Singapore-based Ascott pioneered Asia Pacific’s first international-class serviced residence in 1984. Today, the company boasts a 29-year industry track record and award-winning serviced residence brands worldwide. As the Area General Manager for India, Ajit Koushik is responsible for overseeing Ascott’s operations in the country, which includes identifying and opening new properties. Interview by Pradip Bhattacharya
Being one of the world’s largest serviced residence owner-operator, what kind of challenges do you face?
At the end of 2009, Ascott had a portfolio of over 25,000 serviced residence units including operational properties and those under development. Today, Ascott has a total of more than 32,000 serviced residence units in around 222 properties in key cities of Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Gulf region. We have grown to be the world’s largest serviced residence owner-operator with a presence in 79 cities across 22 countries.
Every new market and new country that we enter poses new challenges. For example, in India, all sorts of approvals are needed which is a protracted exercise. Also, the serviced residence industry in India is in its nascent stages. There are many unorganised players who have spoilt the market with low-cost accommodations that provide minimal or no service at all and this has tarnished the image of the serviced residence industry. Hopefully, with the entry of big players in the serviced residence industry into India, this situation will soon change.
Ascott is primarily focusing on serviced apartments. What are the growth opportunities in this segment?
With the increase in FDI the number of international arrivals into India has also increased over the last few years. Foreign expatriates and business travellers coming into India on extended stays of more than a month are no longer satisfied with small hotel rooms. They prefer larger spaces that provide a home-like atmosphere complemented by the services and facilities of a hotel. That’s where serviced residences come in.
At Ascott’s serviced residences, our guests don’t come back to just an accommodation, they come back to their “home away from home.” Our spacious apartments provide the space and privacy of a home, while our staffs work round-the-clock to provide our guests all the luxuries of a hotel. We provide a comfortable environment for business travellers to come back to after a hard day’s work and our extensive recreational facilities ensure that their family is taken care of while they’re away.
Can you tell us about some of Ascott’s signature projects in South India?
The Ascott Ltd opened its first two properties in India in 2011, the 96-unit Citadines Richmond Bangalore and the 187-unit Somerset Greenways Chennai. Ascott has six other serviced residences with more than 1,500 apartment units under development in India. Out of these, four projects are coming up in South India. They are Citadines Galleria and Somerset Whitefield in Bengaluru, Citadines OMR Chennai and Citadines Hitec City Hyderabad.
Somerset Greenways Chennai is Chennai’s first international-brand of serviced residence, setting a global standard in service excellence and offering world-class facilities. It offers a range of stylish studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as a three-bedroom apartment ranging from 430 sq. ft to 4,035 sq. ft. Larger than the typical deluxe hotel in Chennai, the space and comfort offer families, who are travelling together, the convenience of staying in a single apartment while providing the privacy of having their own individual bedrooms.
Citadines Richmond Bangalore is an ideal home in the city offering services to suit the lifestyles of independent, savvy travellers. It is conveniently located for business and leisure, along the well-known Richmond Road. Citadines Richmond Bangalore offers apartment units ranging from comfortable studios to spacious two-bedroom apartments.
What are Ascott’s future plans? Where do you see the Ascott Group five years from now?
Globally, we plan to grow from our current over 32,000 to 40,000 apartment units by 2015. The India growth story currently boasts of two operating properties andsix under development comprising 1500 units and entailing an investment of US$ 250 Million upon completion. We target to grow from this position to 4,000apartment units by 2015. Apart from direct investments, we will also be looking at expansion through management contracts, lease agreements and franchising of our Citadines brand.
What are Ascott’s initiatives in the field of green building?
Ascott has implemented sustainable initiatives across its offices and properties worldwide, and targets to achieve 15 per cent savings in water and energy consumption by 2015, using 2008 as the base year. In 2011, Ascott consumed 9 per cent less water and energy compared with 2008.
Ascott endeavours to incorporate green elements into all its properties to create sustainable residences that are both comfortable and resource and energy efficient. Apartments are also designed to allow abundant daylight, thus reducing the dependency on electrical lighting. All Ascott properties have only energy-saving lighting using CFL or LED lamps.
Going forward, all external façade lighting will be solar-powered. A portion of our electricity consumption is supplied by wind energy and biomass energy.
Ascott has also established procurement guidelines to increase the use of green products at its serviced residences. For example, the use of solar water heaters, motion sensor-controlled lighting, biodegradable laundry bags, and bathroom amenities with innovative and recyclable packaging to reduce wastage is mandatory.
Ascott has put in place comprehensive environment, health and safety procedures across its serviced residences.