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May 16, 2022updated 23 Mar 2023 12:46pm

Residential hotels: A post-pandemic future

Residential properties traditionally have occupied a small niche in the hospitality world. But with the pandemic upending how operators think about development and their customer base, this is quickly changing.

By andrea valentino

The pandemic may finally be slowing down, but its consequences are only just beginning. Nowhere is that truer than hospitality. From design and amenities, right down to how often maids change bathroom towels, the past two years are destined to change hotels forever. If nothing else, this is obvious from the statistics. As early as August 2020, a poll by Criton found that 80% of hotel guests would now download a hotel app that helped them check in – a 10% increase from a few months earlier.

The Rosewood Vienna Suite boasts stunning views of the local Austrian architecture. (Photo courtesy of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts)

By the middle of 2021, the dial had slid even further, with 93% of guests now expecting hotels to outline their Covid-19 safety measures, as found in Hospitality Net’s 2021 housekeeping and hygiene study

Yet, amid the surveys and think pieces, it is easy to forget that Covid-19 could also presage a change in the most fundamental tenets of global hospitality. Forget apps and cleaning protocols, the hotel of the future may not even be a hotel in the traditional sense. Instead, it could morph into something approaching a high-end apartment, allowing guests to enjoy both the comforts of home and the glamour of time away. At any rate, that is the feeling you get talking to Rosewood’s vice-president of global residential development, Brad Berry.

Over the past few years, Berry argues that there has been a “fundamental shift” in how the residential market is viewed, suggesting that buyers are “now prioritising privacy, safety and experiences more than ever before”. 

It is a fair point – and not just because the residential hotel market grew by 170% in 2020 and 230% in 2021, according to a report by Savills. Berry, after all, is a residential veteran, with over two decades of experience in the industry. During that time he has worked everywhere from Vancouver to Dubai, making his name at prestigious firms like Four Seasons.

Last January, as the pandemic raged, Berry made his latest jump, becoming vice-president of global residential development at Rosewood. It is a match that feels entirely appropriate. Like Berry himself, this is a company on the move, with broad plans to radically alter how operators plan and build properties. Not that residential hospitality will be all those changes. Buoyed by the boom in long-stay residential properties, regular hotels could adapt too – with colossal consequences for hospitality. 

In the house

He may have reached the pinnacle of residential hospitality just as his sector started soaring, but Berry still remembers how things used to be. “Up until 15 years ago there was primarily a handful of luxury hotel brands operating in this space,” he says, adding that Rosewood has been in the sector for over 20 years. Yet that relative stability has changed.

“Recently,” he says, “we have seen an uptick in new brands, both at the luxury, lifestyle and mid-range market, entering the space due to demand.” Beyond that headline growth, this is certainly reflected by the numbers. According to research by Savills, for instance, global hospitality will boast over 900 residential projects by 2026, together encompassing well over 100,000 units.

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Much of this growth can be chalked down to the pandemic. With lockdowns and social distancing transforming many into relative hermits, customers are looking for places they can relax in privacy. Berry also suggests that the “remote work trend” has punters thinking differently about where their primary residence actually is.

Why commute to a chilly Wall Street if you can buy a suite at a luxury hotel in the Caribbean instead, safe in the knowledge that your bed will be made and your minibar restocked once you get back from dinner? With this scenario in mind, it should come as no surprise that opulent residential properties are particularly popular here. As Berry puts it, many customers are increasingly looking for experiences that “seamlessly blend the residential and luxury hotel experience”.

As this last point implies, much of this growth would be impossible without hotel brands themselves. Though traditionally focused on short-term stays, many businesses are adding residential wings to new hotels – or even developing bespoke residential properties. Rosewood is ahead of the curve here, with 50% of
its pipeline projects boasting a residential component.

Even so, the Hong Kong giant is far from alone. Four Seasons, Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton are just three of the high-end brands boosting their residential stock, with Ritz-Carlton alone increasing its supply by 64%. And for Berry, this enthusiasm makes perfect sense. In a world where guests are increasingly discerning – 60% of Americans have higher hospitality expectations than before the pandemic, as stated in a report by SiteMinder – developers understand that branded residences lend credibility to a property in a way that non-branded alternatives never could.

Artist’s residence

When it opens, sometime in 2023, Rosewood Half Moon Bay will offer customers everything they might expect at home. That covers everything from private gardens to handsome stone-rimmed bathtubs and private plunge pools. The difference, of course, is the location.

Rather than crouching in a plush suburb like Westchester or Weybridge, Half Moon Bay instead luxuriates by an Antiguan beach. Flanked by a 3,200ft stretch of white coral sand and touching a world-renowned national park, Half Moon Bay is the sort of place most of us dream to live. And for a wealthy minority – the project’s website invites people to “join the lucky few” – this dream will come true. 

It may all feel like a wild one-off. But in its eye-popping opulence, the Half Moon Bay is one of many upcoming Rosewood properties. There is the Rosewood Residences Doha, housed in a pair of sleek new towers and due to open in Qatar next year. The Rosewood Sao Paulo will also soon join the company’s roster, lined with the works of 57 Brazilian artists. And Rosewood Residences Mandarina, off the coast of Mexico, will be kissed by waters just as alluring as those at Half Moon Bay. Combine this with similar enthusiasm from other hospitality giants – 90% of future Four Seasons openings will include a residential component – and it is easy to imagine operators sticking properties on a map like darts on a board. 

Berry, though, is quick to disabuse this idea. “Rosewood’s expansion,” he says, “is a highly selective process, largely limited to the world’s most desirable cities and resorts.” Certainly, this is echoed by one of Rosewood’s main areas of residential growth. Between Hangzhou and Ningbo in China, as well as a host of other properties in Japan and Vietnam, it is clear that East Asia is a prime area of growth.

Given that China’s hotel sector alone is due to reach $103bn by 2026 according to Statista, this focus seems sensible. And as the artistic flourishes at properties like the Rosewood São Paulo imply, the operator is battling just as hard at giving each new opening a unique and attractive feel.

Borrowing the “sense of place” principle that reverberates across all Rosewood’s properties, Berry describes how his team works closely with designers and artisans to make each residence slot seamlessly into the existing landscape. The Rosewood Residences Doha is a case in point here. Dreamed up by a team from the Arab Engineering Bureau, its coral-inspired facade is intended to elegantly echo the stunning coastline of the Persian Gulf. 

Beyond these design questions, there is evidence that combining regular hotels with residential properties can be a boon to both. On the residential side, for instance, owners can enjoy all the glitz of a traditional holiday – from personal butlers to world-class restaurants. From the perspective of traditional hospitality, meanwhile, Berry suggests that residences can plug the demand drought that occurs during off-peak seasons. Even better, he notes that both sectors can be mutually supportive in other ways, encouraging owners to stay in regular Rosewood hotels when they are eager to leave their (second) home.

As he puts it: “We recognise that branded residences that are part of a hotel development are a key driver for brand awareness – especially in new markets, given residential is active in sales well before a hotel opens in a mixed-use project.” 

Serving two masters

As this last comment suggests, Rosewood’s residential pipeline is intimately linked with that of its regular hotels. But Berry is also excited for a future where residential properties prosper individually too – something that is already happening. The Rosewood Residences Kamala, a seaside property in Thailand, will be the firm’s first stand-alone residential property in Asia-Pacific when it opens in 2024.

That is shadowed by similar ventures, notably at Lido Bay in Florida. “The branded residential model is well established, with a lot of confidence in the brands that do this well,” says Berry, emphasising that Rosewood’s experience in the sector means it can still offer impeccable service without necessarily needing a regular hotel attached.

More to the point, Berry is certain that this trend will continue – not least given the line between long-term hotel stays and residential ownership is increasingly blurred. “We have seen our serviced apartments and branded-for-sale residential offering to serve both these audiences,” he says. “Experiencing Rosewood’s residential-style service – that we are known for at one of our properties, serviced apartments or residences – is the key marker to eventual purchases.” It goes without saying, too, that this could have untold consequences for hospitality as a whole.

Rather than seeing customers as ephemeral guests, Rosewood may soon view many as long-term partners, with all the opportunities that implies. It is clear, at any rate, that the upheaval of 2019 is far from over.

This article originally appeared in Hotel Management International.

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