Neil Harvey, general manager of Oakwood Residence Beijing and Oakwood Apartments Beijing shares his views with CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW on how the city’s serviced apartment industry is benefiting from increased competition, higher expectations from guests and Olympic construction projects.
Q: How have Beijing’s infrastructure plans affected Oakwood’s properties?
A: The recent upsurge in improving the infrastructure of the city has certainly helped to bring more commercial and retail operations to the locations around both of Oakwood’s properties. Beijing remains a most attractive place to invest, particularly in property, and so developments have sprung up all across the city providing high quality air-conditioned shopping malls, great restaurants, famous brand outlets, supermarkets and of course accommodation to suit all needs. Competition is fierce, so an ever increasing focus on quality and standards will ensure the consumer will benefit from the increasing competition.
Q: What challenges are unique to the China market?
A: Human resources remains a major challenge with the lack of a qualified workforce pool to source from. Oakwood has taken several steps to counter this through implementation of the Oakwood University training programs and adherence to the “Gold Standard” company philosophy. Other high-profile challenges are of course air quality, industrial pollution and traffic.
Q: What new demands are you seeing from business travelers in China?
A: With the strengthening economy, increases in foreign investment and developing infrastructure, China cannot be regarded as a place where exceptions are made for delivering lower levels of service. Beijing now boasts a comparably modern living and working environment that competes with other major Asian cities for amenities, living style and entertainment. Business travelers therefore expect more, better value for money and above all, quality.
Q: Could you explain Oakwood’s “Green Initiative?” What changes has it meant for your properties?
A: The Oakwood Green Initiative is a multi-tiered program designed to help combat global warming, create awareness and provide educational outreach opportunities for our guests, clients and associates. All of our properties have implemented best practices for saving energy, and recycling is now seen as a normal part of the daily work routine. Suppliers to the properties have also been scrutinized to ensure the supply chain has an environmental program.
Q: Who make up the majority of Oakwood residents in China?
A: Oakwood residents are predominantly business travelers either staying for short-stay business travel or mid- to long-term stay on expatriate posting assignments. Oakwood is also delighted to work closely with many embassies and legations as we offer spacious comfort, 24-hour security and great family-oriented facilities.
Q: What are your predictions for the serviced apartment market (and property market in general) after the Olympics?
A: China will get a well-earned boost from the Olympics and though it is expected to see a dip in visitors in the immediate period after the games as with other hosting cities, it is anticipated that an upsurge of interest will follow in 2009. An increase in floor space and accommodation will increase the already highly competitive environment. This of course is to be encouraged; competition is good for the consumer and will ensure that products and standards will improve too. Whatever the future of China holds we’re proud to say that Oakwood will be part of it.