Longer-term stay properties are proving resilient and continue to gain momentum as business travel rebounds
By Fatima Durrani Khan
While travel and hospitality have been hit hard by the impact of the pandemic, they’ve also proven to be just as resilient and innovative. Nowhere is this more evident than the extended stay segment, which continues to gain traction among the corporate travel crowd. From various upscale options such as Hyatt House, to midscale ones like Hilton’s Home2 Suites – which just opened their 500th property – to multiple economy choices for the budget minded, it seems this sector’s upward spiral isn’t stopping anytime soon.
What’s behind its success? One part of the mix is business trips that are getting longer but fewer in number, so travelers are using more extended stay options to get that ‘feel at home’ vibe. With an array of amenities, including fully equipped kitchens, apartment-style layouts that are spaciously designed for working and dining, free WiFI, premium cable, on-site guest laundry and even the option to bring pets for an additional fee, the comfort factor is unparalleled. There’s also the control factor. With extended stays, guests can manage their food supply – not only what they eat, but also when they eat and where. They can also regulate the amount of interaction (or not) they want with housecleaning, staff and other guests, using keyless technology and virtual check-in/check-out. Because extended stays carry no fixed contracts, travelers can choose how many nights they need. Self-sufficiency and flexibility aside, there is another crucial element that attracts business travelers to this space – the ‘elevated’ experience.
Quality+Luxury Extended Stay America’s new Premier Suites brand is a prime example of this. It offers upgraded options such as signature bedding, added storage space, larger flat-screen TVs, STAYconfident (a comprehensive safety program that includes a 10-point room cleaning process) and free, healthy breakfast bars. “As a result, we’re proud that Extended Stay America Premier Suites has effectively captured brand loyalists as well as new customers,” states Kelly Poling, executive VP and chief commercial officer of Extended Stay America.
In extended stay hotels, the concept of customer service is key. “We know that people want to feel cared for, and it’s what sets us apart from products like serviced apartments or transient hotels that welcome guests for short stays,” Poling adds.
From sleek outdoor design to signature meals, the extended stay sector has something for everyone. “Residence Inn invented the extended stay category in 1975 and has remained a dominant leader for over four decades,” says Diane Mayer, VP and global brand manager for Marriott’s Classic Select Brands. “But Element Hotels is our upscale lifestyle extended stay brand, designed for today’s healthy, active traveler who wants to maintain a balanced lifestyle while on the road,” she adds.
Element Hotels carries a unique outdoor-inspired design philosophy that is clean, modern and bright, and its Studio Commons configuration allows guests to connect four adjoining rooms with a shared private common area. “On the other hand,” Mayer continues, “TownePlace Suites is situated within the upper midscale tier of extended stay. The brand distinguishes itself from competitors in that it has a full kitchen plus extensive kitchen utensils and tools through its Something Borrowed program.” TownePlace Suites has also partnered with other well-known brands in the home living space, including The Container Store and Weber, contributing significantly to that ‘at home’ feel.
Extending the Concept One of the many lessons the pandemic has taught the hospitality industry is that one size does not fit all. In fact, the rise of serviced apartments, while seemingly a natural counterpart to extended stay hotels, addresses a somewhat different audience. With all the conveniences of modern living, from washers/dryers to multiple bedrooms, serviced apartments offer advantages to the business traveler who, for example, may have family staying with them, or who adds a leisure trip after the workweek is done.
“The environment has changed, and we know guests are looking for long-term accommodations without the commitment of a lease,” says Dean Schreiber, chief executive officer of Singapore-based Oakwood. “A testament to our position in the market is evident, as we have seen an overall growth of 18 percent in long-stay bookings spanning more than 14-days across our entire portfolio since the start of 2021.”
While serviced apartments have some overlap with extended stay hotel brands, there are significant differences too. Marriott Executive Apartments, for instance, are primarily 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, and positioned in the upper upscale and lower luxury segments. “All of our Executive Apartments are outside of North America, and are targeting 6-month-plus expat assignments in emerging markets,” explains Mayer.
Similarly, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts offers the Hawthorn Suites brand that targets a unique set of users. “Hawthorn’s serviced apartments are a very different product, appealing to a different market,” says Carol Lynch, Wyndham’s SVP global sales. “While serviced apartments tend to target the traditional consulting and professional services markets, Wyndham has a unique opportunity with our guests in the construction, logistics and infrastructure industries, who seek extended stay hotel options,” Lynch says.
However, while many serviced apartment providers don’t participate in loyalty programs, most major hotel groups include points as part of their extended stay benefits. Stays at Wyndham’s Hawthorn Suites, for example, garner guests Wyndham Rewards points. And IHG’s upscale extended stay brand Staybridge Suites is part of IHG Rewards, where travelers can earn benefits while getting connected in a community. “Guests can enjoy a complimentary evening social hour three times a week, which isn’t always offered at serviced apartments in Europe and Asia,” notes Justin Alexander, vice president, global brand management for Staybridge Suites & Candlewood Suites, IHG Hotels & Resorts.
“Whether they are corporate travelers, digital nomads, relocating and project-based employees, gig-workers, students and interns, there is a heightened and sustainable interest in the idea of extended travel,” says Lee Curtis, CEO of Reside Worldwide.
Multiple Benefits Another creative approach that the industry is finding popular with travelers is the concept of dual-branded properties, or even multi-branded properties, which pairs different flags of a hotel group’s portfolio in a single property – frequently bringing together both a traditional hotel brand with an extended stay product.
“This trend has been prevalent as it benefits both our owners and customers,” Marriott’s Diane Mayer explains. “For owners, it combines two powerful and distinct brands from the Marriott portfolio – connected under one roof and at one address. For our guests, they have common access to amenities and services that otherwise may not be available in a single hotel, with each brand preserving the unique experience that defines its identity and raison d'ê·tre. Dual-branded hotels will be especially attractive to meetings planners and large groups who can take advantage of a variety of room types, amenities and service to accommodate attendees,” she says.
“We're seeing great interest in the dual-brand concept, as these pairings enable owners to target both the business transient and extended-stay demand, with streamlined development and operational costs,” says Lynch. “One of our fastest growing concepts is the pairing of Hawthorn Suites with La Quinta, which provides two distinct accommodations under one roof including shared lobbies and amenities, offering an attractive and efficient solution for developers.” In fact, as of March 2021 Wyndham had 36 of these dual-brand hotels in its new construction pipeline. IHG’s new dual brand prototype combines the group’s Avid hotel product with Candlewood Suites. “This will feature more integrated space, shared staffing and a smaller footprint; capturing both transient and extended stay demand in select markets,” Alexander says. Oddly enough, despite the fact that COVID has dampened corporate travel, it seems business travelers have more choices than ever now.
Evolving Landscape No doubt COVID-19 has changed the travel habits of digital nomads and business travelers, who are looking for a different type of curated travel experience in which routine is paramount. An extended stay enables them to keep their sleep, diet and fitness goals on track for a longer period of time. At the end of the day, this sense of stability contributes to better productivity.
According to Reside Worldwide’s Curtis, “When you can comfortably and safely choose a housing option that gives you the workspace and tools that you require and a location that is desirable, you have the makings of an entirely new way to think about travel. We believe everyone deserves to feel at home – even when they’re not.”
That’s why it doesn’t come as a surprise that so many hotel groups are launching into the space. “The extended stay business grew before COVID and continues to grow despite the pandemic,” Lynch concludes. “In 2020, overall hotel occupancy was 44 percent, but was 60.5 percent for extended stays, according to STR. We believe this expansion of business is here to stay.”
It’s likely the extended stay sector will face more competition as travel resumes. However, it will also “continue to meet the needs of key workers, displaced locals and essential travelers looking for homelike experiences,” says IHG’s Alexander. “There will be continued interest in the extended stay segment as we navigate recovery. It has proven to be among the most resilient hotel segments throughout the pandemic.”
And for the weary travel industry, this sense of buoyancy is good news.