Q) Can you tell us the background behind the launch of VisitRentals?
I founded VisitRentals to bring identity to the sector of self-catering accommodation and to improve the delivery and value to customers.
There is no understanding about the regulated serviced apartment and we want to drive the terminology and create some consistency to the market about what this means.
I think sometimes people think the term serviced apartment means you pick up a key from the landlord but it is not like that at all, and we are working alongside companies such as Marriott, IHG and Wyndham to develop an instant booking platform for serviced apartments.
Our new website represents all the major chains and aggregates all those quality providers to highlight the sector to the leisure market. We have spent 18 months on software development and researching and understanding the industry.
Serviced apartments are already well known amongst business travellers but the majority of booking is still done over the phone or email. We want to bring an online booking portal to the attention of the leisure traveller, and help define what a serviced apartment is.
Q) So what is a serviced apartment?
There are three types of accommodation: residences, serviced apartments and hotels.
The main difference between serviced apartments compared to hotels is that the rooms are larger, often multi-bed and room and have a kitchen so are self-catering.
Often the rates are lowered per night the longer you stay, and bookings can be taken from one night to 99, which is unique through our website booking platform specifically. Other systems and companies have restrictions on when you can book.
Serviced apartments still include an on-site reception 24 hours a day and daily housekeeping, with some offering communal facilities such as restaurants, bars or gyms.
There is also sometimes the option of a residence, which is typically over several months and acts more like a temporary home so does not include housekeeping or all facilities.
Q) What markets would these appeal to the most?
Families are perfectly suited to serviced apartments as it saves booking two interconnecting rooms and instead they can have one apartment where everyone is based.
Likewise friendship groups like to book them out as it means they are all located in one place.
Corporate travellers also like to book apartments for space and convenience and make up a large portion of those staying in serviced apartments.
Staying in an apartment also means that travellers get to experience the cities more as they are often centrally located, and the self-catering element means they can buy local food and venture out for attractions and dining.
Q) What are the misconceptions of the serviced accommodation market?
In reality most serviced accommodation have similar facilities to a hotel, but the room itself is bigger, can be multi-bed and has a kitchen.
We have criteria that accommodation has to meet to work with us, for example it has to have a front desk and security in place. They also must meet with health and safety standards and receive regular maintenance checks.
Another misconception is the security of payment. Websites such as airbnb have raised some concern and confusion but that is not the market that we and serviced apartments operate in. We have regulated properties and are using bank-based systems to offer secure payments and all the money goes to the provider.
Currently there is confusion about ratings and the quality of apartments compared to others and I think it’s important that we show the difference between corporate housing and serviced accommodation. Hopefully further down the line we will be able to help create some more unity which would help the sector to drive forward under one voice.
Q) How large is the serviced apartment market?
Our site includes more than 100 providers globally in the mid-scale to upper scale as well as the ultra-luxury options.
There are 550,000 apartments globally from recognised brands such as Marriott, IHG, Wyndham, Ascott and more across 3,000 locations.
We want to bring the sector to the attention of the leisure market through our website and we’ve produced a Universal API that links into GDS which means we can deal with bookings directly through our website.
The terms and conditions for apartment stays do vary around the world but certainly for many major cities you can book these on a nightly basis.
Q) Your new website has now launched, but are there plans to develop this further?
We will introduce TripAdvisor ratings and we have plans to offer more guides and destination information that is unique to us. Our photos are chosen specifically and there is detailed property information as well.
Initially the website will market to consumers as we want to build up understanding of the serviced apartment sector but further ahead we can work with travel providers and corporates that want access to this type of content.
Eventually we would have our own ratings and review system which would have to be validated.
This is an exciting time for us and we are in a stage of software development that will see new advancement emerging in the next 12 months.