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Airport Offices, Conference and Meeting Places – what to expect


Fraport's the Squaire mixed-use development

With the advent of the aerotropolis many business people are expressing an interest in office and conference accommodation at airports. Terms bandied about include serviced offices, turnkey premises and virtual office. But how close to the airport can you get?

As it turns out pretty close, but often with no cigar. When searching across the globe for serviced office accommodation at airports the directories, internet or otherwise are all smoke and mirrors. A cursory scan of office space at airports on Google or Yahoo gives you blatant statements like “Serviced Office at Heathrow” or “Turnkey facilities at O R Tambo.” With further investigation you discover that there is a helpful little map with direction on how to get to the said facilities from the airport – not in the airport!

images (1)So don’t be deceived you may not be able to pick up your luggage and push it to your office at the airport. What you can do is take a short taxi or shuttle ride to one of numerous facilities offered close to airports. Of course this isn’t new by any means but the prevalence of ‘designer’ type offices specialising in accommodating ‘on-the-hop’ business people who want to slip in and out to have a meeting with clients in meeting facilities or a conference room, is on the increase.

Having said that there are many airports that do offer virtual offices in the actual airport. Schiphol Airport, Europe’s 4th busiest, is located in Amsterdam. For $130 a month you can have the key to a very basic but functioning office with electricity, shared ablutions, Wi-Fi and a desk.  These seem to be typical.

download (1)So why are serviced office facilities necessary? Minimal capital outlay: In the serviced office, you have the choice of bringing your own furniture and office equipment or renting these items from your landlord. According to serviced office providers, the cost of using a serviced office, with or without conference facilities, is approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of setting up and staffing a comparable conventional office. In a Virtual office you bring nothing at all, just your key and WiFi is mandatory.

So what is a Turnkey or Virtual operation? When you rent a serviced office, you don’t have to waste your time designing an office, installing electric and phone lines, recruiting staff, and taking care of all those other details. With a turnkey you make one call today and have a fully functioning office tomorrow.

The difference with these facilities at an aerotropolis is that your facilities are designed for ease of use from the airport and the airport is seen as the centre of the universe with all its tentacles slipping seamlessly out from it into the world around it. Again there is nothing new in this as hotels and conference facilities have been sidling up to airports for years. But the relationship has now become somewhat symbiotic.

Looking more at the conference facilities in particular most hotels either point you to facilities adjacent to or within close proximity to the airport. Like offices most advertised facilities for airport conference rooms are actually not at the airport itself, in fact the advertisements on the internet are particularly misleading in this regard.

imagesWhere there are conference facilities and meeting rooms at airports, the model, if there is one, is one of outsourcing. Looking at South Africa as an example: The O R Tambo International Airport has the Intercontinental Sun running upmarket and fully serviced conference and meeting facilities. Boasting seven boardrooms and two conference rooms, facilities cater for between 10 and 100 delegates and can accommodate up to 140 guests for cocktail functions in the private Savuti Restaurant.

Looking abroad, Munich Airport has the Kempinski Airport Hotel located at the centre of the airport beside the terminals. The Munich Airport Academy and training centre specialises in conference facilities and meeting places for business people right beside the airport.

The two above examples seem typical of many airports that seem to have handed over the conference model to the professionals

Airport Meeting Places is big business. There are organisations like Alliance Virtual offices. This international network offers both turnkey facilities and meeting rooms for across the globe. Many of these in airports. Typically these networks’ facilities offer:download

  • Wi-Fi Internet: Most locations will offer wireless internet access for free, or for a minimal charge.
  • They promise “Friendly welcome”: All venues are staffed by a professional team who will be ready and waiting to receive you and your guests. Many venues will also offer additional receptionist support such as administrative services.
  • Presentation facilities: Most meeting room venues will have presentation facilities on offer such as screens, projectors, wide-screen monitors and whiteboards.
  • Video conferencing: Many venues now have video or audio conferencing capabilities, perfect for long-distance meetings with remote teams or board members.

Airports and aerotropolis business culture is more than ever focused on the world of networking and connecting people using facilities that are both hospitable and convenient. The important thing is if you really want to meet at an airport make sure the facilities you require are actually at the airport.

Serviced and Virtual Offices Take Off in Kenya

Kenyan Offices

Kenyan Offices

Back in 2005 a UK expat, Alexander Andrewes, set up a business in Kenya dealing in interactive media services. Having scoured office space in the capital Nairobi for serviced offices he came up empty handed. That didn’t stop Andrewes who now heads up Eden Square Business Centre (ESBC) a business he started that is the leader in the field of serviced and virtual offices in Nairobi.

Back in the beginning Andrewes was looking for a firm that provided serviced offices, meeting rooms, virtual office packages and administrative support. He told HowWeMadeItInAfrica in an interview that what he wanted back in 2005 was the convenience of walking into an office that is fully serviced, complete with furniture, internet, telephone networks and other administrative services.

As an entrepreneur Andrewes quickly spotted the gap in the market and acquired financing to the tune of US$150 000 with which he launched ESBC. In April 2006 he procured 14 offices at the Eden Square building the Nairobi Westlands and was open for business. All the client needs is his/her own computer when moving in, everything else is taken care of right down to the teaspoons.

On the Virtual Office side of the business, companies that are not in a position to handle huge overheads can acquire offices too. These clients are set up with a fully functioning office, though only at agreed time slots.

Both types of clients are freed the burden of water, electricity, security and other administrative aspects of running a business. This frees them up to focus more on the main core of their business.  Andrewes told HowWeMadeItInAfrica that they had seen small entrepreneurs that started at ESBC with virtual offices, move on to serviced offices and eventually relocated to their own office premises.

But it was not all roses in the beginning. Andrewes explains that at the initial start-up property owners were reluctant to lease to him, selling the serviced office concept to locals was a heavy task. From humble beginnings ESBC now have 180 office units in five locations with plans for a further two locations.

The ESBC client portfolio has grown to over 200, comprising big corporates, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as small business start-ups. Some of ESBCs former and current clients include, Grey Marketing Limited, the Louis Berger Group ,General Motors, Rockefeller Foundation, Google, General Electric and Ericsson.

Now there are other players in the market who have cottoned on to the whole serviced and virtual office concept. But Andrewes seems unfazed by the competition. He reckons the market is big enough. In fact the growth in the industry has affirmed the necessity for it which is good for business as the office community is becoming conditioned to the need for such a market.

The grass doesn’t grow under Andrewes feet though. His plans for ESBC is to provide a service offering financial and strategy business advice to start-ups, NGOs and international firms opening branches in Kenya for the first time. He has his eyes on Uganda and Tanzania next. So watch this space.

Serviced Offices are Booming, Why?

Serviced offices are among the fastest growing sectors in global property today. The rate for growth over the past few years, despite the global economy, is impressive. With the growing market of serviced office space has come many questions. What type of business would make use of serviced offices and what practical reasons are there for changing to a serviced office environment?
A major difference between serviced offices and traditional offices, which is one of the main reasons for deciding to use them, is the length of the lease. A serviced office lease may be as short as 3 months, or more typically 6, 9 or 12 months. This is very different from the long lease normally associated with a traditional office and gives many organisations the much needed flexibility to shrink or expand as their business dictates.

But, some may say, more importantly, serviced Offices are a total solution in the sense that they are fully fitted and furnished, ready for immediate occupation. The Serviced Office Operator should take responsibility for all of the services to the building, and in addition provide a range of business services including reception and telephone answering services, secretarial support, conference and meeting facilities, video conferencing, networking and high speed internet access.

officeAlthough costs may seem high at first glance, the rent that you pay includes almost all of the costs that you would normally expect to pay on top of rent in a regular office. There are no additional costs for business rates, air conditioning, lighting & power, security, cleaning, building & plant maintenance, lifts, insurance etc. The only additional costs, on top of rent, are for telephone/internet usage, extra rooms if you use them, charged by the hour.

Similarly there are no charges for furniture. Operators often compete offering the latest workstations with chairs, filing systems and tables for meeting rooms. This is usually a weighty cost for any occupier and is included in the serviced office rent.

One may well enquire as to what type of company is using serviced offices. Many new, but not necessarily small, businesses cannot accurately predict their headcount figures over a two or three year time span. These companies take flexible leases in serviced office buildings where they will be able to take additional space when it is needed. A traditional office may feature in the next stage of their property strategy, but for the time being they don’t want large overheads with high set up costs. Flexibility is one of the key drivers that persuade an organisation to use serviced offices.

Of course there are also many firms that have chosen to reduce their exposure to property. Real estate often consumesBoardroom capital and time that could be better invested in a company’s core business. Serviced offices virtually eliminate real estate capital expenditure and leave property management stresses to the property owners.

So it seems that there are some distinct advantages for many a firm to switch to serviced offices.

But one must consider a few niggles that come up with regard to serviced offices: Shared facilities may not be available when you need them. Also, it is difficult to exert personal and corporate style to the office space because serviced offices can be rather uniform than distinctive. Some office buildings come fully branded, meaning they have their own over-door and internal signage, making it obvious that companies are residing in a shared, rented business building or office park. Although some offices do come totally unbranded so that companies can give the impression of owning their own space.

Finally rental costs may be more expensive over the long-term for larger companies with >30 staff if you don’t need to make frequent office changes.