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Breaking Travel News interview: Kevin Goh, chief operating officer, The Ascott Limited

Breaking Travel News interview: Kevin Goh, chief operating officer, The Ascott Limited

With the brand having taken the title of Asia’s Leading Serviced Apartment Brand at the World Travel Awards for the third year in success, Breaking Travel News here chats with Kevin Goh, chief operating officer, The Ascott Limited about the company’s plans for global expansion and the changing dynamics of the hospitality market.

Breaking Travel News: The Ascott Limited has been recognised as Asia’s Leading Serviced Apartment Brand for the third time in succession at the World Travel Awards. How important is it to be honoured in this way?

Kevin Goh: Being voted for the third time as Asia’s Leading Serviced Apartment Brand at the World Travel Awards bears testament to the consistently high standard of Ascott’s serviced residence products and services.

Credit goes to our employees who take pride in providing the best experiences for our customers.

To be recognised as Asia’s number one among some of the leading players in the industry motivates us to continue to push the boundaries of excellence.

We thank our customers for bestowing Ascott this great honour.

BTN: To what do you attribute this fantastic run of success? What separates you from your competitors in Asian hospitality?

KG: In the hospitality business, it is the people who make the difference.

Ascott staff around the world work hard to ensure the well-being of our guests as we create memorable home-away-from-home experiences.

In addition to our heartfelt service which keeps guests coming back, Ascott’s residences are designed with the needs of busy travellers in mind harnessing our 30 years of experience in the industry.

From the thoughtful apartment layouts to the wide range of curated activities, guests can become part of a community as they settle into new cities.

We launched the Ascott Lifestyle programme in 2015, allowing guests to experience bespoke cultural, gastronomical and wellness activities when they stay with us.

Residents can enjoy a guided tour of the local markets or meet fellow travellers in visits to local heritage sites.

They can also stay fit by exploring the area around our properties with our customised jogging routes, or choose to take part in workshops such as cooking and pottery making classes.

Ascott The Residence - Ascott Raffles City Chengdu was recognised by the World Travel Awards

BTN: At the same time, Ascott The Residence - Ascott Raffles City Chengdu, China, has taken the title of Asia’s Leading Serviced Apartments. What can you tell us about this industry leading property?

KG: Ascott Raffles City Chengdu offers our guests first class experience, a strategic location in the heart of Chengdu’s bustling business centre and a world of conveniences such as shopping and dining right at their doorstep.

It is connected to a metro interchange and surrounded by commercial towers, retail shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets.

Ascott Raffles City Chengdu is part of our parent company, CapitaLand’s Raffles City Chengdu integrated development that is designed by renowned architect Steven Holl.

The premier serviced residence offers 298 spacious and luxuriously furnished studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Business travellers can make use of the serviced residence’s business centre and meeting rooms while leisure guests will enjoy facilities such as an indoor heated swimming pool, steam and sauna rooms, gymnasium, reading lounge, children’s wading pool and play area, as well as a sky lounge offering breath-taking, panoramic views of the city skyline.

Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo

BTN: How would you describe the mood in Asian hospitality in 2017? Does China continue to be the key market for the sector? Where else does The Ascott eye expansion?

KG: We see tremendous opportunities for serviced residences in Asia Pacific as the region is expected to drive global growth this year, accounting for 60 per cent of the world’s economic growth.

Almost 80 per cent of our serviced residence units currently are in Asia Pacific and we expect increasing business activities and attractive opportunities to scale up Ascott’s presence in this region.

China is Ascott’s largest market with the most number of properties.

Of the 30 properties that Ascott is slated to open globally this year, half will be in China.

This is not surprising given China’s status as the world’s second largest economy with strong growth and rapid development over the past two decades.

Its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative aims to open new trade links for Chinese firms and boost international trade.

This can potentially increase China’s investment overseas and consequently demand for serviced residences by expatriates and business travellers not only in China but in many key cities globally where Ascott is present.

Besides China, several Southeast Asian markets present strong growth potential for serviced residences.

For instance, foreign direct investments in Vietnam hit a record high of US$15.8 billion in 2016 and it is where Ascott’s biggest south-east Asian portfolio is currently located.

We have also been expanding in Japan, where visitor arrivals rose 22 per cent to its highest ever of 24 million travellers last year.

We recently opened our first luxury serviced residence under the premier Ascott The Residence brand in Japan, Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo and we are confident that it will perform well given its prime location in Japan’s largest financial centre.

Elsewhere, Europe and the Americas are key markets for Ascott’s global expansion.

Last year, we boosted Ascott’s over €1.2 billion asset size in Europe with the acquisition of Citadines Islington London which is scheduled to open in 2019.

Next year, we will be opening La Clef Champs-Élysées Paris, our third property in Europe under The Crest Collection of unique luxury serviced residences.

Ascott advanced into South America with Ascott’s first two franchise properties in Brazil in April.

We have also signed an agreement with the franchisee with an intent to establish a portfolio of at least 5,000 Citadines-branded units in São Paulo.

Anchoring ourselves in São Paulo, Ascott will seek to expand our footprint in Brazil and explore opportunities in new markets such as Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

To date, Ascott has a network of more than 54,000 units in over 300 properties across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

We will continue to deepen our presence in gateway cities and explore new markets through management contracts, investments, strategic alliances with leading companies such as Vanke and Yuexiu in China and Quest Apartment Hotels in Australia to surpass our global target of 80,000 units by 2020.

lyf from Ascott is aimed at Millennial travellers

BTN: What benefits does the serviced apartment sector offer over a more traditional hotel? Are these advantages being eroded by the growth of competitors such as Airbnb?

KG: Serviced apartments bridge the gap between hotels which cater mainly to short stays and the traditional rental market.

At Ascott, besides providing the services and facilities available in hotels, our serviced residences offer more space, comfort and privacy.

With a fully-equipped kitchen where guests can easily whip up a meal, separate living, dining and sleeping areas as well as modern amenities such as home entertainment system, broadband and wireless Internet connectivity, our serviced residences provide guests the feeling of staying in a home away from home.

For residents who are new to the city, our staff help them navigate the environment through the Ascott Lifestyle programme.

For the busy professionals, our staff can arrange for services including courier, secretarial services and even grocery shopping.

Furthermore, instead of incurring a higher cost of booking multiple rooms in a hotel, companies and families are able to save on accommodation expenses by housing larger groups in a serviced apartment where each member can still enjoy the privacy of individual bedrooms.

As more travellers discover the joys of serviced apartment living, Ascott is well positioned to ride on this trend.

Guests can expect a consistent quality and experience in our properties around the world compared with sharing economy providers which do not own or operate any properties.

Ascott has been studying industry trends to stay ahead of the curve.

With the rise of the sharing economy, we have established strategic alliances to leverage our capabilities and create a seamless offline-to-online and online-to-offline experience.

In 2015, Ascott took a stake in Tujia, China’s largest and fastest growing online apartment sharing platform, dubbed the Chinese equivalent of Airbnb.

On top of listing our properties on Tujia, we also operate serviced residences in China under the new Tujia Somerset brand to cater to the booming segment of middle class travellers.

The joint venture integrates Ascott’s strengths in managing properties with Tujia’s online capabilities.

There are now ten Tujia Somerset properties in nine cities throughout China.

In 2016, Ascott became the first serviced residence company to list our properties for booking on Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group’s online travel service platform, Fliggy (previously known as Alitrip), reaching out to over 100 million Chinese travellers.

Through our partnership with Fliggy, Ascott’s sales went up six times on Singles’ Day in 2016, our highest number of room nights booked online in a single day in China.

Late last year, Ascott launched our newest brand, lyf, designed for and managed by Millennials.

lyf marks another milestone in Ascott’s innovation journey to design products and experiences for the future of travel.

Millennials already form a quarter of Ascott’s customers and this segment is poised to grow exponentially.

The lyf properties will be managed by lyf guards – Millennials who might be residents themselves, community managers, city and food guides, bar keepers and problem solvers all rolled into one.

lyf properties will have plenty of communal spaces.

Designed to encourage networking and interaction between guests, each will have its own unique personality, fun and quirky design elements.
Co-working areas can be easily transformed into zones for workshops or social gatherings.

Residents can also hangout at the ‘Wash & Hang’ laundromat and play a round of Foosball while waiting for their laundry to be done.

The ‘Bond’ social kitchen is where guests can prepare home-cooked meals, take cooking classes and socialise while learning more about global cuisines from other residents.

Project groups can also choose to stay in the ‘All Together’ units (business suites) which have smart display screens for video conferencing and discussions while a large table doubles up as a collaborative working zone and dining area.

Instead of standard wardrobes, guests can hang their clothes on rails that suspend from the ceiling or put up a hammock for a lazy afternoon snooze.

As Ascott scales up to exceed our global target of 80,000 units by 2020 through lyf and our other brands, our guests can easily take their pick from our wide-ranging portfolio across the world.

We will continue to test new concepts to seize market opportunities and raise the bar in our customer experience to ensure Ascott retains its leading edge in the industry.

More Information

The Ascott Limited is a Singapore company that has grown to be one of the leading international serviced residence owner-operators.

It has over 30,000 operating serviced residence units in key cities of the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, as well as over 21,000 units which are under development, making a total of more than 52,000 units in over 300 properties.

The company operates three award-winning brands – Ascott, Citadines and Somerset, along with The Crest Collection and lyf.

Ascott’s portfolio spans more than 100 cities across 29 countries.