Flexible living takes center stage at the Urban Living Festival

UK: More than 240 urban innovators and investors at the forefront of hospitality and real estate globally took part in the Urban Living Festival this week [ULF] at East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf in London, where flexible living was one of the hot topics on the agenda.

This was the second edition of the two-day Urban Living Festival, after it was first held in October at London’s Tobacco Dock.

With changing demographics and the social and economic drivers fueling investor decisions across the cityscape, the convergence of hospitality and real estate continues to accelerate.

Business leaders from all of the following asset classes and verticals gathered at the Urban Living Festival: hotels and serviced apartments; aparthotels/extended stay hotels; inns; short term rentals; coliving; build to rent [BTR] and student housing; retirement home; the future of the office; coworking; sustainable buildings; and proptech.

In addition to engaging content, the ULF provided exhibit space, plenty of networking opportunities, all in a festival atmosphere, with food stations and a DJ.

From a contextual perspective, one of the highlights of day two was a session exploring “How flexible living is shaping the future of urban accommodation”. The session was moderated by Fred Lerche-Lerchenborg, CEO, Lavanda [a flexible PMS for flexible living], and panelists included Amanda Cupples, GM UK and Northern Europe, Airbnb; Brian Soss, senior vice president, asset management, Starwood Capital Group; Will Rowson, Senior Advisor, Node; and Pedro Sousa, vice president of portfolio management, Brookfield.

Lerche-Lerchenborg began by asking the panel what their definition of flexible living was, to which Cupples replied that his own company [Airbnb] was founded on this specific context – providing choice, control and enabling clients to achieve the highest possible quality of life

With more than 600,000 apartments listed on Airbnb in the United States, Soss and Rowson agreed that regardless of asset class, customers and tenants want flexibility in who they occupy and how they book. , as well as a consistent appearance throughout the building and amenities.

As we emerge from the pandemic, Cupples described how the average length of stay has increased so much that some people are staying in Airbnb listings for up to six months. [or a record stay of two years] and 20% of stays on the platform now last longer than 28 days, which marks a significant change.

This in turn aligns with Airbnb’s recently launched Live and Work Anywhere initiative, which sees the company partner with 20 destinations around the world to make remote working easier and more accessible. Airbnb is increasingly looking to address the long-term stay segment in its services, announcing more than 150 improvements to help long-term guests find the best property for them.

As Rowson alluded to the evolution of coliving over the past five years, Soss explained how the asset class could be increasingly attractive to those looking for short-term stays and how there are plenty of possibilities for a leader to emerge in the space, especially in major American cities.

Similarly, Cupples cited the model of long-term tenants who sublet their apartments short-term as an “interesting” concept that allows both landlords and tenants to reap the benefits of renting. [see Orion Haus]. She added that this poses “opportunities, not challenges” for everyone in the ecosystem.

Another important issue that emerged from the conversation was that of affordability for tenants.

Both Soss and Rowson suggested that flexible living solutions are struggling to gain acceptance in destinations around the world, whether they are seen as taking inventory of the longer-term residential market or that planning restrictions and zoning pose problems. The consensus was that cities that allowed people to live and work flexibly would be more attractive to flex tenants and that the accommodation product itself should be as flexible as possible without becoming a hotel.

Meanwhile, Brookfield’s Sousa said the purpose of student housing is to create a community that helps people share and do things together, as well as set up young professionals for their careers. Although it can be a rewarding project, it is only possible if you respect affordability.

Rowson made a relevant link between affordability and ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] implying that any new coworking building must not only be environmentally sustainable, but must also create a “work-ready” community. Such is the problem of loneliness felt by digital nomads and young professionals in big cities, projects like these can fulfill both the E and S of the ESG, creating a more sustainable project for the future. .

Cupples also shared how Airbnb contributes to a flexible and environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

Last year, the home-sharing company partnered with a number of events, including the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and the COP26 conference in Glasgow, to provide accommodation solutions in buildings existing or with current hosts on the platform. However, any solutions that underpin environmentally sustainable strategies must enhance local communities rather than disrupt them – the aim is for flex stay guests to connect with their communities rather than simply retreat and retreat altogether.

All presentations given at the event will soon be available on the Urban Living Festival website. View the full 2021 presentations at this link.

The day before, delegates toured a range of properties around Canary Wharf, ranging from Vertus Living, a build-to-let development; Cove – Landmark Pinnacle, an apartment hotel; and Level39, a coworking business center at 1 Canada Square that houses 1,250 tech leaders in fintech, cyber, green tech, sustainability and more.

This was followed by a workshop held at Level39 on ‘How to convert an existing asset to become operationally net zero carbon’ and a sparkling aperitif at the iconic Crossrail Place Roof Garden, also in Canary Wharf.

Urban Living Festival is the only leadership and investment event for urban innovators and investors at the forefront of contemporary hospitality, real estate and living.

Sponsors and partners included: Lavanda; Stylish interior design [both headline sponsors]; YES ; CoStays; IMS; Host and stay; Home and Garden [partners]; Flying Butler Apartments; Mura Living, Noli Studios; The House; UMEUS; Wyndham Hotels and Resorts [festival partners]; BENIHANA [restaurant partner]; ATTIC [furniture partner]; Global STR [coffee sponsor]; T5 Strategies [supporting partner]; and Virtues [drink reception sponsor Day One].

About John McTaggart

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