, a portable Wi-Fi device to enjoy wireless connectivity for business travelers as well as AI-powered temperature systems which can learn the individual temperature preference of guests over time, across its portfolio of serviced residences. The operator has also introduced a backend workflow hospitality solution which digitised its systems and records keeping, enabling quicker response to various guest requests.  

Some of these early technological advancements in the hospitality industry, particularly in the serviced residences sector, include providing guests with mobile phones with 3G/4G capabilities, giving them the flexibility and peace of mind of staying connected to the internet from the moment they arrive at the apartment, instead of going to the local mobile store to purchase a sim card and paying for mobile data. 

Another form of technological advancement that is taking the hospitality industry of Singapore by storm is robotics, and the push is coming from all sides—from both the public and private sectors. For instance, the Singapore Tourism Board announced on November 2017 partnerships with different hotels and solution providers in the city-state to accelerate the adoption of robotics in the hotel and hospitality industry.

Enter the robots
“Robotics has played an enlarged role in the hospitality industry in the second half of 2017 with hotels especially leading the charge with robots that cook eggs or help with housekeeping,” Liang noted. “I believe this trend will continue into the years, especially as manpower needs arise.”

Liang also cited Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore’s efforts on this front, having developed a specially curated app that allows guests who stay at the property to check out information on the property and its neighbourhood, as well as information on where to go in Singapore, helping them plan their stay before they arrive. The app can also be utilised as a form of a service app, allowing clients to order in-room dining, request for additional in-room amenities, or even shop for online groceries.

The Singapore Tourism Board estimated that over 17.4 million people visited the city-state in 2017, a 6.2% increase from the previous year. Liang, however, noted that the main challenge for serviced residences to be able to remain competitive with traditional hotels is to stand out in its offerings.“It boils down to product differentiation, and making sure what you’re offering stands out,” he said, explaining that in the case of Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore, the main objective is to provide corporate travellers with quality accommodation that feels the same, or even better, than home. The steady stream of visitors also means better visibility of the demand and supply, allowing these properties to better and more accurately tailor their amenities and strategies with the concurrent trend.

Threats
There is also the threat and rise of sharing economy-rooted services like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, where individuals can rent or offer their living spaces, apartments, and condominium units for a fee. Some travellers have opted for these options for the price and the chance to get an authentic feel of how locals live, with some owners also acting as guides for clients.

“Competition in the form of Airbnb and other platforms is inevitable, which is why serviced residence operators like Ascott continue to emphasise our core competencies in providing vetted, safe and quality apartments to our guests whilst continuing to evolve to match guests’ preferences,” Yeo added. 

Liang noted that the rise of all these alternative forms of accommodation reflect an increasing reliance on technology and demand for a “home-like” experience.

“More importantly, it proves that there is a growing market and it is then up to the individual brands to carve out a segment, capitalise on the opportunities, and leverage on trends for sustained growth,” he said, adding that another key challenge for the sector in the years ahead would be manpower—attracting and retaining exciting new talent.

“Brand recognition and trust, offering differentiated appeal and the ability to continuously anticipate healthy demands for all types of travellers will set the serviced industry apart from its competition,” said Yeo. “The serviced residence industry remains resilient and flexible to respond to the needs of all our guests, regardless whether they are business or leisure travellers - we continue to innovate to offer distinctive experience from various brand offerings to meet the preferences of increasingly diverse travellers.”

There will also likely be a trend towards environmental and social consciousness in the business operations of these serviced residences and properties, with efforts to reduce carbon emissions becoming a trend globally. Liang said that many serviced residences are gradually incorporating technology in more areas to ensure efficiency like employing renewable energy like solar power. In the case of Oakwood Premier OUE Singapore, the constant demand for innovation is making results in all of its operations, and this is likely applicable for the rest of 2018 given the projected increase in tourists in Singapore in 2018.  

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