UK: In our sixth session focus feature ahead of the inaugural STRz Summit in London on Wednesday 18 October, we dive into ‘The new hybrid flex rental opportunity’ and the prospects for emerging mixed-use accommodation models.
This session will do a deep dive into the opportunities and challenges faced between accommodation owners, investors and developers, management companies, master lessors, brands and agents to drive operational efficiencies and maximise yields. Between short-term rentals, hotels, extended stay / serviced apartments, build-to-rent and purpose-built student accommodation [PBSA], what is right for your building?
- George Sell, editor-in-chief, International Hospitality Media
- Matthew Ede, senior director, marketing and sales, Greystar Europe
- Francesco Zanella, managing director, Starwood Capital Europe
- Lisa Yeh, president, Sentral
The rise of ‘bleisure’, combining business and leisure on trips away, and the embracing of digital nomad / remote working visas has given added prominence to the flexible rental sector, and the trend has remained strong even after emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic. While the pandemic shut down urban markets and left workers unable to commute to their offices, companies were forced to adapt and embrace ‘work from anywhere’ policies.
Both corporate and leisure travellers have experienced and enjoyed the benefits of flexible working patterns, including the freedom to work and live from wherever they want, with whomever they want, and for how long they want to work / live from a single location.
Operators have taken note as a result and are prepared to offer travellers the flexibility they crave, even as their preferences differ person to person. These operators offer flexibility throughout the booking process, from the moment a traveller is browsing for their ideal location to the moment they book and then stay, and this is reflected by flexible cancellation policies or refunds if they can no longer make their stay or if they decide to extend their stay beyond a couple of days or weeks for whatever reason.
With its network of urban residential communities, Sentral is a key player in the market, having established its own flexible living category that aims to “redefine the way people live, travel and work”. Home+ combines the comforts of home with the adventure of travel, offering flexible lengths of stay, ranging from a night to a month or multiple years.
Qualifying residents also have the opportunity to monetise their homes through Sentral’s managed home-share programme, enabling them to offset 25 per cent or more of their total rent while they travel and explore the world.
Previously known as Daydream Apartments, Sentral is backed by ICONIQ Capital, Highgate, the Bozzuto Group and Ascendant Capital Partners. In the last 15 months, the company has partnered with Airbnb to allow its residents in US states to host their apartments exclusively on the platform and then in February, Sentral acquired Align Residential, a management firm specialising in innovative residential experiences.
In August, Jon Slavet stepped down from his CEO role and Lisa Yeh, who will speak at October’s Summit, took on an expanded role as president and COO to oversee Sentral’s day-to-day operations.
As a booking platform, Airbnb has also been central to the growth of the flexible living category.
Its co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, has regularly been quick to point out that 30-plus-day stays are the fastest growing booking category on the platform, and that is little surprise when the company has partnered with destinations around the world to facilitate working and living from anywhere, including its own staff. Airbnb also launched ‘Airbnb for Business’ [later ‘Airbnb for Work’ in 2014, well before the pandemic put the spotlight on remote work, enabling workers to work from anywhere and teams to find meeting spaces, homes for off-sites and team-building activities, thereby helping companies attract, retain and monetise their talent better.
Last November, Airbnb debuted ‘Airbnb-friendly’ apartments, a listing service exclusively for assets that allow short-term rentals in the United States. The programme offers rental buildings and properties eligible for short-term stays to attract tenants who can become hosts themselves, making hosting more “accessible” amid a cost of living crisis when Airbnb wants to help more people earn revenue streams and bring in ancillary income for owners at the same time.
Its landlord partners include Greystar and Starwood Capital Group, who will be represented by Matthew Ede and Francesco Zanella respectively in speaker roles at the 2023 STRz Summit. Equity Residential, GoldOller Real Estate Investments, Milhaus and Space Craft are also notable names to partner with Airbnb for the service.
While Airbnb has been somewhat tarnished by incidents of disruption and anti-social behaviour in its listings in the past, the company says that it is supporting sustainable and responsible tourism by ensuring that each building in the programme has its own community rules for hosting, including a limit on the number of nights renters can host each year. Renters are also expected to follow local short-term rental regulations, building rules and Airbnb’s own community standards, and this relationship with local communities will be crucial to progressing the flexible rental category further.