Hotel design: an analysis

Industry experts from the region tell Rima Alsammarae about the current state of the GCC’s hospitality market.

With worldwide events on the horizon such as Expo 2020 and FIFA 2022, the hospitality sector in the region is currently experiencing a boom, with a large amount of projects being given a green light.

Michaela McClelland, business and brand development director, Preciosa, says: “The growth has already started and it is visible with the vast amount of projects being currently launched and developed in concept phase.

Overall, we are experiencing a new five-year cycle, which will peak during the Expo 2020. Only time will tell how much has the region learned from the previous economic crisis and how much we can improve this time around.”

Of these projects, Christopher Broadbent, senior director, Design Work Portfolio, notes that many are ‘re-starts’, meaning that they were previously suspended or put on hold and have been reactivated. He also notes that the most booming countries in the region are located in the GCC region.

Broadbent says: “From Design Work Portfolio’s perspective, we find that the market is certainly picking up specifically here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While there are a few greenfield projects being developed in the market, we see that the majority of current hotel design work is in re-starts… Often this seems to be leading to a redesign given that an interior design that has been in mothballs for five or more years has become a little outdated.”

He continues: “Without an interior design update, this would likely become a major disadvantage to a property that is attempting to gain a new footing in the local and wider Gulf hospitality markets.”

According to Broadbent, while emirates such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are experiencing a massive boom, another market to not overlook is Saudi Arabia. Design Work Portfolio’s range of projects from the region point to the kingdom as a blossoming market.

Broadbent says: “Over the last two years, the percentage of KSA projects within our current portfolio has grown significantly and I think that all the established design houses are experiencing this.”

Broadbent also adds that with previously designed projects getting the ‘go-ahead’, revisiting the designs has become necessary as new trends that were not focused on in the past have become pivotal to successful building projects today, such as sustainability.

Sharib Rao, specification and product manager, Geberit, notes that sustainability is the topic of our time, noting that it is especially important in “Abu Dhabi and Qatar at present. Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf markets are not that concerned about sustainability still. But yes, gradually it will increase in coming years.”

McClelland agrees and further credited the hot-topic issue. According to her, the trend is only going to grow stronger and more forceful. Especially in the lighting industry, where “it is all about light sources and our research and development department, [which] is very much fixed on this topic in combination with new and innovate materials and lighting solutions.”

Another leading lighting design firm in the region, Vann-FID, who provides lighting requirements to hospitality projects notes that it has been busy with the launch of many new projects. And sustainability continues to play its hand.

Espino Soodbakhsh, managing director, Vann-FID explains: “Sustianability is a word that should be practiced more than being marketed and I believe it is the key to repeated business as in the case of correct implementation would bring added advantage to all the parties involved from the investors to the end-users.”

Sustainability isn’t the only trend right now that’s monopolising the design landscape in the region. Others such as Rao and Broadbent take note on the element of luxury still applied to designs in the GCC.

Rao furthers: “Designers are heading toward luxury and investing a lot for a design [that stands] apart. Of course price is still a challenge and there are many players in the market to choose from.”

However, while Rao says that luxurious and extravagant tastes remain largely preferred in the region, others such as Broadbent note that operators are beginning to opt for budget-hotels.

According to Broadbent, there has been an increase in the ratio of budget hotel developments in the region and they area also proving to be nearly as successful as the larger brand names.

He adds: “It was not so long ago that hotel developers generally only considered 5 star hotels due to potentially high revenues per unit. However, there appears to be a growing consideration of the fact that multiples of three or four-star properties are able to generate an equally strong revenue base with high profit percentages per unit.”

McClelland further notes that at the moment there is a standardisation of interior design for hotels in the UAE. According to her, there are certain rules that apply to the aesthtic elements that are being rigidly followed by designers in the region as well as by the operators, but there are also a few projects that are working to break against the common mould.

McClelland says: “The Middle East is a very competitive market, there is a very high concentration of companies competing for the same projects and not only from the region, but from around the world.

“We still see, on some projects, the lack of expertise and appreciation of good design and service over pure comparison based on price. This is not likely to disappear and that is why we focus strictly on projects where we can add value and our expertise.”

Soodbakhsh furthers McClelland’s sentiments, noting that one of the biggest challenges Vann-FID faces today in hotel design is the lack of a copyright system.

According to Soodbakhsh: “Frankly the challenges we face her are the lack of the copyright system and also the numerous numbers of people involved in the process of decision making when it comes to sourcing products, where in most of the other countries that we operate in, once the designer is convinced with a product in terms of functionality, look and budget, the rest of the parties will follow.”

At the moment, many companies who are currently active in the market are taking on a large amount of projects. For example, Geberit is currently working on the Hard Rock Hotel and the Opus Tower, while Vann-FID is delivering lighting solutions for the new Hayat Hotel in Dubai and the Emirates Lounges worldwide.

And as sustainability continues to gain momentum and aesthetics continue to meet new demands, designers from the various sectors within hospitality design are continuing to pave larger and wider paths for the community as a whole.

Soodbakhsh notes: “I believe the UAE is one of the countries where diversity and uniqueness are highly appreciated. Though our design community is following very high international design standards in terms of technical processes of design development, in terms of concept and aesthetic point of view, we rarely can find two projects that are similar.”