The urban stretch along Canton Road between the Star Ferry pier to the back of Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui is, now, one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable and renowned districts, rivalling Central for its dining, retail and increasingly business. At the heart of the Canton renaissance is the Harbour City complex that houses a cruise terminal, luxury shopping, food and beverage outlets, hotels and offices. Harbour City has become a premier destination for both new and native Hongkongers seeking five-star serviced apartment living.
Opened in 1999, the 499-unit Gateway Apartments, in Sutton Court and Hampton Court towers perched atop Harbour City, is one of the city’s most desirable locations. Gateway Apartments’ German-born general manager Ronald Loges has been on the job a little over two years, and his tenure has seen the venerable Residence undertake a massive renovation and refurbishment. Unveiled in early 2016 and executed by Wharf Group’s in-house design crew, the new interiors add a modern option for the Residence’s next chapter.
“We focused on the smaller units first — the studios and one-bedroom units — then moved to the two- and three-bedrooms. We’ve done about 70 percent of the apartments, which now have the new contemporary look versus the more classic style that appeals to our more mature clientele,” begins Loges. Mostly gone are the heavy curtains, heavy fabrics and carpeting that defined the original interiors, and in are the hardwood floors, adaptable neutrals and clean Italian-style lines. Loges admits, however, “A lot of Residents have been here for 10 years or so, and many of them like the more classical designs. We do have to keep an element of that.” Gateway Apartments has a strong track record for long-term residency despite how the business and property environments in Hong Kong have shifted in the past years. “The traditional family numbers are going down. Localisation is having its impact; Asians are very educated and businesses don’t need to bring Americans and Europeans in. The Mainland market is very small for us right now, but it’s not going to remain that way. We will expand our focus there as well, and this kind of layout and design will appeal to a broader market.”
Contrary to other aspects of the property market, the serviced apartment sector has remained fairly resilient to cycles, but Loges appreciates the ebbs and flows that can have an impact on Gateway Apartments’ average 85 percent occupancy. “The serviced apartment sector is still relatively insulated from the general property market. We don’t feel the fluctuations as radically as others do. The vast majority of our Residents are from MNCs and unless they are exiting the market they keep a presence in Hong Kong,” he theorises. “Reduced housing allowances are an issue but we attract senior management. Companies are implementing hiring freezes, but overall we’re pretty protected because of our services and flexible leases.”
But as hotels recalibrate their services for the coming years (to appeal to millennials and tech demands) and experiment with long stay options, and prices in the traditional leasing sector come down, Gateway Apartments and its ilk will have their work cut out for them. Loges isn’t too worried. “We have three hotels that belong to the same group, combined for 1,000 rooms,” he notes with a laugh. “We operate Gateway Apartments very traditionally and we’re not dabbling in the daily stays. Yes, there’s a lot of convergence with hotels, but I think it’s the other way around. I think hotels are more threatened by serviced apartments playing in the short stay market.” Similarly, he doesn’t compare Gateway Apartments to private residential, seeing it as another beast altogether, and “Within the serviced apartment sector our prices are similar, but our units are 25 or 30 percent bigger than our competition.” Studio apartments at Gateway Apartments begin at roughly 700 square feet and $50,000, with the largest units clocking in at nearly 3,000 square feet and $179,000. “So you get more bang for your buck as they say.”
In addition to a new look that Loges feels has wider appeal, particularly for younger tenants, Gateway Apartments has maintained its sustainable and green policies, and in some cases expanded them. “The environmental issue has always been very close to our hearts here, it’s one of the KPIs of Gateway Apartments and has been for the last couple of years.” In addition to making the apartments more efficient, boosting Internet speed, adding state-of-the-art tech and incorporating cutting edge housekeeping and engineering, green living features remain key. Gateway Apartments has consistently been awarded environment prizes and the 2,100 square feet of solar panels on its roof are dedicated to heating its water. “That equates to something like seven tonnes of CO2 each year,” says Loges. Residents are given shopping bags, cleaning products, disposable towels and tissues are all biodegradable and/or recyclable, and the building has comprehensive recycling and composting programmes in full force.
Ultimately, Loges argues it is Gateway Apartments location, security and services that compel tenants to renew leases and lure new ones. “We have the more attractive location than Central. In terms of transport everything is right there, and TST is the luxury shopping precinct. I think we have the work-life balance too, and the exclusive Pacific Club is 140,000 square feet of facilities.” The private clubhouse, on its own pier, is one of Hong Kong’s largest, and it too got a face-lift this year, along with a new restaurant. “We have a couple of residents that have been here since we opened in 1999. The Club is a deciding factor. It’s a social environment.” The 700 shops and 40 restaurants in Harbour City complement the Club, as does the vibrant street life of TST outside the front door.
So what does the future hold for Gateway Apartments? “Obviously we can’t cut down on services,” which Loges is proud to say relates to tenants as Mr Tam or Mrs Johnson, rather than “Room 2518”. Personalised attention and room attendants help with that. “It will be about being more efficient, seeing where we can apply technology to control labour costs — which is always the highest expense. We have to look at the other dangers out there. A strong Hong Kong dollar is a little bit of an issue, and there’s also a real danger in relying too heavily on the Japanese market. We have to stay flexible.”