When faced with a choice between hotels and Airbnb, Jack Southan says its important to recognise the role of the serviced apartment, which can provide a reliable middle ground between the two experiences.
Twenty years ago, hotels and commercial holiday lets made up the lion’s share of your accommodation options when travelling away from home. But if you were going abroad or to another city for an extended period of time on business, hotels held the crown. It was either that or signing a short-term lease on a property for the length of your stay.
Sure, hotels are great and tend to meet your short-term needs – the room is cleaned daily and you can order a burger to your bed – but there inevitably comes a time you just want to feel like you’re at home, to cook a meal and have some friends over. The problem is, hotels aren’t so good in those situations.
Airbnb changed all that. It gave people the option to stay in an actual home away from home, with all the comforting amenities that comes with that – a kitchen, the feeling of living like a local in a privately owned house and the opportunity to both meet new people (so it’s not so lonely) or stay somewhere affordable as a group.
It has proved wildly popular – in fact, Airbnb has grown into one of the biggest accommodation providers in the world (its net worth is now estimated to be US$31 billion and that’s without owning a single property).
It’s safe to say that consumers have been happy with the arrival of Airbnb as a rival to hotels. But as the famous saying goes, “why choose one, when you can have both?”. It’s here that the “serviced apartment” flourishes.
Serviced apartments or “extended-stay hotels”, as they’re also known, are not new. They’ve been around for a while but seem to be experiencing a spike in popularity in the last couple of years, growing in relation to demand for Airbnb. People who like the luxury of a hotel but who have been inspired by the idea of Airbnb’s more personal touch have found a happy medium between the two.
The original idea of a serviced apartment was to provide more long-term accommodation to people working for weeks or months away from home, but not staying long enough to warrant taking out a lease on an apartment. And this worked just fine. But as people are now more aware of the benefits of a private residence, demand for these places has evolved.
“The ways in which customers are using extended stay hotels are expanding. What was traditionally thought of as something specifically geared toward business travellers working on long projects or perhaps relocating has now become a lodging option for people staying four days or less,” says Deanna Ting, in her article for Skift. And it’s not just for the suits – serviced apartments are a great bet for tourists on city breaks, people with kids who need the extra space, or those travelling with friends.
CASE STUDY: CITADINES TRAFALGAR SQUARE, LONDON
Citadines describes its offer as an “apart’hotel”. Part of the Ascott Limited, it has properties all around the world, with new openings scheduled for Vietnam, Muscat, Manila, Thailand, Dubai and Beijing, among other exotic locations over the next few years.
Located in the very centre of London, the Citadines Trafalgar Square is just two minutes away from some of the capital’s best-known landmarks. In fact, it rivals many top hotels in terms of positioning, and you’d be hard pressed to find an Airbnb this close to the heart of the city without paying through the nose (this one costs £316 a night), so we’re off to a good start.
The hotel itself is fairly conventional in terms decor and ambiance, but then it is not trying to rival the big name hotels in the area because this is affordable serviced accommodation, not the Savoy. In terms of size, Studios are 25 sqm, so roughly the same as a hotel room, but there are larger one- and two-bedroom apartments as well (39-70 sqm). And these have sofa beds so can sleep four to six people.
The rooms are slick and homely, if a little predictable, but they provide everything you might need to spend time in this part of the city without financially ruining yourself. Kitchenettes come stocked with plates, pots, pans, cutlery, washing up liquid, a dishwasher, microwave, fridge and freezer – essentially, all you might need to cook dinner, store food and drinks, and generally make yourself a little more self sufficient.
It’s great if you want to spend a day exploring the city but then not have to eat out at the end of the day when you’re tired and need a little head-space from the bustle of town. We bought a bottle of wine from a Tesco five minutes away, made a little pasta and saved ourselves £100 by not eating out.
If you want the room cleaned, can’t be bothered to make breakfast or need help with transport, you have a concierge service on the other end of the telephone and a dining room downstairs in the lobby (a continental breakfast is £12). There’s free wifi, and a laundrette (£9 for a wash and dry). Having a 24-hour reception is reassuring when you are coming back late at night, especially as a solo traveller.
What about price? a Studio at the Citadines Trafalgar Square costs from £200, typically, while a one-bedroom apartment starts from about £280. A night at the nearby Hilton Trafalgar hotel costs about the same. So it’s less about saving money in this respect – more about the quality and flexibility of your environment. Unless, of course, you’re sharing the cost with friends. Then you will cut the price in half.
One of the main benefits of booking a serviced apartment over an Airbnb is it’s much quicker and more reliable – you don’t have to trawl through dozens of reviews, look at owner profiles to see if they are trusted, or worry about how you are going to get the keys to your house if your flight is delayed.
Here to stay?
The UK Hotels forecast 2017 report by PWC, states: “Peer-to-peer accommodation is now one of the most established sharing economy sectors – we estimate that commerce generated across these platforms could rise to nearly £30 billion by 2025. The impact of the sharing economy may soon be felt more keenly by hoteliers as players diversify and innovate. For example, Airbnb’s recent announcement of a move into business and meetings has been strengthened by partnership with business travel companies.”
This means hotels and commercial accommodation providers are now having to compete with the massive growth of companies like Airbnb, and the more it expands, the more we are likely to see the expansion of companies such as Citadines. But they will have to keep things fresh to inspire the consumer.
French company Accorhotels, for example, is in the process of launching an entirely new brand called Jo & Joe, which is designed as a co-living concept described as “the best of private rental, hostel and hotel formats”.
People expect amazing locations, high level services and low level costs as standard nowadays and, as a result, there has come a change in how hotels market themselves. There is a greater focus on lifestyle, personality and human connection.
Aparthotels are interesting because they have found the middle ground between homes and houses, the only downside is that they’re often a little too “normal”, and I believe the reason Airbnb is so successful is because of it’s appeal to individuals and individual tastes.