Fluid and flexible strategy is key to tapping urban living market

Visitors looking for extended stay and apart-hotels are increasingly seeking locations where they can operate outside of standard working times and providers need to create flexible solutions that also leverage the synergies with the local community, according to MM:NT brand and strategy lead Philippa Wagner. Instead of focusing on demographics and broad categorisation, the key of owner operators is to respond to individual needs and on the services that are required, while making use of local facilities to extend the offer, she says.

“The core of our offer is what we call ‘freedom to stay your way’,” she says. “As an accommodation provider we need to respond to the fact that there is not a set time zone where your day and activities are set in certain times. That means flexibility and fluidity, day and night shouldn’t be set,” says Wagner.Such an approach means that extended stay operators need to rethink what and how they offer service and think closely about how their guests actually spend their time.

“There is a classic hotel offer which is about bringing people out of their own spaces and providing shelter, at the most basic level, and that can come in so many different ways. For example, how long do you really spend in your room if you are staying in a city? So how big does it really need to be? It’s about recognising what you are coming for,” shes says.

That, Wagner argues, means that hoteliers should be less fixated on a full offer and instead look at the opportunity for brands to locate alongside each other, such as F&B and gyms adjacent to accommodation.

“The rules we used to have are not fit for purpose,” she says.

This also has an impact on the sustainability of projects, with re-use of existing assets more practicable, according to Forenorm COO Jussi Saarinen. He believes this will be increasingly important as the sustainability and carbon footprint of where people stay moves up their priority list.

“One of the first questions we need to ask as an industry is how we use the existing resources more efficiently, regardless of the asset,” he says.

Part of this is the differing requirements of guests who have moved from their own country for work, which automatically gives them a different outlook.

“We strongly focus on corporates and help facilitate the movement of the workforce, and the people that move want to find their temporary homes,” says Saarinen. “For our clients, the whole journey is important rather than just the product [where they are staying]. It’s about covering the basic needs in the building and meeting their basic needs in terms of the real estate, but above that it is about trying to meet all the other community needs from outside.

“Technology plays a big role in that, including how to promote local providers to our guests,” he says.

Using existing space for development

Saarinen says that the company tries to encourage more efficient use of existing empty spaces and considers how to create communities in a way that is relevant to their guests.

“For example, often people travelling across the world do not have cars,” he points out.

Wagner agrees and says that “community is the key word” and stresses that the company has been very clear in its approach about “insisting that you don’t get community by putting people in a place but it’s about participation, working towards a collective goal of some description and participation in that.”

Like Saarinen, she believes that the key to creating a successful offer is to ensure that guests have amenities and facilities in the buildings around, rather than creating all amenities from scratch just to tick boxes.

A key part of this rationale is based around sustainability, because such an approach makes it easier to use and adapt an existing building.

“If we can do that then we are not creating a new carbon footprint, we are working with the embodied carbon that is already there,” she says. “We need to be more intelligent about working with, say, a data centre to use their heat for our hotel. Why should we not have a situation where a data centre and hotel adjacent, where the heat from the data centre is used to heat the swimming pool,” she says.

Understanding the data

Wagner is also keen to stress that extended stay hoteliers should avoid making broad assumptions based on age and says that extensive pre-research the company has carried out with prospective guests is being used to trial its offer and then tailor that depending on user results:As an example, she says that over 95 per cent of study respondents said that they want to be somewhere with the best bars and restaurants, rather than needing those facilities where they are staying. She describes many of these respondents as “anti-tourists”, who want to feel the destination rather than simply visit the well-known sights.

“As a result, we’re looking at ourselves and coming up with hypotheses and will then trial those, but with real people who can provide us with honest feedback,” she says. “We can all sit there and look at the data but when you put guests in situ they are still people at the end of the day. Just because you were born in a particular era doesn’t mean you can assume someone thinks in a certain way.”

All those quoted in the article appeared on stage at the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) held in Berlin between May 15 and 17, in a session called - Catalyst For Change: Urban Accommodation Strategies