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A home away from home

Currently pegged at Rs 1500-cr and growing at a whopping 200 pc per annum, the service apartment market’s lure is undeniable, due to a significant hike in the number of int'l business travellers to India. Manoj Sharma tells us.
Hindustan Times | By Manoj Sharma
UPDATED ON APR 13, 2008 12:45 AM IST

In the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of international business travellers to India, many of whom come for long stays, ranging from one month to a year. And this in turn has resulted in a huge demand for service apartments, especially in IT hubs like Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Gurgaon. Individuals, multinationals, domestic hospitality companies and real estate developers have all joined in the scramble to make these visitors feel at home. And why not? After all, currently pegged at Rs 1500 crore and growing at a whopping 200 per cent per annum, the service apartment market’s lure is undeniable.

Come one, come all

US-based multinational Oakwood recently opened its first block of serviced apartments Oakwood Residence in Pune. According to the vice president marketing and sales, Frank Foster, the response has been overwhelming. “India and China are presently the hottest markets for serviced apartments.” Foster, told Hindustan Times in a phone conversation from Singapore.

American hotel major Marriott International also plans to set up its second serviced apartment in Gurgaon by 2009. It has already established its presence in Mumbai.

And not just multinationals, but many Indian real estate developers and builders are also entering the serviced apartment market in collaboration with the hospitality sector. Late last year Suncity Projects tied up with Singapore-based Frasers Hospitality, an international player. Many real estate developers are also floating their own hospitality companies. Brigade Enterprises Limited has established its hospitality arm, Brigade Hospitality Services. The company now runs Homstead, serviced apartments in Bangalore. Says Renjith Joy Verghese, manager, sales, Homestead, Bangalore, “We are the first in India to enter the serviced apartments market in the organised sector. Seventy percent of our clients are expats who come for long duration on business projects.”

At-home factor

But why serviced apartments when there are hotels aflush with comforts? Says Veronique Sirault, general manager, Oakwood Residence “The serviced apartments are about providing more living space, privacy and above all home-like atmosphere.” She however concedes that despite the huge demand, there is a lack of awareness about the concept in India. “Most people feel that serviced apartment is all about providing a maid in a furnished apartment.”

And to approximate this home-like atmosphere the serviced apartments come with a working kitchen, television, refrigerator, landline, Internet connectivity, power back-up, and housekeeping facilities. Says Brenda Sharp, 48, a Finance Analyst with a US-based bank, State Street Corporation, who is in India on a business exchange programme, “Hotel stay is fine for a few days but for long stay you want to live in your own way. I always prefer serviced apartment to a hotel. You can cook and eat and live the way you want.”

Competition ahoy

The cost of stay in serviced apartments ranges from anything between Rs 50,000 a month to Rs four lakhs a month, depending on the location and the size of apartments. “The cost of our serviced apartment ranges from Rs 50,000 per month to Rs 1 lakh. We have guests who have been staying with us for as long as two years,” says Ravi Nakra, of Enkay Condominiums, Gurgaon, a corporate accommodation serviced provider.

As of now, there are about 15 organised or branded serviced apartment blocks in the country but that doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of serviced apartment providers in the country. Even individuals who own flats in posh areas are turning them into serviced apartments. Surf the Net and you will find any number of companies providing serviced apartments in all major cities in India. “We have provided this service for over two decades now. The concept is old, only the term ‘serviced apartment’ is new,” says Jaideep Ahuja of Ahuja Residency, which provides serviced apartments in Delhi and Gurgaon. Be that as it may, experts believe that the trend of serviced apartments is catching on in India in a big way.

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