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Exclusive: A decade of growth & building a legacy

AccomNews sat down with James Shields, General Manager of Growth & Capital Strategy at The Ascott Limited, Australia (Ascott Australia)

With 20 years of experience in global corporate finance, James holds a key role in shaping the group’s capital and integration strategy and is instrumental in driving transformative development initiatives.

James’s journey into the accommodation industry is rooted in a conversation with a former colleague who was working at Quest Apartment Hotels, a key brand within the Ascott Australia portfolio.

This article was originally published in our latest AccomNews print issue, available now. Read it HERE.

“I was intrigued by the business. It was in an interesting sector, and it had a great growth story,” he said.

A decade later, James reflected that “it’s all about the people”, the hospitable and diverse tapestry of characters and personalities he has met in the industry.

The accomplishments of Quest Apartment Hotels, James believes, is thanks to the dedicated team effort that has delivered more than 60 apartment hotels and supported franchisees through challenging periods. “Professionally the most rewarding time was us bunkering down as a leadership team and getting behind the franchisee network and working with them to successfully endure COVID through to the best possible position when we emerged,” he said.

Quest Burwood East

“It was a collective effort, which included managing a rental bill of $300 million, and resulted in a resurgence in demand and the delivery of new projects, such as the recently completed 252-room Citadines property in North Sydney.”

The resilience of Quest Apartment Hotels he attributes to the focus on serviced apartments tailored to longer stays, reducing reliance on the inbound international market. The strong franchise system means franchisees feel supported and are heavily invested in the Group’s success.

Now, Ascott Australia is successfully implementing its expansion strategy. “Quest’s focus is on regional, sub-regional, suburban, and inner suburban locations. This plan is complemented by Ascott’s brands, such as Citadines, Ascott residences, Oakwood in inner CBD locations, Citadines Connect in major transportation hubs, and the lyf co-living products.

He said: “The goal is to grow Quest’s presence in its target locations and increase the Ascott Australia managed estate brands’ presence in Australia from nine apartment hotels to 30 by 2030.

“The synergy between Quest locations and our other brands’ CBD focus has filled a void and creates natural complementarity.”

During James’s tenure, he has seen the company change and develop. The most significant transformation over the past ten years, James said, has been the adoption of an ethos that is genuinely embraced by all.

“The values of alignment, understanding, ongoing relationships and personal best are underpinned by mutual respect. This has translated into improved staff retention and recognition as one of the best places to work. The culture encourages individuals to be themselves and excel, it’s a testament to the leadership team’s vision and commitment to creating opportunities for everyone.

“Attracting and retaining the right people, and then providing them with the support they need to thrive is important.

“Investing in learning and development and offering global opportunities are key retention strategies. Ascott’s recognition of talent and empowerment of its employees has played a crucial role.”

Quest Geelong

Looking ahead, James is excited about fully capitalising on the company’s growth pipeline. He envisions opportunities for consolidation in the market, including potential amalgamations with other operators.

“There is also a big untapped market to cater to guests with accessible needs. I am passionate about this, and we are committed to creating even more accessible accommodation as a team,” he said.

“As work-from-home trends challenge commercial real estate, accommodation properties are in a prime position for growth. Despite construction challenges and rising costs, higher room rates and increased occupancy levels make this sector a very strong contender for expansion.”

Optimistic about the future of Quest Apartment Hotels, the entire Ascott Australia portfolio, and the broader accommodation sector, James is convinced that now is its time to shine.

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