With corporate use of serviced apartments increasing every year, we sat down with Ken Moore, MD for EMEA at Oakwood, to find out what challenges lie ahead for the industry
Moore joined Oakwood in December 2018 with extensive experience in the hospitality sector. He is tasked with growing the brand’s presence across the region, with a particular focus in Europe.
“Oakwood has a really strong presence in Asia Pacific with both our own brands and our operating models,” Moore says. “But Europe is where our owner [Mapletree Investments] wants to invest, and we’re ready for expansion in the region.”
Moore says his plan for growing Oakwood in EMEA includes a number of strategies, such as management contracts, master leases, acquiring assets in key cities and looking at the potential for franchise agreements.
However, he says his task isn’t a straightforward one. “It’s not easy to expand quickly in Europe. Finding the supply chain is probably the simplest part, but brand consistency is a bit harder when you’re dealing with 27 or 28 countries in the European Union alone. So we’re looking at all our options, including new builds and taking over existing properties.
“The key for us is finding locations that will give us the right return on investment. In EMEA, we’re targeting gateway cities and emerging economies, as well as markets such as Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva and Warsaw.”
In the run-up to Brexit, Moore says he has noticed a growing trend of corporates travelling to emerging markets across the world. “In Europe in particular, we’ve been seeing requests for places like Warsaw, Prague and Budapest, to name a few. I even saw an enquiry come in the other day for Bratislava.”
When asked what kind of challenge that presents to companies in terms of duty of care, Moore comments that suppliers have a role to play in ensuring corporates get what they need. “We have to be able to learn about these cities and countries to find out how things are done, but at the end of the day, if a property doesn’t meet our standards, we won’t use it.”
Oakwood itself operates more than 60 branded buildings. To help corporate customers find the right property in countries around the world, Oakwood uses its epic marketplace, which has access to more than 350,000 apartments globally through its partner network. Bookings through the platform are averaging more than a million rooms across nearly 400,000 transactions a year.
With Brexit remaining the hot topic for any industry, Moore says the UK’s exit from the EU is having an interesting effect in Europe. “Some corporates are getting to be a little bit cautious about committing to future travel, but it’s not really impacting our bookings. In fact, some cities, such as Paris, have seen a significant increase in bookings. This is where epic is really helping us accommodate customers.
“If a company needs an apartment in Frankfurt, for example, and capacity is running short, we have the ability to look at other options. We send the enquiry out to our partners and their bids are scored through an algorithm based on the client’s criteria. We then choose the three best bids to present to the client.”
Looking to the future, Moore touches on the importance of digitalisation for Oakwood. The company re-launched its website in 2018 and has since formed a strategic partnership with Amadeus’ TravelClick to transform its global reservations system. It also released a mobile app that allows users to book and manage stays.
“Digital is just the way things are going. People use their phones for everything these days, so they expect to be able to use them whether they’re travelling for a holiday or a business trip,” Moore explains. “Providers have to keep up with new technology or else they risk getting left behind. That’s why we’re investing so much time and effort into making sure our digital services are up to scratch.
“Connecting with other systems – such as the GDS and booking tools – makes the whole process a lot faster for corporates, too. It also allows us to provide data and more in-depth analysis to help travel managers optimise their programme. It shows we understand what they need.”
Elaborating on distribution and whether the GDS is geared up for the longer stays typically seen at serviced apartments, Moore says this is one of the reasons Oakwood is focusing on its own booking technology. “The GDS do have some limitations when it comes to extended stay properties, but part of my expansion plan is to target buildings that work for both short and long stays, so the GDS will continue to be a valuable distribution model for us.”
Working in partnership with its technology, Oakwood has optimised its customer support with a centralised service centre in Phoenix, Arizona that picks up help requests when regional offices such as the one in London are closed.
“That works seamlessly for any out-of-hours situations that may pop up. If a UK client has an emergency at 2 am London time, they can call the service number and speak to an Oakwood representative 24/7. If the query is something that can’t wait until we open again, the Worldwide Sales and Service Centre in Phoenix has all the local contacts to get the problem solved as quickly as possible.”
Asked about challenges specific to the serviced apartment industry, Moore says he “only sees opportunities”.
In fact, Moore believes the growing popularity of sharing economy accommodation has actually been good for serviced apartments. “It’s done us a favour by drawing attention to hotel alternatives and raising awareness of our model, especially among corporates. Business travellers want to experience the city they’re visiting and ‘live like a local’, and serviced apartments can offer that without compromising on the duty of care element.”