Many hotel chains have found it difficult to adapt to the hospitality industry’s ‘new normal’ since the beginning of the pandemic. However, a few have adopted new business models to navigate these tumultuous times.
Ascott has introduced two new initiatives, ‘Work In Residence’ and ‘Space as a Service’, to seize new business opportunities. Hotel Owner caught up with Billy Hughes, the UK area general manager at Ascott, to discuss how hotels are evolving during the pandemic.
What motivated Ascott’s ‘Work In Residence’ initiative?
Over the last few months, we’ve all been encouraged to work from home where possible, and we are now seeing that more people are likely to make the shift towards working from home in the future, at least for some of the time. This motivated The Ascott Limited to launch the ‘Work in Residence’ and ‘Space as a Service’ schemes to provide a safe and well-equipped alternative to the office and home office environment for clients, corporates, and students.
Our spacious apartments are an ideal option for those who like to work while on the go, those who need somewhere else to work from, rather than home, if they feel anxious about returning to their office at the moment and are an ideal option for individuals or groups to work together safely. Each of the rooms are fitted with a fully equipped kitchen to allow for self-catering, a private bathroom and TV, as well as a separate sleeping corner or room, separate living area and working space with desk and free unlimited WiFi.
Where was it initially trialled and what was the response from guests?
The launch of ‘Work in Residence’ follows Ascott’s successful pilot, which received positive feedback from corporates and guests in countries such as Australia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Turkey.
We have had a fantastic response from our guests that have found the ‘Work in Residence’ initiative provides flexibility, convenience and value through Ascott’s fully furnished and well-equipped work suites, which allows them to simply check-in and start work with minimal disruptions, enabling them to stay productive and connected. Guests also have the flexibility to choose either daily, weekly, or monthly packages. Depending on the length of use and location, the work suites come with a dedicated workstation, regular housekeeping, complimentary coffee and tea or complimentary parking at selected serviced residences.
How has Ascott’s Citadines apart’hotels specifically adapted to the pandemic?
Ascott has remained resilient amid Covid-19 and has developed new measures to ensure it provides a safe and secure stay for guests. This summer we rolled out our ‘Ascott Cares’ commitment across our global portfolio. Ascott Cares is there to reassure guests and staff that we will deliver stringent hygiene and cleanliness standards as well as safe distancing to continue providing a safe home for our guests and a safe working environment for our staff. We have ensured that all our protocols are in compliance with the World Health Organisation standards and local regulations.
Ascott has also signed a global agreement with Bureau Veritas to provide independent audits for the hygiene and safety standards of Ascott’s properties worldwide. Ascott is also a member of the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP), and has received accreditation from ASAP’s International Serviced Accommodation Accreditation Process (ISAAP) as a Quality Accredited Provider.
We have also adapted through the launch of our new ‘Work in Residence’ and ‘Space as a Service’ schemes which leverage our design strengths and have transformed selected apartments into conducive work suites and offer corporations, entrepreneurs and small-medium enterprises different possibilities to optimise the use of space in our properties.
What unique services does ‘Space as a Service’ initiative provide which enhance the customer experience?
Our ‘Space as a Service’ schemes provide a safe and well-equipped alternative to the office and home office environment. This adaptive use of space and menu of new services creates an even more productive and stimulating environment for our guests to live, work, play and innovate in our properties. These range from hosting cloud kitchens, to organising live streaming or fitness activities in our apartments, to serving as parcel collection hubs for convenient pick-up of online orders.
Participating properties in the UK include Citadines Barbican, Citadines Trafalgar Square, Citadines Holborn Covent-Garden, Citadines South Kensington and Citadines Islington London, the new addition to the Citadines Apart’hotel portfolio, which opened in August 2020.”
How does Ascott maintain excellent customer service while adhering to social distancing guidelines?
We have put a number of new Covid measures in place including physical distancing between staff and guests, however this does not restrict us from focusing on our guests’ requirements and hasn’t affected our teams from providing our usual excellent customer service. We recently launched our new ‘Discover ASR’ mobile app which acts as a one-stop 24/7 digital concierge for our ASR members. The app allows our guests to manage their reservations, perform self-check-ins and check-outs, and redeem e-vouchers. This allows a fast and seamless experience for guests without the need for any contact, if preferred.
Our teams have completed new online training modules specifically designed to cover the implementation of new risk assessments, government guidelines, and our new Ascott Cares operating procedures. We have also created a new virtual customer service programme for our teams to provide them with training and support in adapting to the new measures.
We also use customer feedback tools which allow us to analyse customer sentiment across all key areas of the business enabling us to constantly update our customer improvement plans. We have adapted to the current climate and our guests can still expect the same warm, welcoming customer service.
What are the unique challenges of operating a ‘Work In Residence’ hotel business model during the pandemic?
There was no major reconfiguration required to adapt our rooms for the package, so when it came to launching we were able to make decisions quickly and did not experience any real challenges.
As a business, we are constantly evolving and our ‘Work in Residence’ initiative is another opportunity for us to visualise and adapt to how our guests will use our properties now and in the immediate future.
What health and safety measures has Citadines apart’hotels put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 among guests?
We have established a number of extra measures and services, which build upon the already high standards of housekeeping and hygiene. We have ensured that all our staff are equipped with extra PPE and increased our cleaning procedures throughout all properties. We have also implemented plexiglass protection at receptions and a cashless policy to reduce physical contact. We have signs throughout each property to remind our guests to wear face coverings when in communal areas and to adhere to physical distancing. We have suspended our buffet breakfast offering and are instead providing a grab and go service, which is delivered to each apartment.
Due to hygiene restrictions we are not offering newspapers in the communal areas however, PressReader has been introduced across our UK and European properties to offer all guests complimentary newspapers and magazines. Shared water fountains and coffee machines in the properties are also closed. Our laundry facilities are still open for guests, and we are allowing only one person in at a time so that physical distancing can be maintained. There is hand sanitiser available at the entrance which must be used before entering the property. We are regularly running risk assessments so we can operate in line with government guidelines.
After the pandemic, will Ascott continue with this initiative once people return to working in offices?
There is likely to be a long-term shift towards more working from home so the initiative will run for the foreseeable future. Ascott is seeing a greater demand for self-catering properties and serviced apartments as they are self-contained which makes them a safe and secure option for a workspace and accommodation. They are also suitable for extended stays, and we expect this demand to continue. Ascott’s spacious serviced apartments, which offer separate living, working and dining areas with enough space to work, exercise, cook, socialise, relax and unwind safely, are well-suited for guests who would prefer to spend more time indoors as the apartments.
In the current climate we must be agile, continually adapt and develop new business strategies to future-ready our company. We are evolving our lodging products and services to cater to new customer segments, uncover alternative revenue streams as well as deliver greater value for our guests and business partners.
Interview with Billy Hughes, area general manager UK at The Ascott Limited