Wednesday 21 January 2015

GUEST BLOG: What’s in a name? Understanding the confusion about “serviced apartments”

I can’t begin to express just how many times I’ve had the following conversation with people:

“So what industry do you work in?”
“The serviced apartment industry.”
“Do you sell apartments?”
“No, we provide short or long stay accommodation for business and leisure travellers.”
“Oh, so it’s like a hotel?”
“Not exactly…”

There is a lot of confusion over the name of the serviced apartment industry, and indeed of similar relatively new types of accommodation becoming regularly used by business and leisure guests. Apart-hotels, corporate housing, residences – just what exactly is the difference between all of these types of accommodation?

Serviced apartments are fully equipped and furnished apartments available for short or long stays, with some of the facilities of a hotel such as 24 hour reception and weekly housekeeping. Aparthotels are the middle-ground between serviced apartments and hotels; they are extended stay hotels that feature extra “home from home” facilities such as a kitchenette and a small living area, but that are managed and run like a hotel - for instance, maintaining a daily cleaning service. Corporate housing is a term used for fully furnished apartments which are rented out for fixed periods of time, but do not benefit from services such as a reception or regular housekeeping.

How does the name of each one affect how they are perceived by the public? As Juliet famously pondered in Shakespeare’s classic play, what’s in a name? When we think about apartments, the first thing that will come to mind is real estate – buying or renting an apartment through an estate agent. This seems to be the cause of most people’s misunderstandings with what serviced apartments actually are, assuming that we sell apartments.

The word ‘apartment’ in itself is an Americanism that has become adopted here in the UK but appears to have taken on a slightly more particular meaning here. In the United States whereas ‘apartment’ refers to self-contained housing units generally, in the UK it is typically used to refer to higher-end or more luxury units – instead using the word ‘flat’ for general usage or more lower-end builds.

What would the connotation be if our industry was known as “serviced flats” in the UK? I suspect that this would affect how the product our industry offers is perceived, with more people viewing serviced apartments as a less premium budget option akin to hostels. And whilst this option may certainly exist as with the broad range of options available within the hotel industry, it is certainly not representative of an entire sector.

So it would appear that what’s in a name is, in fact, rather important for creating the right impression about the industry for potential guests. One question to ask would be this: do we really need so many names? Would our industry benefit to some extent from name homogenisation?

What can be confusing is the way in which companies have categorised themselves. Can a serviced apartment company consider themselves to have corporate housing accommodation? Of course. Is a hotel chain that also owns serviced apartments still just a hotel chain? Maybe. Even Marlin will face this problem in the future considering the fact that our seventh property to open in 2016 is our first aparthotel.

But what is certain is that when serviced apartments gain further recognition in 2015 and become more of a standard choice for the leisure traveller as well as the business traveller, the understanding will also come naturally.

This post was written by Susan Cully, managing director, Marlin Apartments - Marlin is exhibiting at the Business Travel Show, 25-26 February 2015, Olympia Grand, London - register NOW for free at 


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