Hotels and hospitality: Designing for the mid-range market

While huge projects, such as a hotel with an artificial rainforest, grab the market’s attention there is a growing emphasis in Dubai on smaller scale designs.

Architects say the coming of Expo 2020 to the city has meant an increased demand for accommodation not always associated with its reputation for luxury.

Three or four-star hotels are becoming a feature across the hospitality market as it seeks to take on board an influx of visitors who will not want to splash out on luxury living – but instead, are drawn to the region for leisure and retail.

“As the Dubai Expo 2020 approaches, I feel there will be a much greater demand for hotels which can accommodate travellers on a budget. The event is aimed at people who want to experience the world and all the cultures which are on offer,” explained Daousser Chennoufi, architect and CEO of Drawlink Group, which did both the exterior design and the interiors of the seven storey Ibis Styles Hotel in Dubai.

He said: “During the last 10 years a lot of concepts regarding five-star luxury hotels have been explored, but I feel the trend now is towards three and four stars. Visitors to the Expo 2020– they may be students for example – will not have the funds to stay at top range hotels so they need to be provided for. Also, Dubai hosts a large number of business events and lower cost accommodation would encourage companies to send several delegates, rather than just one or two.”

Ibis Styles Hotel in Dubai designed by Drawlink.

And as every square meter built adds to the construction cost, developers and owners are increasingly asking design teams to maximise usable space. But designers are also looking to create attractive interiors at a lower cost by using such things as natural light, corridor pockets with seating areas or which change direction, to create a different feel from a purely linear alignment. While the most cost-effective room is square in shape lighting and colour schemes as well as surfaces and materials used can impact the perception of space as much if not more than the actual room dimension.

Salim Hussain of Atkins feels the efficient design of a hotel building happens at scales from large structure, services, to small, standard room layouts, furnishings.

He said: “Spatially the Hotel can be broken down into the key areas of  front of house (FoH), back of house (BoH) and parking. The efficient layout of these areas allows the maximum number of rooms to be developed while ensuring a positive guest experience that draws people to the Hotel time and time again.

“The FoH areas provide the first point of contact with the guest’s arrival on site. The guest experience starts at the valet drop off and continues throughout the hotel including check-in, movement to and experience of guest rooms, dining and other facilities such as pool, gym and speciality restaurants. These are all prime areas of the hotel and need to be laid out to maximise return. Thus efficient layouts and routes between these areas are critical.”

Vital to deliver this positive experience is the design of the BoH areas, which house all delivery, preparation, administrative, plant and maintenance and welfare areas for the hotel.

Hussain said: “These are generally more technical spaces and adjacencies between these functions are vital to ensure the smooth and efficient operation of the hotel. While parking is an area few guests will see, it can take up a big area and needs to be considered carefully. As well as an efficient layout for parking spaces, the proximity from the Hotel Entrance needs to be considered to minimise waiting times for guests.“

Personalising the design is also an important way of maximising the experience for guests. Chenouffi said: “I wanted to create the idea that guests were walking through a photographic gallery. I sourced the prints from all across the city, and they show various stages of Dubai’s development and the emergence of its high-rise skyline.”

Islam Mashtooly of Perkins + Will feels that age plays a part in this market change. He said: “Young people want something cool and affordable. I think the Rove hotels are a model for the future. Rove is an up and coming brand, but others will soon be following their example.”

Architect Andre Meyerhans agrees that a greater demand exists for lower cost accommodation and also feels there is a place in the market for distinctive design – even when budgetary considerations are at a premium.

Meyerhans says: “The tendency towards the budget hotel has been noticed for some years back. Some of the larger developers have created their own low(er) cost hotel chain and international operators have found their way into the Middle Eastern market. I would say that this trend is continuing.”

While design in Dubai has been quite generic across the whole hospitality sector, many architects feel that the influx of diverse projects could make for more innovation.

“In the past, I can see the reasoning that people may feel designs are formulaic,” said Meyerhans. “But many of the upcoming hotels are innovative and do their best to demonstrate personality and uniqueness – which is surely also due to the fierce competition in Dubai.”

He believes that the generic design is because of several factors. He says: “Europe had a lot of existing buildings that have been renovated and converted into hotels. The advantage in such a case is that these structures have an individual layout that is often not optimal in regards to the new use. With specifically designed hotels that are not going to happen as a formula will have been adhered to.”