In launching new properties, serviced apartment operators are looking beyond traditional strongholds such as Central and Mid-Levels, and are tapping into new locations that offer equal convenience. West Kowloon is fast emerging as a new favourite thanks to Elements, the area's upscale shopping mall, its growing range of five-star hotels, and the International Commerce Centre (ICC), which has lured tenants such as JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley away from Central. Most importantly is its enviable location, at the junction of an express highway, within easy reach of the West Rail and MTR, with convenient access to Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, the airport and the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal. 'Many new residential developments may have a comprehensive range of amenities and facilities but, at the end of the day, it is location that is valued above all else. That is what makes the West Kowloon district special,' says Michael Tse Ka-shing, Midland Realty's district sales director for West Kowloon. Serviced apartment operators have been quick to recognise the potential of the area. The HarbourView Place, situated at the heart of West Kowloon, offers luxury hotel-quality standards, but with the space and practicality of an upscale private apartment. Chi Residences has opened three new properties in the area since 2007, while VCC Land has been operating The Lodge since the end of 2007. Chi Residences decided to expand into West Kowloon following construction of the ICC. 'As the ICC continues to develop, we are finding similar corporate clients requiring serviced accommodation. This is also an attractive area for the Asian clientele as West Kowloon is closer to factories and warehouses, and travel options to China,' says Pilar Morais, CEO of Chi Residences. The company has adjusted its offerings in West Kowloon to meet the needs of more diverse tenants. Its smallest units - 290 sqft apartments on Shanghai Street, that cater to the lone businessman with frequent travel to China or factories and warehouses in Hong Kong, have an occupancy rate of 90 per cent, while it offers units of up to 1,400 sqft for expatriate families at other properties in the area. 'For our properties in West Kowloon, the neighbourhoods are also home to local street markets as well as outdoor parks and authentic Hong Kong cuisine,' she adds. The perception of living away from Central has not been a hindrance to attracting tenants. It has proved that, in Hong Kong, location trumps all else. 'West Kowloon has become the most popular residential area in Kowloon,' Tse says. 'We are seeing long-time residents upgrade to the newer properties while expatriates, in Hong Kong for only a short time, are gravitating towards the area.' Some find West Kowloon a refreshing alternative, away from the hustle and bustle of Central yet with as many of the conveniences. 'Living away from the usual business areas of Central and Admiralty is an attractive alternative as you are able to have a different perspective, and it provides a healthy contrast to the daily grind,' Morais says. The plan to develop the West Kowloon Cultural District has raised the profile and attractiveness of the area, according to Belinda Kuan, assistant general manager of Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency's Signature Homes. The HarbourView Place is owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties and managed by the developer's residential leasing arm, Signature Homes. 'The HarbourView Place is also dedicated to creating an artistic atmosphere and a culture-rich backdrop that echoes with the cultural district for our guests,' she says, adding that the property's creative and original artworks enhance public and private space while promoting the work of talented artists to a wider audience. Though rental rates for serviced apartments in West Kowloon have charted some growth in the past few years, the area remains less expensive than Central. Morais estimates rental rates are about 15 per cent lower than for properties in Central. 'Rental rates in West Kowloon are not likely to equal that of properties in Central any time in the near future, as properties in Kowloon do not generally peak in the same way as properties on Hong Kong side,' she says. Operators see ample potential in the market. Rates at The Lodge have risen 20 to 30 per cent in the past year with more room for growth. 'We aim to maintain more loyal tenants at this time, but do look forward to the future development of this district,' says Lindsey Tai, senior corporate communications associate at VCC Land, the company that owns and operates The Lodge. 'There is potential for rental rates to go up more and attract more business travellers.'