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How to house your best expats

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Aditi Sharma Kalra speaks to mobility decision-makers to find out their priorities and wish lists from serviced apartments this year.

Having long been a luxury of the senior business executive, serviced apartments are now a staple for the everyday travelling employee; and a stable component of traditional corporate mobility policies. In the decade leading up to 2015, demand for serviced apartments across the Asia Pacific region has grown by up to 25%, according to estimates in “The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2016/17”, by The Apartment Service (TAS Alliance).

Serviced apartments are often the solution for recently relocated expatriate staff and their families, while they wait for their personal belongings to arrive from their previous city. But are preferences changing? That’s exactly what we set out to discover as we spoke to a range of mobility decision makers on their preferences and wish lists for corporate relocation.


A room with a community feel
Vicki Da’Costa, HR manager, Global Navigation Solutions

Specialist provider of maritime navigation information, Global Navigation Solutions manages about two to three expatriate assignees each year coming in to Asia. According to Vicki Da’Costa, human resources manager, a lot of global transfers prefer serviced apartments, regardless of whether they are single or coming with a family.

“Serviced apartments definitely trump hotels nowadays. When you go to a different country, we still want a place to call home. Not just a room in some hotel, but more of a community feel,” she says.

Breaking these preferences down further, she says it really depends on the demographics. For example, assignees with a family usually look for an area with lots of kids’ activities such as play schools and malls. On the other hand, single assignees tend to look for a gym, pool or cafes and restaurants.

She recommends serviced apartment providers look into organising programmes for expats’ families to orient them into Singapore.

For some of the good-to-have amenities, she cites transport and commute facilities, as well as breakfast (doesn’t have to be a big buffet – cereal or something to grab-and-go works just as well).

To provide an above-and-beyond experience, she recommends serviced apartment providers look into organising programmes for expats’ families to orient them into Singapore, along with the dos and don’ts of the city, and a list of the variety of festivals available, kids activities, restaurants, cafes, etc.


The issue with B&Bs
Lee Quane, regional director, Asia, ECA International

In general, Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at mobility data expert ECA International, has seen an increase in serviced accommodation being used for corporate relocation, even in cases where the assignee’s family stays home and they arrive on their own.

“Often serviced apartments are still cheaper than the cost associated with having a family of four over, because then the company has to pay for long-term lease plus the cost of international schools. So even though you’re paying a higher cost associated with the accommodation, you’re still gaining on a net-net basis,” he explains.

The issue with bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), he points out, is compliance to security and insurance requirements. “With companies paying more and more attention to data breaches, integrity and maintenance of corporate documentation, staying in a serviced accommodation should give them peace of mind, versus an unsecure environment where things are liable to get stolen.”

The issue with bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), he points out, is compliance to security and insurance requirements.

Companies are still looking at ways in which they can move people around without breaking the bank, Quane adds. “At the same time, they have to do so in ways which don’t adversely impact either the employee’s security or the company’s reputation.”

To sum up, Quane’s must-have items for corporate relocation: “You need to ensure the accommodation that you’re using for your employee is safe, secure and the necessary compliance boxes are being ticked. The second is to do so as cost-effectively to the organisation as possible.”


Services delivered to the door
Arun Kaimal, HR director – water quality, Asia, Danaher Corporation

Diversified science and technology innovator Danaher Corporation has at its helm Arun Kaimal, who moved to Singapore in 2017. He has since experienced firm-wide transfers into both Singapore and the Thailand markets.

The company’s policy is typically to provide assignees with a lump sum relocation allowance of SG$20,000 to cover their initial stay, landing costs and any other incidentals. Further, the company has negotiated rates with several hotels, for example, Park Alexandra and Park Rochester. In case they want to choose those, the company can connect them, but if not, they are free to choose out of this pool. The actual choice of the corporate stay is made by the assignee based on their needs and allowance.

Generally, in Singapore, the preference is to stay close to the MRT, the lifeline of the city.

“Generally, in Singapore, the preference is to stay close to the MRT, the lifeline of the city. In Thailand, where the assignees are typically Indian, they look for apartments which are closer to places that serve Indian food. In a country such as Singapore where you have plentiful food options that kind of feedback doesn’t come through,” he says.

In terms of preferences, he says assignees prefer the general feeling of “making a call, where everything is available” at hotels. He has observed younger staff are out most of the time, but once they are back, they want services delivered to their door. “It’s about having things readily available and on-the-go.”


The little things count
Daphne Cheong, HR and administration manager, Thales Malaysia

Present in Malaysia since 1980, Thales proposes solutions and technologies for defence, security, transportation and aerospace. Daphne Cheong is the HR and administration manager at Thales Malaysia, where among other items on her plate, she works with expat assignees on their accommodation.

The usage of serviced apartments, she says, depends on the kind of job and the time frame they come in for. “For business travellers, with one or two days of meetings, we use a hotel, which is fair and practical. But when we have skilled or technical people visiting, they need a longer time and a bigger space to live,” she explains. For example, the engineers may come over for a few months at a time, and may like to bring their families over, which is when serviced apartments are more relevant.

For business travellers, with one or two days of meetings, we use a hotel, which is fair and practical.

The cost factor in Malaysia is admittedly lower: “For serviced apartments we only pay GST, we don’t have to pay service tax unlike hotels. Further, they can be used for two to three days, rather than full week-long stays.”

On her wish list for serviced apartment providers, she says it’s the little things that count – a service for grocery shopping will ease a busy expat’s schedule, for example. She also recommends some activities for the expat’s partner. “One of the apartments we work with has a movie day every week. They also have a mezzanine floor with books, magazines and a game station,” she says.


The bigger costing picture
Amos Ong, mobility partner, SEA, ANZ, Dow Chemical Pacific (Singapore)

Covering assignments across Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Amos Ong is the mobility partner at Dow Chemical Pacific (Singapore). From a maintenance point of view, the speciality chemical company has about 30 to 50 expats coming on a regular basis for both short and long-term assignments. In addition, there is a group of extended business travellers which adds up to about 50 a year – both of these across eight countries.

Dow’s mobility policy framework features a global vendor, working in tandem with various local destination service providers (more commonly known as DSPs), to identify the most suitable accommodation. Typically, the preferred type depends on the size of the family of the assignee. For example, if it’s a family of three, two-bedroom accommodation will be considered.

One of the novel initiatives by serviced apartment providers is the provision of a mobile phone that the assignee’s family can use.

Ong’s priorities for the choice of stay? “Location, credibility and cost.” On the last point of cost, he clarifies the cost for the type of accommodation will have already been factored into the cost estimate and business approval, not just on the serviced apartment, but on the whole package and cost of the relocation.

Additionally, one of the novel initiatives he has witnessed by serviced apartment providers is the provision of a mobile phone that the assignee’s family can use to stay connected.


The convenience of end-to-end services
Janice Wong, HR director, Monash University Malaysia

Monash Malaysia was established in 1998 and is presently the third largest campus of Monash University, operating in partnership with the Sunway Education Group. The infl ow of expatriates is in the form of academics, ranging in experience and seniority.

Janice Wong, HR director at Monash University Malaysia, says: “We look for variety in accommodation to cater to their different needs. Broadly, a good location (close to not just the organisation, but also their children’s school), central and accessible, nearby attractions for the family and, of course, safety.”

Providing two weeks’ worth of accommodation to assignees, the university has tried a range of options – hotels, serviced apartments and bed and breakfasts. “In terms of flexibility, nothing beats hotels. They provide the end-to-end experience.”

In terms of flexibility, nothing beats hotels. They provide the end-to-end experience.

While the upfront costs of using a hotel might be more expensive, Wong points out they reduce overall administrative hassles. “There are not many options available for serviced apartments in Malaysia, especially for shorter term stays. Even if you do book one, you will usually have to manage the incoming expats’ schedules for the entire year, which requires additional administration,” Wong says.

“So in the bigger scheme of things, it is not more expensive to put them in a hotel.” Clearly, serviced apartment providers who are able to cover more areas in the value chain, such as providing an airport shuttle or pick-up, will win long-time support from corporate clients.

Photo / 123RF



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