Between Airbnb and traditional serviced apartments, there is a gap of hotel accommodation that is starting to catch on, and long-stay furnished apartment business Furnished Property has found it.
The group, founded by former University of Technology classmates Alex Thorpe and Rhys Williams, has launched a new line of bespoke hotels, Veriu Hotels, which provides the security of services and amenities that Airbnb doesn’t do and the charm of local areas that big-city serviced apartments don’t have.
The brand will kick off with five Sydney inner-city “character” locations, Camperdown, Broadway, Randwick, Central and Green Square.
The $18 million Veriu Broadway will be the first to open in April with 64 serviced apartments, converted from a former warehouse.
It has a traditional 24-hour reception and restaurants but that’s about where the similarities with traditional hotels end.
Guests are offered complimentary “explorer bicycles” to discover the local village, and complimentary drinks and snacks from local shops and restaurants. Staff masquerade as local area guides.
Even the name Veriu is derived from the Latin word “verus”, which means true and genuine.
“[Sydney lord mayor] Clover Moore would be very proud of us for putting hotels in villages,” Mr Thorpe said.
“Beyond this, we want our guests to move freely through our properties so we have developed ‘Veriu Connect’. This allows any Veriu guest to drop into one of our other locations, flash a room card … and ask the concierge about the best places to explore,” Mr Williams said.
Before Veriu, the pair spent 15 years operating “backpacker” and “student accommodation” businesses in Sydney but have stayed under the radar of the big players like Urbanest and Iglu.
In 2002, after seeing the shortage of affordable accommodation for students and working holiday makers in Sydney, they furnished two rooms in a rental apartment and sub-leased it to students.
Now they have 500 furnished rooms in areas like Darlinghurst, Pyrmont and Newtown, run on lease-and-operate models.
The pair prefer to keep their balance sheet light and will stay away from development, but say they will consider joint ownership of properties, as they have with their 142-room Green Square hotel due to open in 2018. They are developing the $22.5 million hotel as a joint venture with ASX-listed property funds manager Folkstone Group.
“We are not competing with global hotel operators. What we are cutting out is our own niche … connecting guests to local areas in hotel sizes the big players might not actually touch,” Mr Thorpe said.
Veriu would also compete on price.
A room at the boutique Old Clare Hotel in Sydney’s Chippendale might be $500, but at Veriu it would be about $380 for a similar room without all the “historic bells and whistles”, Mr Thorpe said.
The two said they would expand their 20 to 120-room concept nationally once Sydney was established.