SAM VAN LEEUWEN IS HEAD OF HOTELS AND VENUES FOR PWC, where she has responsibility for business functions. Her brief includes hotels, serviced apartments and external meetings, event procurement, plus UK training centres (residential and non-residential) – all with a strong customer service focus. Her disciplines include strategy and operations, and she consults on external projects.
“We have been using serviced apartments for about ten years as an alternative to staying in hotels for long periods when people are working on projects,” says Van Leeuwen. “Travellers get more space and greater convenience – they can bring their own things and cook for themselves. Apartments are more cost-effective for the firm. Initially, we used them for long-term work, but we have slowly moved into short-term lets as well, as we have a lot of people who travel across the country for up to three nights a week and go home at the weekend. They wanted to get away from the monotony of staying in the same type of hotel room and eating the same food, and the lack of flexibility.”
1. WE RELAUNCHED OUR APARTMENT SERVICE PROGRAMME a year ago, combining travel projects and global mobility, and it is now more formal. The two had been working independently and we realised there was an opportunity to consolidate spend by reducing the number of suppliers, because we were using the same apartment in some instances. We put together a programme that covers London and the UK, plus an element of international business.
2. TO COLLECT SUFFICIENT DATA TO CONSTRUCT A PROGRAMME, look through accounts payable, corporate card spend and industry data to find out who is using apartments. We worked out the average amount we were expecting to pay and compared it to the average cost of hotels.
3. TRAVEL MANAGEMENT COMPANIES STILL FIND BOOKING APARTMENTS CHALLENGING – the data they produce is not strong enough to support a large programme. It does not contain enough information, whereas apartment providers can get hold of very good data.
4. WITH FEWER SUPPLIERS YOU CAN LEVERAGE YOUR SPEND. If you have got lots of providers they are less likely to give you preferred rates because they know you are not going to give them enough business. We use Go Native and SACO. Go Native manages the process through an implant, who books our all apartments.
5. COMMUNICATE TO GET COMPLIANCE. With our new programme, we have increased compliance because we are a lot more visible and vocal about apartments within PWC and because we have a dedicated resource to help us do that. We catch about 90 per cent of apartment business throughout the firm.
6. SACO AND GO NATIVE FULFIL NEARLY ALL OUR BOOKINGS and, if we have to go outside of our portfolio, Go Native will source alternative suitable accommodation. The process is open, transparent and based on PWC’s requirements, not any third party. The apartment industry is incestuous and agencies do sell each other’s inventory – it is one of the big frustrations for companies. You do have to ask the right questions to make sure you know what your supplier is offering you and how that affects the pricing.
7. BOOKING SHORT STAYS CAN BE DIFFICULT, so negotiate with suppliers. We might need three nights a week for four months, and it’s not financially viable for us to take an apartment per month. This means people may be changing apartments or locations, or even having to stay in hotels. This is not ideal, although I do understand that suppliers need to achieve a certain yield to be profitable. The increase in aparthotels will probably change that – it’s one to watch.
8. IF YOU HAVE GROUPS OF PEOPLE COMING INTO A LOCATION BACK-TO-BACK, it’s worth looking at leased apartments. A lease gives us a greater return over time: as people roll off a project, new people will roll on to that or a different project. Even when there are a few void periods or they are running at 80 per cent occupancy, leases are still more cost-effective than putting people into serviced apartments or hotels.
9. WE CAN ACCESS LIMITED INVENTORY FOR SERVICED APARTMENTS through our online booking tool if it is a simple, transient booking, last minute and/or a short stay. However, we don’t depend on this for the vast majority of our long-stay bookings because availability can be scarce. If more inventory comes into the marketplace then availability may improve, but it must be of a standard we are happy with.
10. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SERVICE LEVEL AGREEMENTS [SLAs] and that they cover maintenance and escalation – there is nothing worse than if something goes wrong and can’t be fixed. Our SLAs also say our suppliers have to provide us with the right number of options when we book, at the right time and at the right cost package. It is important to control all that.