Hong Kong's serviced apartment industry has boomed over the past decade, fuelled by high-flying executives with handsome accommodation allowances from around the world on business locally and in mainland China. Some stay for months, while many stay for a year or two. What senior managers always seek, however, are stylish temporary homes they can establish as immediate bases for their work. This has created a phenomenal demand for 'boutique' serviced apartments, complete with everything from luxury furnishing and stylish design to all the latest modern devices such as flat-screen televisions, Wi-fi broadband and i-Pod docks. The growth of market leaders in the field underlines this demand. One of the first in the market, Shama, has in just over a decade accumulated a portfolio commanding rents ranging from HK$23,000 to HK$70,000 in seven prime locations, including Mid-Levels, SoHo, Central, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui, with an eighth complex about to open in Fortress Hill. A relative newcomer, VServiced Apartments, has been catching up rapidly, opening a complex every year since launching its first property in Happy Valley two years ago. Last year it expanded with VWan Chai. This year has seen the opening of VCauseway Bay, its largest complex with 133 units. A second complex opens in Causeway Bay later this year, with VWest Kowloon opening early next year. In just 20 months the brand has grown fourfold, with 206 apartments representing an investment of HK$2billion. 'Within the next five years the company envisages up to 1,000 apartments,' said Deanne Siquiera, general manager of VServiced Apartments under the management of its parent property development company VCC Land. 'I want to build a Hong Kong home-grown brand with uncompromising standards that can add value to the simple bricks and mortar business,' she said. A third market leader, home2home, is in similar expansion mode. Inspired by state-of-the-art boutique hotels in London and New York, the brand's first flagship property, Ovolo, opened in 2002, targeting 'high-flying expatriates' with rents from HK$48,000 to HK$57,000 a month. It has since expanded with Erba in Queen's Road Central, targeting younger expatriate professionals on more moderate budgets. Properties under its management also include Abeo, with 52 apartments in Aberdeen; and 35 standalone apartments known as Solo Habitats on Arbuthnot Road in Central. 'Clearly, the market is becoming a bit crowded,' said home2home founder and managing director Girish Jhunjhnuwala. This was why his latest expansion this year was not with apartments but Izi Central, 42 loft-style boutique serviced offices on Hollywood Road. Competition may be heating up, but there is 'still a lot of demand', said Ms Siquiera at VServiced Apartments. Occupancy rates across the industry are about 90 to 95 per cent. 'When we first started Shama over a decade ago, there were literally just us and one or two others,' said Shama chief executive Elaine Young. 'But the benefit of competition is that it keeps you on edge, constantly reviewing, improving and perfecting.' As with the rest of the property business, the key to competing is 'location, location, location', said Ms Siquiera. 'It is very hard to compete if you are in an 'off' area,' said Ms Young. 'Selecting suitable properties requires a good eye, some vision and a little courage. Most important is to read market needs and buy in the right district. But the challenge in Hong Kong has always been to find good assets, as the barrier of entry is high.' In future the company 'will only buy or manage an asset in Hong Kong in a prime location'. Beyond location, Ms Young said: 'It's down to aspirational decoration which includes media equipment and art work, exceptional service and additional lifestyle features which cover the tenants' lives when not in residence.' Among these, the V brand incorporates a 'no boundaries' lifestyle card, which fast-tracks social lives for tenants, including instant membership to the best gym, yoga and other sports clubs in town. Ms Siquiera said: 'A combination of design and service quality defines a successful serviced apartment operator - being able to constantly evolve by creating a living design providing the pleasures of home.' With such growth, the business obviously presents increasing career opportunities. Shama has its own management training programme for 'dynamic, energetic, ambitious individuals passionate about helping us build the best luxury boutique serviced apartment brand in Asia'. 'We also have a policy of trying to train and promote from within,' added Ms Young, while sought-after qualities of recruits were 'service-oriented, with similar abilities to hotel staff, without the food and beverage'. Shannie Leung, general manager of operations at home2home, said: 'The key is good service. Keep a positive mind and always be cheerful and helpful to guests. Team spirit is also important, and there is a lot of potential for career development.'