The hospitality company’s CEO and Managing Director of its Asia Pacific division outlines the resilience of the serviced apartments sector, and details its upcoming brand The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood.
Oakwood operates more than 80 properties around the world, the majority of which are serviced residences. What advantages does that portfolio have when it comes to weathering the current crisis?
Oakwood played a leading role as the pioneer of the concept of serviced apartments 50 years ago. Since then, the group has established a distinctive edge of providing generous residential space and exceptional guest services, especially in Asia Pacific. With this edge, we have also most recently taken the step to shift our focus towards hospitality management services in May this year, and remain dedicated with our guest-first approach in both the short and extended stay hospitality segment.
Serviced apartments have less transient fluctuations, as the length of stay can range from one night to more than a year, depending on the purpose of stay. Savvy corporate executives at different life cycles enjoy the empowerment of matching their preferred residential address with individual needs. Through our portfolio of distinctive brands, Oakwood has the ability to cater to every traveler’s demands and lifestyle needs. It is evident that our discerning guests enjoy the luxury of spacious residences that reflect their unique, personal vibes instead of traditional hotels.
Our operating model has also gained a lot of interest from owners and developers looking for solid returns on investment. With the ability to achieve a well-balanced mix of long and short stays, owners and developers have come to recognize Oakwood’s ability to limit volatility as its main business of extended stays ensures continuity of occupancy across the typical cycles of peaks and troughs in a property. This is particularly evident in the current Covid-19 pandemic, where we have seen the unprecedented closure of thousands of hotels around the world. In contrast at Oakwood, apart from locations where we have been governed by the local authorities to close properties temporarily, all our properties have remained opened and operational to date.
We believe that these serviced apartments, like ours, have the strong potential to further develop as the preferred form of accommodation over traditional hotels, as we continue to bring this offering across the globe.
How has Oakwood supported its employees throughout this challenging time? And in what ways has the company been giving back to local communities?
Service excellence is a critical success factor for the hospitality industry. Oakwood is committed to employee success and talent development so that we can deliver the experiences that our guests have come to expect.
In response to the uncertainty and fears during the pandemic, our senior leadership has intensified internal communications to give assurance on job security and Oakwood’s commitment to the local community. Being transparent in our commercial success despite Covid-19 and the sharing of landmark corporate initiatives helped to boost morale and confidence. Colleagues who needed support due to domestic travel restrictions were offered assistance based on their individual situations. We did not apply a standardized policy because we recognize that each individual has different needs.
In June 2020, we launched Give with Oakwood—a global campaign designed to spread kindness and compassion to vulnerable members of society. A total of 67 Oakwood properties, involving 2,803 associates around the world, contributed towards their local community, charity organization, or food bank. Our objective was to localize our community outreach by identifying partners that best serve the needs of each destination in a direct and most impactful manner. The mechanics were simple but meaningful: each participating property pledged to make a donation for every room booking during the campaign period. The global outreach successfully contributed over 11,263 kilograms of rice to beneficiaries in Asia, monetary donations that helped deliver 2,750 meals to The Felix Project in the U.K. and 5,580 meals to Feeding America in the United States, alongside the purchase of books for the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital foundation in Australia.
How is Oakwood tapping into the demand for staycations and the work-from-home trend?
Being empathetic to evolving guest requirements, we recognized the value of providing inspiring retreats for those who need conducive work spaces away from home. Work from Oakwood was launched in September 2020 to cater to this demand. With travel restrictions in place, this market segment is a key aspect of domestic tourism which will help to drive business. Work from Oakwood resonates with the needs of guests who seek a safe and conducive work environment with world-class hospitality services in a residential space that complements their lifestyle.
In terms of occupancy rates, which parts of the Asia-Pacific region are seeing the strongest signs of recovery so far?
Without a doubt, Mainland China takes the lead in terms of tourism recovery. Our properties have reported buoyant demand, especially during the peak travel seasons for China’s Labor Day in May and the recent double celebration for the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival. Due to their huge domestic market demand, our properties are enjoying healthy business volumes despite the sustained border closure.
Now that public health measures are being eased gradually in Asia, we can see improvements across all markets. Leading the pack are our properties are Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This year will see the launch of The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood. What is the concept and ethos of this new brand? Is there a certain demographic you are hoping to target?
The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood is our latest brand differentiator, which allows for a curation of independent properties that retain their unique positioning yet leverage Oakwood’s hospitality management expertise and distribution network. The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood will strengthen our group’s market potential through distinctive residential spaces that celebrate individualism.
In response to the hospitality industry’s evolving landscape, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood caters to a growing segment of property owners and discerning guests, who seek to capture and experience the creative independence of a brand. With The Unlimited Collection, Oakwood hopes to celebrate the uniqueness of each property, allowing for an inimitable collection of styles—from intimate charm and contemporary icons to historic grandeur.
The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood will retain the individual architectural heritage and distinctive characteristics of each property, backed by Oakwood’s world-renowned hospitality excellence and commercial network. Global operational standards and programs, such as Oakwood Clean360, will be observed to ensure that guests continue to enjoy the Oakwood Experience that they have come to expect.
This new brand is aimed at the independent traveler who seeks to celebrate life through discovering new experiences, dotting each journey with unique stories to tell.
What details can you share about the brand’s first three properties in Singapore?
Conveniently located downtown and in key architectural conservation precincts, KēSa House, Ann Siang House, and Wanderlust offer the perfect sanctuary for guests in search of immersive local experiences in Chinatown and Little India.
KēSa House is an inviting 60-room flexible living concept with a roster of six eclectic restaurants and bars. The striking row of ten shophouses adds a new dynamic to the Keong Saik neighborhood in Singapore’s Chinatown. The rooms are cleverly constructed and entirely user-experience oriented while the communal spaces are social by design, allowing guests to mingle with other like-minded individuals and shared facilities that provide the utilities and modern comforts of a home.
The already well-known Ann Siang House is one of Singapore’s most stylish heritage buildings in Chinatown. Currently in the midst of rejuvenation, Ann Siang House will reopen as a vibrant hospitality and lifestyle destination that fuses local history with contemporary design in the heart of the Club Street and Ann Siang Road precinct; presenting 20 artfully crafted and sophisticated rooms, smartly designed with the latest conveniences and comforts.
Housed in a 1920s art deco conservation building, Wanderlust merges old-world charm with modern comforts. With 29 thoughtfully appointed rooms and suites, Wanderlust redefines how urban stays are experienced and perceived; its curated spaces and flexible concept are conscientiously designed to be able to cater to every journey. Guests will find that they are close to everything yet delightfully off the beaten track, and mere minutes from the bustling city center while being immersed in the historic urban montage of Little India.
After the Lion City, which locations are next on the list for The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood?
The beauty of The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood lies in its celebration of unique properties that bear their own identities. Given the vast selection of distinctive architectural sites and independent properties all over the globe, there are really no restrictions as to what is next on the list. It could be anywhere in big gateway cities, or in an exotic locale. Destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and possibly the key cities in Europe and the U.S. could be some of the next few locations, as there are a lot of independent operators seeking to leverage the established network and distribution of an international hospitality brand.
As for Oakwood’s other brands, what major openings are there in the pipeline for 2021 and 2022?
We are positive about the outlook for 2021 and beyond, and Oakwood will continue to plot our growth ahead. With 20 openings confirmed for 2021, we look forward to growing our footprint further in destinations such as Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as the U.S., where we will be opening and managing a dual-branded heritage property in Washington, D.C. from January 2021.
As of now, we have 20 openings confirmed for 2021, including:
- Oakwood Suites & Studios Dupont Circle Washington, D.C. (January 2021)
- Oakwood Hotel and Apartments Saigon (March 2021)
- Oakwood Premier Tonglu, Mainland China (April 2021)
- Oakwood Hotel Sukumvit 11 Bangkok (June 2021)
- Oakwood Premier Jakarta (July 2021)
- Oakwood Premier Phnom Penh (July 2021)
- Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Daxing Beijing (July 2021)
- Oakwood Studios Bangkok (August 2021)
- Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Higashi Azabu, Tokyo (September 2021)
- Oakwood Premier Melbourne (early 2022)
We’ve read that Oakwood is shifting its focus away from corporate housing solutions to hospitality management. What was the rationale behind this bold new direction?
Over the last few years, Oakwood has embarked on an aggressive plan to develop and grow its own portfolio of branded properties that provide guests with exceptional service, comfort, and safety. Through this specially crafted Oakwood experience, guests are invited to feel a sense of belonging, familiarity, and reassurance whenever they stay at any Oakwood property around the world.
This significant new phase in the evolution of Oakwood will allow our group to focus on enhancing guest services on-property and transform into a true hospitality management company fit for sustainable growth and business success. This hospitality model creates new opportunities for growth across global regions and provides much-needed focus to further build on its long-standing reputation in the market as a trusted hospitality partner.
Where do you see the company five years from now?
Oakwood plans to double our portfolio of managed properties by 2025.