Whatever their main target market, serviced apartment providers know competition for tenants is likely to heat up in the months ahead. This makes it essential to keep upgrading standard amenities - appliances, entertainment systems and fittings - but also to come up with new attractions and incentives.
'The first question we ask is what we would like in our own homes,' says Pilar Morais, chief executive of Chi Residences. 'This helps us focus on what tenants will want in an apartment they should see as their home away from home.'
Noting that hoteliers in Hong Kong and residential developers are expanding to provide more serviced suites, Morais sees this as a spur for existing operators to raise their game.
Traditionally, the key market segments have been for business travellers, corporate relocations, families, and leisure travellers looking for an alternative to hotels. But whatever the type of tenant or planned length of stay, expectations must be met.
'We have a 24-hour concierge service, so whatever you need at whatever time, our team is available to help with any extra requests,' Morais says. 'We also work with various partners to provide additional services that range from shoe shining and in-room massage to personal yoga sessions.' Tenants don't specifically ask for brand-name amenities, but do notice them. Therefore, Chi makes a point of installing Bose home theatre systems, Samsung 42-inch LCD TVs, and Slumberland queen-sized mattresses. The emphasis is on quality and comfort, with any new product given a thorough 'road test' before purchase terms are agreed.
Advances in technology make it important to add or enhance certain features. These include Oxyvital air purification units which 'wash' the air in each apartment, achieving a quality better than the World Health Organisation standards used as Hong Kong's general guideline. And integrated 'smart' systems let tenants access the internet on their TV screen and receive individual messages and updates from the building management.
According to Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala, Ovolo Group's general manager for business development, the aim is to make every guest's stay 'effortless'. The key to this is being able to anticipate different requirements and new demands, while creating a friendly environment with common lounge areas where people are free to meet, unwind and entertain.
'Nothing is more important than consistent quality, and dedicated services tailored to every individual guest,' Jhunjhnuwala says. 'That is why our operations team carefully re-evaluates all appliances and amenities from time to time and is always [looking for innovations] and thoughtful ideas which can surprise.'
An example is the decision to designate one property as pet-friendly, a move which is proving popular. In addition, all the group's apartments are equipped with free high-speed Wi-fi, and use of an iPad, Wii, X-box and DVD library are available on request, with staff on hand to assist with their set-up.
'We aim to incorporate quality appliances that all our guests are familiar with,' Jhunjhnuwala says. 'We like them to think of each room as an extension of their homes.'
To keep pace with market developments and stay in tune with residents, Rene Holenweger, general manager of Gateway Apartments in Tsim Sha Tsui, did a mock-up renovation of several units in the past year. This altered the layouts, made each apartment seem more spacious and functional, yet maintained the sense of good taste and openness to natural light. Residents gave the new look a clear thumbs up.
'Following this positive feedback, we will initiate a comprehensive renovation programme starting this year,' Holenweger says.
This, he notes, is just one aspect of a philosophy which regards going the extra mile as the norm. At one level, it is seen in the provision of purpose-designed children's furniture, baby amenities, special bedding, a pillow menu and a choice of Asian or European dining sets. Such options usually come at no extra charge and are viewed by management as part of the service.
At another level, it means having access to extensive club facilities right next door. These offer Gateway residents scope for exercise, entertainment, and year-round courses catering to different interests and age groups.
'Demand for serviced apartments has been very strong over the past few years, which has led to many smaller-sized operators entering the market,' Holenweger says. 'However, the layouts and generous size of our apartments are ideal for couples and families. Around 70 per cent of our clientele are long-term, and we are very proud that some tenants have been staying with us since our opening in 1999.'