The extensive portfolio of international student accommodation options is growing ever more diverse, with new developments opening, private investment reaching to meet undersupplied markets particularly in Europe and marketing techniques, including the use of agents, diversifying.
Developments and demands
Several private accommodation providers have been opening new premises as a necessary measure in meeting demand and keeping pace with student expectations. As Asim Erturk, Sales and Marketing Director at Londonist DMC in the UK, states, “We recently bought over 100 additional rooms from Prodigy Student Living in London Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and some others. To be frank, we’re getting really good responses and I believe customers appreciate it more when the quality of the rooms increases.”
Asim adds, “We are currently experiencing quite a lot of enquiries from East Asian students. Studio-type and short-term requirements are on trend, and students are most likely to want to stay in Central London.”
Also in the UK, Britannia Student Services offers a broad range of accommodation options for international students. Michele da Silva, Managing Director, states, “We are finding that the most requested accommodation is halls of residence, followed by house and flat shares, indicating that many students are looking for a more independent lifestyle. Proximity or good transport links to Central London are very important to students, and, budget permitting, students prefer to have their own bathroom.”
Britannia added two new London halls to its portfolio in September this year. The Tufnell Park Hall of Residence “was recently refurbished to a very high standard and has an on-site gym, games room, lounge area, special study spaces and a barbecue area”, says Michele, while Britannia Sunlight Apartments in Bethnal Green offers six apartments each with four single-study bedrooms.
In terms of student markets for the UK, Asim explains, “We have recently started receiving bookings from Spain, Ukraine, Russia and China, and I’m personally going to visit agents in Eastern Asia and the Middle East, targeting agents in China, Korea, Japan and Qatar.” For Britannia, Michele says that China and the USA have been increasing markets during 2015. On the other hand the accommodation sector has not been immune to the currency issues affecting schools. “There has been a marked downturn in the number of Brazilian students, clearly due to the unfavourable exchange rate between the UK pound and the real, as well as the downturn in the Brazilian economy,” she says.
In the USA, ESL Townhouse offers accommodation for language and college students in the Boston area, and President Christopher Malefant says, “With the exception of Venezuela, our top markets have held roughly steady over the last year China, Brazil, Taiwan, Turkey and Germany.” However, the US market is also feeling the effects of a strong currency. “Though we continue to have strong demand in the peak months, with our numbers being roughly the same as last year, we are concerned about the strength of the dollar and the impact that may have in our upcoming slower winter season. As a result, we are offering a 2016 Winter Semester Special in order to encourage longer-term stays this winter,” he says.
Europe-based accommodation provider The Student Hotel has had an active and successful 12 months. After opening in The Hague, Netherlands, last year, the company has acquired the Melon District group with two locations in Barcelona, Spain, and one in Paris, France. Frank Uffen, Partnership Director at the company, says, “We are about to open the first phase of our second location in Amsterdam. The Student Hotel City will have 573 rooms, two restaurants, a bar, four classrooms and a 1,000+ capacity club.”
In terms of trends, Frank says, “We are witnessing very strong growth in demand from international students in the Dutch market. The brand has gained strength as we see more and more referrals and students moving from one location to another.” With The Netherland’s higher education sector actively pursuing an internationalisation strategy and uncertainty surrounding UK visas, Frank sees the trajectory continuing.
Comforts of Home recently opened in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, and also offers options in Italy and France. “With over 800 beds in Paris, we are the largest provider of shared student apartments there,” says Douglas Platt. “We deal largely with third-party providers and directly with universities. For these types of clients, shared apartments are an ideal solution. We tend to be located in the absolute middle of the historic centres, in residential areas with plenty of local shopping. It’s an ideal way for students to get to know the city they’re living in, as well as to build relationships with others.”
Launched just over a year ago by a former international student in The Netherlands, initially in order to address some of the issues that students face in sourcing suitable accommodation, nestpick a matching service for tenants and owners has now spread to 28 cites across Europe, not to mention its first foray outside the continent in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
Gabriel Escalona explains the offer has grown increasingly wider, as more young professionals and PhD students have rented longer-term accommodation. “Over 40 per cent of our tenants come from Central or Eastern Europe, 20 per cent from Asian countries like China, Vietnam, Pakistan and others. The remaining group is pretty diverse.”
As nestpick’s inspiration would indicate, the student accommodation market is not without its challenges, with certain measures restricting growth. “Several European governments have legislated in order to regulate several sectors of the real estate market,” says Gabriel, giving examples including the Mietpreisbremse in Germany, which caps rent increases of no more than 10 per cent of the local average and France’s ‘Alur Law’ designed to limit price volatility and standardise contracts. “At nestpick, we think that the real estate market most definitely requires revamping and innovation. Collaboration across governments, the tech community and the general public is necessary to achieve market fairness.”
Douglas adds there are several issues yet to be faced. “In particular, housing shortages and perceived excesses of tourist infiltration has led to increased restrictions in cities like Paris, Madrid and Barcelona.” In the UK, Michele at Britannia says Home Office regulations and restrictions on student visas are having a “continuing negative impact” on student numbers from countries around the world needing a visa. Conversely, Australia appears to be suffering from the opposite problem: a record number of international students applying to educational institutions has put pressure on an already short-supplied accommodation sector, according to real estate research company JLL, which says the bed supply in Sydney and Melbourne equates to only 10 per cent of the full-time student population, compared with 27 per cent in London. firstname.lastname@example.org
Recruitment and agents
In recruiting international students, accommodation providers are using a range of techniques, including study travel agents.
Britannia Student Services is a long-time advocate of agent usage, and also recruits through partner schools, universities and, increasingly, directly through its website. Michele da Silva explains, “We recruit agents at fairs and workshops in the UK and overseas and send them regular email updates about the accommodation we offer. Many agents like to work with us directly because we offer an unmatched range of accommodation choices. We are unique in that we specialise in halls of residence all year round, in addition to offering a wide range of homestays and house/flat shares.”
Asim Erturk says, “Londonist DMC is currently working with over 70 different agents in two different continents. The majority of our bookings come from the agent.” He adds, “We do try every marketing approach and so far agent visits are the best way of keeping business going.” Christopher Malefant advises that ESL Townhouse markets to agents both through its partner schools in the Boston area and directly through its website and advertising. “We are always happy to answer any questions and to show ESL Townhouse to any agents visiting Boston.”
While the agency-based model is more clearly defined in the wider study travel industries of the USA and the UK, agents are also moving onto the radar of European providers. Douglas Platt at Comforts of Home states recruitment is mainly conducted through fairs and provider partnerships, but adds, “We don’t have many agent relationships yet, and we’re eager to see how they fit into our model.” At nestpick, Gabriel Escalona says, “Universities, private institutions and student organisations are the key partners for us. Institutions such as the Erasmus University in Rotterdam trust nestpick to safely find accommodation. We take this opportunity extremely seriously to ensure we provide an outstanding service.”
Frank Uffen explains The Student Hotel has a range of booking channels and has invested in mobile and booking engine platforms to provide faster availability. “We are working with a growing number of B2B partners, in particular the universities and education intermediaries. They pre-reserve rooms for special student groups that require flexible and high-service arrangements.” He continues, “Some of our education partners have agent networks that we occasionally host. This is always an exciting moment as you can tell how important it is for agents to understand the accommodation their students are going to stay in. We are often told they spend more time at The Student Hotel than at the university.”