Ascott races ahead with ME expansion

A standard room at the somerrest Juffair

Ascott International is the largest international serviced residence owner-operator outside the United States, with about 19,000 serviced residence units in key cities of Asia Pacific, Europe and the Gulf region.

Ascott International operates three brands – Ascott, Somerset and Citadines. Its portfolio spans 47 cities in 21 countries, including London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels and Moscow in Europe; Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in Asia; Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland in Australia and New Zealand as well as Dubai and Bahrain.
Headquartered in Singapore, the company boasts a 23-year industry track record and serviced residence brands that enjoy recognition worldwide. The group plans to host some 15 properties in the region by 2010. To that end, it signed a master development agreement with Addax Investment Bank last year, under which Addax will set up and manage a $1 billion investment fund to finance the acquisition and development of the serviced residences.
Excerpts from an interview with Gerard Weller, managing director, Ascott International, and senior vice-president, South Asia, GCC, Australia/NZ:

What has been the response since the opening of your first hotel in Dubai last year?
We have achieved healthy occupancy since Somerset Jadaf, Dubai was opened in April 2006. The property achieved an average of 80 per cent occupancy during the last quarter of 2006.

Will your Bahrain and Qatar properties open on schedule this year?
The Somerset Al Fateh, Manama, opened on April 10, in time to cater to the expected increase in number of travellers to Dubai for the Formula One Grand Prix this year. It achieved 30 per cent occupancy in the first week of operation. Somerset West Bay, Doha is on schedule to open in the second half of 2007.
We expect to continue seeing a healthy occupancy in tandem with market demand.
Ascott’s strategy is to gain a foothold in the key gateway cities in the GCC countries where there are rising foreign investments, growing expatriate community, industrial developments and strong local government support in major economic projects.

What is the level of investment for these new projects? Will they all be with Addax, or will you look for new investment?
This is a strategic collaboration with Addax Investment Bank. Under the master development agreement with Addax Investment Bank, Addax will set up and manage an investment fund to finance the acquisition and development of the serviced residences. Ascott will provide technical consultation on the development, design and renovation for the serviced residences, manage the serviced residences as well as create marketing and branding programmes for the properties. 
What are your current source markets and what new source markets are you looking at?
Europe, the GCC, the US and Asia are our largest contributors for our properties in the Gulf region. As intra-regional and international travel increase, we expect to see more business travellers and expatriates who have been relocated or are on project assignments stay with us. As we open more new properties, we will be able to offer travellers more choices and we expect to see spin-offs across our properties through economies of scale and this will benefit owners and customers.

What do you think are the new trends hotels across this region must incorporate?
Unlike hotels, serviced residences offer a greater value proposition to travellers as it typically combines the spaciousness, privacy and comfort of a home with the core facilities of a hotel. 
Residents get a lot more room space in addition to having a living room, kitchen and an en-suite bedroom, compared to a small hotel bedroom. They are assured of a higher level of security at our residences, given the lower transient traffic. Ascott places great attention to individual needs and ensuring consistency in product excellence to stay abreast of market needs. Ascott International is about ‘Defining Global Living’ and it provides environments that suit individual lifestyles across different continents. No matter which country or purpose of travel, Ascott International provides reliable homes to travellers worldwide so they can work, play and rest in comfort and security. 
By Clark Kelly