The Ascott rises to the global demand for hybrid working

Business travel and relocations are taking off again. We caught up with Billy Hughes, UK Area Manager – The Ascott Limited, to talk key trends and developments in the growing serviced apartment sector.

Citadines Strasbourg
The first in-person Business Travel Show Europe in London since the pandemic took place earlier this month amid news the US is relaxing entry requirements for fully vaccinated UK and international travellers, and simplification to the UK’s travel protocols.Figures from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) also point to an upturn in travel volumes – as well as the changing role of in-house travel buyers and procurement. Two-thirds of respondents to the GBTA’s September survey report that they are now working more closely with colleagues in HR, senior management and security/risk personnel.This highlights the increasingly strategic role of global assignments and extended business travel, and an opportunity for suppliers like serviced apartment operators to take the lead.
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Talking to Relocate Global, Billy Hughes tells us how The Ascott is doing exactly this, successfully addressing both global employees’ willingness to relocate and travel again after Covid-19. He discusses how The Ascott’s portfolio of 14 brands across 190 cities in 30 cities worldwide are meeting clients’ needs for hybrid working on assignment, and The Ascott’s robust support to its corporate clients. Amid employer concerns for mobile employees’ wellbeing, caution around the threat of new variants and the need for sustainability in business travel and global mobility, Billy Hughes explains how The Ascott’s Covid-safe operating model is actively seeking to reduce its environmental impact and be a positive force in its territories around the world while growing as an established company, even during times of disruption.

How do you see business travel picking up? 

“Although we are currently seeing a strong recovery from the UK domestic leisure market, and occupancy across the board is continuing to rise and in many areas is high, business travel is only now starting to pick up with the return of midweek corporate travel,” says Billy Hughes.“During the pandemic our Citadines Apart’hotels were recognised as safe places due to the self-contained facilities we offer. Under government guidance, we were able to stay open to facilitate our long-stay and relocated guests, and guests who were in the UK to study. “Now we are seeing more corporate guests wishing to stay with us as we are able to offer a ‘work from home’ solution as more companies move to a hybrid form of working.“We estimate international business travel will start to fully pick up in Q2 2022 supported by large conferences returning to the UK at full capacity. Our average daily rate is already recovering due to key events coming back to the capital and we are seeing the return of group business.“In the long term, I believe corporate travel will evolve with a balance of working from home as people continue to work remotely as well as working from the office and travelling for business. “Corporates are seeing the financial and environmental benefits of working from home. However, corporate travel will bounce back with employers keen to get back to face-to-face meetings and conferences as restrictions around the world begin to ease. They recognise the importance of in-person meetings to build long-term trust and strong client relationships." 

What are the hot topics in Business Travel and Serviced Apartment innovation?

Technology, peace of mind and sustainability are interlinked and currently hot topics in the serviced apartment sector.“The need for new tech has accelerated as a result of the pandemic,” says Billy Hughes. “In response to this, Ascott has invested in technology within our properties to offer a more digital experience for guests.“Last year, for example, we launched our Discover ASR mobile app to make booking easier and more flexible for our guests. Guests can search for deals, manage their membership, redeem ASR [Ascott Star Rewards] points, perform mobile check-in and check-out, and make contactless payments. “This year we also launched a new website,, which unifies our separate brand websites on one single global online travel booking platform. “Our investment in technology includes going cashless and paperless as much as possible with QR codes to reduce paper waste. We’ve also introduced PressReader across our Citadines Apart’Hotels in the UK and European properties to offer all guests complimentary newspapers and magazines available to read on a laptop, tablet or phone.”

Safety and Covid-19 security

“Another hot topic is that business travellers want peace of mind when travelling,” continues Billy Hughes. “They want to know that their safety is at the heart of the experience. Our Ascott Cares commitment reassures guests we will deliver stringent hygiene and cleanliness and continue to provide safe homes for our guests and a safe working environment for our staff. “To strengthen our commitment to cleanliness, Ascott has been awarded the SafeGuard Label from testing, inspection and certification body, Bureau Veritas, for our London-based Citadines properties and deluxe four-star Mayfair property, The Cavendish London. The certification confirms that the properties have the appropriate health, hygiene and safety procedures and processes in place which are in line with globally recognised best practices.”

Sustainable business and travel

“Since the pandemic, mindful travel is also at the forefront of many traveller’s minds,” says Billy Hughes. “Ascott has created a five-point framework that maps out areas to bring about change, which also track our green efforts and identifies specific targets that can be measured to monitor performance. “Ascott is very passionate about the part it plays to reduce its environmental footprint. We understand this is also a key area guests look for when selecting their accommodation. Our newest European property, Citadines Eurometropole Strasbourg, which opened in August 2021, places a lot of emphasis on sustainability. “During construction, environmentally friendly materials were prioritised, including wood, concrete, green roofs and a green wall in the lobby. This commitment also includes an energy-saving lighting concept, a local recycling system and a bicycle rental service. This approach is in line with the CSR policy 'Gogreen@Ascott' of The Ascott Limited and the Aegide Group.“We also have CSR programmes that seek to leave only a positive global footprint and improve the quality of life in the territories we operate in. Ascott runs a number of programmes and projects as part of the Capitaland Hope Foundation, run by Capitaland Limited, of which Ascot is a wholly owned lodging business of, which supports the educational, healthcare and shelter needs of underprivileged children.”

What are corporate clients looking for and has this changed post pandemic?

“Since Covid-19, corporate clients are even more interested in self-catering properties and serviced apartments as they are self-contained. This makes them a safe and secure option for a workspace and accommodation.“Ascott’s spacious serviced apartments are perfect for this. Corporate clients are confident in Ascott’s apartment offering, with each room fitted with a fully equipped kitchen, 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, making it a good option for those working away from home.“Selected Citadines Apart’hotels offer laundry and dry-cleaning, gyms, business corners and food-delivery services so guests can ‘live like a local’. The Ascott Lifestyle programme also offers a variety of destination guides for relocation guests to live like a local in their new destination.“We are continuously 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.”

What are guests’ requirements and have these changed? 

“Guests are now looking for a safer way to travel and an example of this is contactless check-in,” continues Billy Hughes. “Our new Discover ASR mobile app allows guests to check-in and check-out and make contactless payments to allow more flexibility and also ensure guests feel safe.“The safety of our guests and staff has always been key for us, but it was an even bigger concern for us as Covid-19 began to spread. Ascott Cares is Ascott’s commitment to continue providing safe homes for guests and a safe working environment for staff. The initiative ensures we offer high and consistent standards across all properties. “Guests also want a home away from home environment, so our properties offer an extensive range of services to make guests feel at home. This includes laundry and dry-cleaning, a gym, business corner, Chromecast, UK and European sockets, Qi Phone Charging and Bluetooth combined speakers, and food delivery. “For relocating families, one-bedroom apartments and studios can form interconnecting family rooms, and selected properties are pet friendly, ensuring all family members are welcome.“Staff are trained to focus on delivering a bespoke experience for guests to ensure a comfortable stay. For example, stays can be personalised with complimentary in-room facilities, including welcome hampers for long-stay guests and Nespresso machines.We are continuing to run Ascott Cares across our properties so that our guests can rest assured that they will continue to have a safe stay with us in a home away from home environment.” 

How much emphasis is there now on health and wellbeing? 

In addition to the measures in place like Ascott Cares and offering bespoke services for its guests, Ascott is incorporating specific wellbeing aspects to its properties, as Billy Hughes explains. These are adding value to the traditional serviced apartment offering and aligning with employers’ and relocating employees’ needs and expectations.“Citadines Islington offers yoga mats in each deluxe room category for use in the apartment or in the property’s Fitness Corner with gym equipment. We have also partnered with a local restaurant and wellness space OmNom, located in London’s exciting new Islington Square neighbourhood, to offer discounted healthy food and drink.“OmNom is a grassroots movement building a community of positive change inspired by Bhakti yoga from the Krishna tradition and using ancient Eastern philosophy and diets. “To further enhance the wellbeing offerings at Citadines Islington, we will soon be offering complimentary bikes for guests to get some fresh air, exercise, explore the local area and travel around carbon-free. “Citadines Eurometropole Strasbourg is home to Spa by Sothys, which includes treatment rooms, an indoor pool, a sauna, a hammam and a fitness room with Technogym equipment. Here, both business travellers and holidaymakers can relax and be pampered after a busy day. “Looking after the wellbeing and health of our staff is also a priority for us. This was even more important during such a challenging period, so we made sure to regularly check in with each other to help boost morale and motivate teams. “During the lockdown periods, we arranged virtual socials to celebrate birthdays, shared tips with staff, such as exercise routines to try at home, and recommended books and movies through our internal communications platform called WorkPlace. This is a great tool for everyone to connect with each other.”

Silverdoor has acquired The Apartment Service – what does that mean for The Ascott Limited and the sector as a whole?

“We have a long standing and strong partnership with both Silverdoor and The Apartment Service,” comments Billy Hughes. The acquisition can only be seen as positive for us, with benefits in both consolidated processes and ease of booking.”Another clear sign of growth and consolidation in this fast-paced and fast-growing sector is The Ascott’s own programme of new openings in more locations around the world.“In August we opened Citadines Eurometropole Strasbourg, located just outside of the centre of Strasbourg,” explains Billy Hughes. “This property allows guests to enjoy all the comforts of a private apartment with the services of a four-star hotel as it is home to a fine-dining restaurant and Sothys Spa.“Ascott has recently signed two new properties in Morocco as part of its Middle East, Africa, and Turkey (MEAT) portfolio. This includes Citadines Racine Casablanca and Citadines Connect Belvedere Casablanca, which will add 183 rooms to Ascott’s existing MEAT portfolio, in line with the group’s ambitious expansion plans in the region.“Ascott has also signed an agreement to manage Citadines Danube City Vienna, Ascott’s first serviced residence in Austria. The 223-unit property is scheduled to open towards the end of 2022 and will be in the 22nd district, a fast-growing area of the capital.”

The future for the serviced apartment sector 

With people on the move once more, and employers recognising the importance of wellbeing, safety and sustainability in their business travel and relocation programmes, The Ascott and its dedicated team around the world are clearly among those leading the way in this growing sector and shaping the post-pandemic future of business travel and global mobility.

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