Crossing the divide: Stüdyo by BridgeStreet

As the serviced apartments sector expands from the corporate relocation market into the business and leisure markets, Relocate talks to Sean Worker, BridgeStreet Global Hospitality’s CEO.

Crossing the divide: Stüdyo by BridgeStreet
On the sunny side of a well-heeled, classically early-Victorian street, with the comings and goings of Paddington Station and the attractions of Hyde Park a mere three-minute walk away, I’m sitting at a large dining table in a light-flooded kitchen opposite Sean Worker, CEO of BridgeStreet Global Hospitality.It’s the first day of spring, and the international serviced accommodation provider has officially opened the doors of its newest concept, Stüdyo by BridgeStreet. Filling the gap between hotel and long-stay serviced accommodation, Stüdyo Paddington by BridgeStreet is bright, social, airy and very convenient. It aims to offer guests a modern, relaxed experience at an affordable price.“We’ve taken an area like this and made it accessible to a lot of people, including those who want a unique travel experience on a budget,” explains Mr Worker. "There’s a big delta – a gap in the marketplace – that allows guests to have a reasonably priced hospitality experience in a great location at a fair price, so they are getting a lot of value.”Referring to the creatively designed, quality high-ceilinged spaces with individual, interactive and ever-changing artworks, Mr Worker adds, “This is really catering to an underserved segment: ‘whimsical economy’ or – the ultimate oxymoron – ‘high-value economy’.”

Bridging the gaps

Later this year, BridgeStreet is hoping to roll out the Stüdyo brand further at a location close to London’s financial centre, underlining the concept’s broad appeal across demographics and sectors.Indeed, for Sean Worker, this is exactly the point. “We are kind of bridging the gap between what we think is alternative accommodation and traditional extended-stay hotels. You don’t have to go from box to box any more,” he explains.“It’s got nothing to do with age or Millennials or Baby Boomers. It’s got everything to do with ‘I want to try something different. This is the place I want to stay at because it’s fun, it’s bright, it’s a great location. I can go for a run in Hyde Park. I can get to the train station and walk around the corner to the Tube and I feel like I’ve got extra spending money. It feels good’.”As well as transcending traditional boundaries, including those between serviced apartments and hotels, the Studyö brand emblemises BridgeStreet’s pioneering role in the marketplace. The company is responding to a wide range of customer needs across the corporate, education and leisure markets.Referring to the exponential success of sites like Airbnb and Onefinestay, Mr Worker says that BridgeStreet’s primary driver with its Stüdyo brand is customers’ desire to try alternative accommodation. “That gate has been thrown wide open and will not be closed,” he says, while local artist and brand collaborator James Cameron, of Drew London, streams live on BridgeStreet’s Twitter feed as he puts the finishing touches to an interactive mural on which guests will be encouraged to leave their mark during their stay.From an employer or business-travel perspective, the current offering to most hospitality is vertical, explains Mr Worker. “No one is forcing you to, but often you find you are brand-confined, largely because of a reward system or a brand system. Our view is that, as opposed to being vertical, the hospitality offering should be horizontal."

Making the alternative mainstream

Acknowledging that businesses – and clients – have high expectations and like to make straightforward decisions that are also low in risk, Mr Worker says this approach of making the alternative mainstream has to be backed up with trust.“You can play with stay and give people more choice, but you have to make it easy to book. Yes, there are alternative accommodations, but they are currently difficult to book directly. So what we’re doing is taking these alternatives and making them conventional.“You can now book us on the GDS and you will be able to find us on the other booking platforms, like Expedia – including, of course, BridgeStreet.com. You are able to book Stüdyo Paddington and our other locations like you can buy something on eBay or Amazon. Booking should be an omni-expressive booking methodology. That is, we are conforming to the way individual customers want to buy and we have to be accessible, uniform, easy, trusted.“We therefore offer peace of mind to the traveller as well as to the travel buyer. And we guarantee it. We stand by the process. We are expressive on the website above the crease, where we say we guarantee it.“It’s all about the basics. Keys will be available when they are booked, our spaces will be comfortable and clean, and the technology will work from the start. There are minimum-night stays, but if any one of those is not working, the first night is free. If it’s still not after the second day, it’s 50 per cent off that day too. It’s very easy for our teammates to say ‘yes’.“What we offer is very simple, transparent and overt; booking should be a simple bargain in a complicated world. When it’s complicated, you are not trusted. We want something that is truly trusted so we are not in your way. You get to relax, to live, to work, to study, to play, to breathe. And hopefully you will tell others.”
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The sector’s transformation

BridgeStreet’s recent adoption of mainstream hospitality booking systems is likely to accelerate its use across the sector – and the sector’s move from a niche market into the hospitality mainstream. It also mirrors the moves made by large international hotel brands into longer-stay serviced offerings.“The notion of blended concepts has been around for centuries,” says Mr Worker. “Tesla was on the edge; now it’s conventional. Any time there is market change, like Uber or AirBnB, or change to how tech is delivered, everything starts to blend.“Shoreditch was a derelict area. From a marketing perspective, it’s really confusing now. Is it alternative? Is it mainstream? It all starts to move to be conventionally capitalist and conventionally accepted. Society likes change, but people like someone else to try it first. Then they will follow if it creates trust.“We aren’t the first to do what we are doing. We are somewhere in the middle. We have taken something, got our head around it, and there’s that next tier of population who say ‘I want to try that. But I need to know that I can trust it, that I can book it the way that I buy something on Amazon or eBay, or an Uber. I need to buy it in that same way on a mobile and my payment method is trusted. I want to know who is guaranteeing it and that’s about as far towards the edge as I’ll go’. At BridgeStreet, we’ve created that.”

Where next for BridgeStreet?

Asked about the future, Sean Worker underlines BridgeStreet’s client-led approach. “Brexit? Let’s all move on. We are an agile business. We are client led. Wherever the client goes, we go. We are apolitical.“In that sense, our general view and being client-led is that we will work with the client and we will match them. If they aren’t staying in London, we will move with them. We don’t create that trend; we follow.“The business is agile, and capital is flexible. We’ll get on with our business. We opened Stüdyo Paddington by BridgeStreet with our partners. We will open more. There’s a domestic market in the UK that is over 60 million people, so I have a feeling we will do OK.“We think the story is Britain, not London. There is a broad and deep market that extends way beyond the M25, so we are bullish on Britain, rather than concentrated on London. We go where the clients go and there are lots of opportunities in the United Kingdom – lots!”As Fiona Murchie writes in the spring issue of Relocate magazine, serviced accommodation providers’ devotion to new infrastructure hotspots or manufacturing investment zones will be vital in the changing accommodation landscape as mobile project teams break ground in the much-anticipated, brave new world of post-Brexit trade agreements.This view chimes with Mr Worker’s, especially around Stüdyo by BridgeStreet. Asked where next outside Britain, he responds, “Europe – predictable cities you would expect, and some unpredictable ones.“Some manufacturing is going to more greenfield or in less expensive locations in eastern Europe, and their secondary and tertiary cities. We particularly like Stüdyo for secondary and tertiary cities. It’s a high-value experience in cities that are generally underserved. We can deliver high-value economy and whimsy on a scale that has been developed with a branding attitude, so that it has consistency to it.”Of the value of the Stüdyo by BridgeStreet brand as a tried-and-tested approach to meeting market needs in an agile and cost-effective way, and most importantly for maintaining trust, Sean Worker says, “Maybe not every entrepreneur has the capability and capacity to play until you get it right.“You’ve got to get it right the first time. That is what we have tried to do here. There’s a real opportunity to bring authenticity on a scale.“So we are not going to do the murals about London if we are in Newcastle, Toulouse, Lyon or Marseille. The team will show up, use the creativity that is in us all, and make them French, or Burgundian, or Bavarian. But there’s a consistency to it. There’s a formula to making it real and maintaining the trust that comes with it being the brand.”

Looking ahead

In a few months’ time, we are all likely to know the outline of the deal the EU and the UK will strike. Agility, economy, responsiveness, value and trust are going to be the watchwords for mobility professionals and serviced accommodation providers getting companies and their employees on the move.All of this will be against a backdrop of evolving workplace trends, such as the growing number of often highly skilled self-employed giggers and the proliferation of short-term, project-based assignments.The Stüdyo Paddington by BridgeStreet model paints us a vivid picture of how, through creativity and market insight, bridges can be built into this new era.BridgeStreet Global Hospitality is a sponsor of the Relocate Awards 2017Read more about the growth of Serviced Apartments in the spring issue of Relocate magazine. Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryGet access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit

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