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Serviced apartments with emphasis on service
By Cherry Cao

PRIME location, a good product and top service are widely regarded as key elements in establishing a successful serviced apartment business, and Dutch hospitality veteran Wouter Banning seems to have these all covered.

The general manager of Fraser Residence Shanghai describes the newly refurbished property on downtown Shouning Road, Huangpu District, as "an urban oasis." Here residents can find a tranquil sanctuary in the middle of a vibrant, busy location, explained Banning.

Last year, the premises, one of the three properties operated by Fraser Hospitality in the city, underwent a six-month redesign and refurbishment project that was completed in October.

"Guest responses to our recently finished renovation program have been very positive. We've received great feedback on the rooms," Banning said.

"We've also added more meeting facilities and expanded our highly popular gym," he added.

A stone's throw from city business, shopping and entertainment hubs - including People's Square, Huaihai Road and Xintiandi - Fraser Residence Shanghai now provides 324 gold-standard, contemporary apartments. The majority are studios and one-bedroom units, plus two- and three-bedroom penthouses.

"We went from 272 apartments, basically focused all on long-stay markets, to 324 rooms as we saw a lot of demand for smaller rooms in this area," he said. "Not many families live in the area and most of our customers are singles and couples."

Ranging from 40 square meters to 242 square meters in size, all the apartments feature king-size bed, bathtub and standing shower, LED TV, DVD player, iPod docking station, a full kitchenette and a wash machine with auto dryer.

"People who used to stay at hotels are now moving to serviced apartments, as they see it as a viable option for both short and long stay," said Banning, who worked for hotel company Accor before joining Fraser in Thailand three and a half years ago.

"With a separate living room, guests can relax a lot more," he explained.

At the moment, about 40 percent of residents are long-stay guests, staying for six months or longer, while the remainder are booked for anything from one night to two or three weeks.

Another interesting trend the general manager has noticed is that while in the past, serviced apartment guests were predominantly expats from Europe and America, there has been a shift in recent years.

Now more local Chinese, mainly private entrepreneurs traveling on business purposes, are opting for serviced apartments instead of hotels.

At the moment, about 30 percent of short-stay residents are local Chinese, a big hike on only a few years ago.

While good location and a new product help business, it's always consistent service that brings people back, Banning emphasized.

"The big secret to service is anticipating customer needs and providing answers before they ask for them," he said.

"Ultimately, it's about quality, about people wanting to get back to a place they are happy and familiar with - and that's the strength of Fraser."

Fraser Residence Shanghai organizes events designed to provide guests opportunities to meet with fellow residents.

"While wine-tasting and BBQ events remain most popular, we're also thinking about activities such as bringing our residents to the local seafood market for a wonderful dinner," Banning said.

"We even plan to work together with the other Fraser properties here to organize a weekend trip to Harbin next winter for the ice festival."

Currently, with 15 properties operated under four brands in nine Chinese cities, Fraser Hospitality aims to bring its domestic portfolio to around 22 over the next two years.

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