(DENNIS B MALLARI)
For the business traveller, spending time in hotels is an unfortunate part of the job. But for many the idea of a place that combines the comforts of home with the service of a luxury hotel is becoming more appealing.
Hotels were once the only option available to business travellers looking for long-term accommodation. This meant that staying away from home for weeks on end was both costly and uncomfortable. But the recent growth of serviced apartments has changed that.
There are 20 international or regional hotel chains currently operating serviced apartments or villas in the UAE. And many more are under construction across the Gulf countries, with Dubai alone set to add more than 12,000 by 2010.
A serviced apartment is a furnished, self-contained property designed for short-term stays, which provides amenities for daily use.
Brands such as Hilton, Sofitel and Rotana operate a number of hotels that contain a proportion of serviced apartments. But the UAE has seen a rise in the number of standalone serviced properties too. These include Nuran, which has residencies in Dubai Marina and The Greens, the Crystal apartments in Al Barsha and the Coral Boutique apartments on Sheikh Zayed Road.
The Nuran Greens block offers 230 fully furnished residences ranging from a studio to two bedrooms, which are available on short- or long-term leases. With all the mod cons of an office – internet access, dedicated work space – combined with the amenities of home – a refrigerator, microwave, kettle, crockery, cutlery, washer/dryer and a television and DVD player – they are fast becoming the accommodation of choice for busy executive travellers.
Alongside these are Marriott and Ascot, whose new UAE apartments – projected to be finished by the end of the year – hope to add a sophistication and extra level of segmentation to the Gulf’s current, somewhat rustic serviced apartments market.
Nuran in The Greens, which charges from Dh600 a day, was converted from an existing residential apartment building in 2007, and now boasts a 95 per cent occupancy rate with guests enjoying the luxuries of a hotel – many include a pool and a gym – while also being allowed the freedom to come and go as they wish, cook for themselves and stay for as long as a year.
And it is this very “home-grown” nature of privately run apartments that seems to appeal to some guests.
Edmund Kirkup, 48, from Belgium, has been staying in Nuran for two weeks. As a sales executive he travels up to four times a year to the UAE and was getting fed up of checking into hotels during his trips. He says: “I know it’s part of the job but being in a hotel for long periods can be expensive and one can feel isolated.
“I have been using serviced apartments for the last year, not just in Dubai but in Europe and the United States because I find I have the best of both worlds. I can do my work using the internet connection, have breakfast delivered to my door or go out for something to eat. It feels like having my own place rather than just a room.”
Nuran general manager Dieter Gamper believes value for money and a “home from home” quality is what makes hotel apartments the ideal place for businessmen and women. “Guests can enjoy room service, breakfast, self-catering equipment and internet access, as well as security and leisure facilities for half the price of a hotel. We cater mostly to the business traveller with our busiest times being between October and May when the majority of conferences take place,” he says. However, he is keen to add that unlike hotels they do not have a high and low season because they do not rely on tourists.
The Somerset Jadaf has been open since April 2006. With 84 units, the residence is mainly used by business travellers, who stay for an average of a week at a time. Manager Melvin Quah says that its close proximity to Dubai International Financial Centre as well as the hubs of Deira and Bur Dubai have made it appealing for business travellers who want the comforts of home.
“Each residence is self-contained with a living area, dining room and fully equipped kitchen. Guests can entertain friends or hold business meetings in the residence. There is broadband internet access and for relaxation they can head for the gym, pool or mingle in the lounge,” he says.
Having experienced a slow uptake to begin with, The Ascott Group, which runs Somerset Jadaf, is now enjoying occupancy rates of 85 to 90 per cent and has expanded its Middle East operations to include properties in Bahrain and Doha.
But while Somerset Jadaf has numerous facilities from breakfast to a grocery shopping service and a complimentary shuttle to and from local malls, other properties leave customers to fend for themselves. The Crystal Living Courts apartments in Al Barsha is a 100-room property comprising one- two- and three-bedroom apartments, which start at Dh840 per night, with monthly and annual contracts available at negotiated rates.
It caters mainly to corporate clients and has basic facilities that do not include room service or breakfast.
“We’ve only been open for two months but people like to stay here because we are so close to Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City,” says a spokesman, adding that they have had a 65 per cent occupancy rate.
Mike Brogden is using the residence as a base until he finds a permanent villa for his family to live in.
“We’re on a two-week contract at the moment, but it’s handy because it’s all furnished and near to where we’re looking for a villa in The Lakes,” says the British insurance loss adjuster.
Using serviced apartments appears to be a popular choice among expatriates who are new to Dubai.
Mohamed El Shimi moved to the emirate just five days ago and is staying at the Coral Boutique Apartments until he finds a home. El Shimi, who works as an operations manager in the oil industry, is currently having his accommodation paid for by his employer, which comes to about Dh1,000 a night and says he is happier here than in a hotel.
“I’m glad my company put me here, because it’s very convenient for work and leisure,” he said.
But with new rivals springing up all over Dubai, competition is becoming more fierce. They are now so well equipped that the emirate stands out as having some of the best serviced accommodation in the world, with the luxury Grosvenor House’s apartments being named the best in the world for the second time. Pam Wilby, Grosvenor’s general manager, believes this proves how strong the local market is.
“To be recognised as the world’s leading serviced apartments is a delightful endorsement. To achieve this award is a fitting testament to the levels of service we are able to offer our long-term guests,” Wilby said.
A FLEXIBLE option for tourists
Jay says: “We’re staying in a one-bedroom apartment, which costs Dh720 a night. Having looked at all the options we chose this because it was cheaper than staying in a hotel yet has more space because of the separate living and kitchen space and it gives us the freedom to cook if we so wish.
“The apartments have their own pool and gym and we can also walk to the shops and get about pretty easily.”
Hotel service with a homely feel