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Apartment alternatives to hotel hell

Serviced apartments offer an alternative to long hotel stays.



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Biz Traveller

(CNN) -- After weeks of rummaging through suitcases, eating lukewarm room service and dismantling the trouser press for entertainment, sooner or later most business travelers start suffering hotel fatigue.

Top end hotels are usually able to alleviate the symptoms through sheer quality of service, but for those condemned to hit the road on a lower budget, the world often becomes a blur of brown and dreary rooms.

The last 10 years, however, have seen a dramatic shift for the travel industry, resulting in the emergence of a new sector that bridges the gap between hotels and full-blown property leasing.

Serviced apartments usually take the form of a suite of rooms, including a bedroom, bathroom and fully-fitted kitchen. Some also feature a dining room for entertaining guests.

But while hotel guests enjoy round-the-clock room service and a daily visit from cleaning staff, most serviced apartments are spruced on a weekly basis, and in the absence of a restaurant, guests must fend for themselves.

Despite other issues -- such as a lack of hotel-style star rating system -- corporate accommodation firms say the secret is out and business is booming.

"People are cottoning on to the fact that they are cheaper, they're bigger and there's more facilities," says Richard Cruise of Britain-based apartment provider MiNC.

While well established in the Asia-Pacific region, the apartment concept is only just gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, where a broadening spectrum of providers offers an increasing quality of product.

"In the past five years it has kicked off tremendously," says Gillian Taylor, an account manager with U.S.-based Pricoa Relocations, a company which specializes in helping executives with long-term moves overseas.

"In London alone, it's gone from one or two serviced apartment providers to hundreds," she told CNN.

According to Gavan James, Los Angeles senior vice president and general manager for Oakwood, the largest serviced apartment provider in the world, the industry is now worth $3 billion a year in the States alone. Of this, Oakwood claims $500 million.

"The growth of serviced apartments is really on a trend of travelers who want more comfortable and more home-like rooms," he told CNN.

"It is a better way to go. Generally speaking, we're less expensive than a mid-line hotel on a daily basis, although our services are a lot more limited."

Taylor -- whose firm is a long-term Oakwood customer -- puts the attraction down to economies of scale.

"Corporate apartments are more a home away from home, people can bring their families and it can work out considerably cheaper than hotels in the long-term, especially when we're handling business trips of up to 60 people."

Despite touting their advantages, most serviced apartment providers are keen to point out that their business does not encroach on the hotel industry.

"We rarely bump into each other directly, we do go up against some suite hotels but we're really a unique segment" says Oakwood's James.

Adds Taylor: "Hotels have their advantages, you can book one or two nights at short notice whereas apartments usually require seven days."

"Hotels have advantages which we do not," says MiNC's Cruise, who has worked in both sectors. "But for stays of three days or more, we can be much better."

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