Wednesday 12 December 2018

'Trying to find buildings in Dublin like finding a needle in a haystack'

Corporate travellers keen to remain close to tech-heavy docklands of Dublin
Corporate travellers keen to remain close to tech-heavy docklands of Dublin

Mark Evans

The landscape of cranes alone shows the health of Dublin's economy, but the downside is that the city has also a victim of its own success, with corporate-stay supply thin on the ground.

Stephen McNally, deputy CEO of Ireland's largest hotel chain, Dalata, recently revealed that its new 185-room Clayton Hotel Charlemont cost a hefty €225,000-a-room to develop.

He added that while studies claim that the capital needs 11,000 new hotel bedrooms, it'll be hard to achieve that target unless planners are more open to green-lighting developments with at least six floors - six being the magic number of floors to make most developments financially viable for developers in the city.

The situation is equally tight in the rapidly growing serviced apartments sector, which is geared towards business travellers on longer duration stays.

One of the big players in the sector is Los Angeles-headquarted Oakwood Worldwide, which has offices in London and Singapore, and apartments around the globe.

"Dublin for us is such a key city ­- in our top five markets, it's our third most-booked city," Tom Meertens, managing director of the EMEA region, told the Sunday Independent.

"Oakwood works with 80pc of the Fortune 500 companies, and when I stand around Grand Canal Docks I see most of our clients."

But Dublin is a tricky location for the company, which in other cities has its own branded stock of buildings, or acts as an agency to arrange lets through trusted suppliers, such as Premiere Suites and Staycity.

"I wish we got in there [Dublin] in the late 2000s, because trying to find buildings to buy is like trying to find a needle in a haystack," the young Australian admits.

He cites finding availability at decent rates "tough", and adds that clients often "have this perception they need to be in walking distance of work. We've said look at Sandyford and Ballsbridge but people are just not prepared to try that".

There's also a concern in the wider sector that regulations to tighten up Airbnb provision will have a knock-on effect on the professional apartments sector.

While he concedes that Airbnb offerings can be "funky and cool", it's a different market - with travel buyers "always about cost containment" but combined with a clear duty of care programme, with the traveller protected when abroad for work.

Oakwood, for instance, has its own tracking programme for users, and Meertens cites incidents like a block fire in Dubai, and terror incidents in Spain and Germany as examples of when residents need to be tracked and accounted for, through Oakwood's own systems and in tandem with mass notifications systems from US giant Everbridge.

"For corporate travellers that's key," he insists.

He said a clear billing trail is also vital when companies are sending staff away. "Companies come to us - they've got someone on a 30-night assignment who needs a pet-friendly apartment. We load the requirements into our systems and it spits out a request to all providers in a radius. Providers then bid on that booking - they don't get to see each other's bids - we look at them, and give the top three to the client company."

Meertens believes the advantage is that it's a "one-stop shop" for the client with billing - "and we don't just funnel all business to us - we'll give you the best price, maybe in one of one of our buildings, maybe someone else," he says.

For now, it's third-party only in the capital, with Meertens adding: "We'd love to get something in Dublin. We've been looking for near on three years but can't find the right deal."

n Surprisingly for a country that's a world leader in the aviation sphere, Ireland has only just hosted its first ever Air Transport World industry awards ceremony.

Created in 1974 to recognise excellence in aviation, an ATW prize is widely seen as the most prestigious honour you can get in the industry.

Only a handful of airlines are named each year, with Japan's All Nippon Airlines, the country's biggest, being named airline of the year for 2018.

ANA CEO Yuji Hirako was in Dublin's Mansion House last week to collect the prize, and he said the airline has been working in recent months to ramp up its business between Ireland and Japan - particularly with the spotlight increasing on the country which will host the Rugby World Cup next year. The route is served via Germany with a Lufthansa codeshare. Elsewhere, Ireland's AerCap was named top leasing company, Norwegian was best value airline, and Air Canada best eco carrier.

Sunday Indo Business

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