When it comes to turning a stay into an experience, it is easy to assume that hotels have the upper-hand. After all, they have the convenience of a wide array of full-time staff who get to see and interact with guests day-in and day-out. But that hardly means that serviced apartments are out of the running — they are in fact ideally placed to offer more than just a bed to sleep in, and in many ways may even find themselves at an advantage when it comes to offering what guests look for from a hospitality experience.
What is it that turns a stay into an experience?
“Who can really say what creates a memorable stay? It's often inconsequential things that one might recall about hotels, long after the brand of toiletry and corridor artworks have faded in the memory.” — Brian Johnston, Traveller
Pinpointing what it is that turns a stay into an experience is no easy feat, but it is one that many have attempted. If you ask the community on Quora, it seems that a great experience is characterised by exceptional service, comfort and attention to detail. Anthony Melchiorri would tell you (and did tell Travel Market Report) that “you can have all the marble in the world and butler service, but if you have rude people that don’t take care of your needs, you don’t have anything.” Brian Johnston of Traveller would agree that “quirkiness, friendliness and character are, in this increasingly commercialised travel world, the greatest luxuries of all.”
When it comes down to it, it seems that there are five characteristics that excellent experiences often have in common. Let’s have a look at each of them, and what gives serviced apartments the upper-hand for providing stays that guests will remember.
When it comes to hotels, it often doesn’t matter whether a guest is staying in a Hyatt in London or one in New York, they can expect the room, and the service, to be the same. Serviced apartments, on the other hand, find themselves at a great advantage for offering a different experience, often incorporating local culture, while still offering the creature comforts that guests look for.
“Cookie-cutter hotels don't retain my interest for long, and don't create stories I can relate years later.... It's just a reminder that quirkiness, friendliness and character are, in this increasingly commercialised travel world, the greatest luxuries of all.” — Brian Johnston, Traveller
When it comes to experiences, guests are often not looking for what makes a stay the same as every other, but what sets it apart. While some serviced apartments make efforts to keep their style consistent, and others aim to have each apartment reflect its own unique style, all can reflect the city in which they can be found. Two apartments in the same building can look worlds apart, making the experience in those two apartments different from the outset, or two apartments worlds apart can have the same basic features, while still incorporating local art or cuisine to make the experiences within them unique.
Soft sheets, feather pillows and carpets that anyone would want to sink their feet into are comforts that hotels and serviced apartments are both equally equipped to offer. But once again, serviced apartments have the opportunity to provide comforts that most hotels simply can’t afford — those of space and home comforts.
It is rare to find a hotel that makes a guest feel at home — as luxurious as any hotel might be, it’s unlikely that guests will want to venture from their rooms barefoot, or feel that they can pop down to the restaurant for a quick cup of coffee in the middle of the night in their pyjamas. But these are things that a guest wouldn’t think twice about when staying in a serviced apartment, because they haven’t just been allocated a single room within a property — they have been given the run of an entire apartment. They may not be willing to venture outside of the apartment barefoot, but they don’t need to — everything that they need, from a space to sleep, to a kitchen that they can make coffee or a midnight snack in, to a couch on which they can put their feet up and watch whatever they choose, comes standard, without the need to leave the comfort of their own space.
It’s this luxury of space and the availability of creature comforts that put serviced apartments in the perfect position to provide an excellent experience. When guests arrive at a serviced apartment, it’s already far more than just a place to rest your head. It’s a space to relax and make yourself at home.
When it comes to serviced apartments, there’s often a tendency for staff to form more personal relationships with guests than they would be able to at a hotel, since those staff are often be the point of contact for everything that guests need, and serviced apartment staff are accustomed to forming relationships with guests who are frequently there for extended lengths of time.
These more personal relationships benefit both staff and guests. Guests will feel better looked after, their needs taken care of without the inconvenience of trying to find the right person to speak to; while staff will have the opportunity to personalise the guests stay, accommodating their preferences and pre-empting their needs.
“You can have all the marble in the world and butler service, but if you have rude people that don’t take care of your needs, you don’t have anything.” — Anthony Melchiorri, Travel Market Report
But it’s not just the opportunity to form personal relationships with staff that gives serviced apartments an advantage when it comes to people and their role in turning a stay into an experience. One of the benefits that many serviced apartments offer are communal spaces — from laundries, to gardens, and more — which provide guests the opportunity to interact with each other, far more so than they would do if they were only passing each other in a hotel hallway. Guests’ visitors are also often made to feel more welcome in serviced apartments than they would be in hotels, as the increased space (and often multiple rooms) that a serviced apartment offers is more suited to entertaining than a hotel room.
4. Exceptional Service
Because serviced apartment staff tend to become accustomed to building relationships with guests who are, on average, at the establishment for longer periods of time than hotel guests, a culture of personalised service, and appreciating guests as individuals (rather than the occupier of room 34 for the night) tends to develop in many serviced apartment properties.
As George Westwell, director of Cheval Residences, describes, his staff have “the luxury of time to actually engage with guests, which most guests enjoy as well. It builds it almost into a friendship.”
“One story that sticks in my mind was from a colleague who had worked in a major group hotel. On talking about her previous job, she said: ‘We're firefighting all the time. All the time there are guests coming in, so many problems occurring, that we didn’t really get a chance to engage with the guests. But here, at Cheval Three Quays, it's brilliant, because we’ve got so much time to engage with the guests!’ She told me about one guest who goes out at seven o'clock in the morning to get his cup of coffee and then always brings her back a cup and chats for five minutes.” — George Westwell, Cheval Residences
Because serviced apartment staff get to know their guests over a longer period of time, they can be prepared to greet friends and family of the guests by name, welcome them with open arms, or even just acknowledge that they know who they are there to see. These are opportunities rarely afforded to hotel staff, simply due to the number of staff interacting with each guest on a daily basis, and the number of guests that staff interact with daily in turn.
5. Attention To Detail
Sometimes it’s not big, earth-shattering, mind-altering moments that make for a great experience. Sure, going bungee jumping or seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower for the first time would make a trip an experience to remember, but it’s often the moments in between that truly make an experience memorable, and it’s these moments that accommodation providers, and serviced apartment providers in particular, have the opportunity to provide.
It’s attention to detail, from details about guests to details about the accommodations themselves, that sets serviced apartments apart. Attention to detail when it comes to guests goes back to having great people and providing exceptional service — the better opportunity that serviced apartments have to make note of personal preferences, and to form a relationship with guests provides them with the opportunity to pay closer attention to the details of a guests stay.
It can mean making sure that a guest’s favourite coffee is waiting in his apartment on his return from a long day, noting which paper she prefers to read on her taxi ride and having it ready and waiting for her at reception, or having a vegan, gluten-free recipe at hand when a guest returns for dinner, because the cleaning staff noticed the lack of meat and bread in the kitchen.
When it comes to the apartments themselves, attention to detail can mean making the style an experience in and of itself — a Victorian style to an apartment in London, for example, would provide a very different experience to an apartment with a modern feel, and it would be the details between them that would often set the two apart.
Whether it’s about their unique style, the luxury of space and domestic comforts, the personal touch and exceptional service that the people who work there are able to provide, or attention to detail, because serviced apartments provide so much more than hotels in terms of accommodation and personalisation, they in turn have the opportunity to provide so much more in terms of experience.