Design trends in the hospitality industry

Hotelier takes an in-depth look at design trends in the hospitality industry. From Arabic influences to celebrity architects, the approach to design has had to be a lot more intuitive to keep up with consumer demands and tech trends in recent times

GAJ was the interior design consultant for the Fairmont Ajman in the UAE.
GAJ was the interior design consultant for the Fairmont Ajman in the UAE.

The Middle East and North Africa has a reported total of 694 hotels currently under construction, and according to TopHotelProjects, 88,817 rooms will be added to MENA’s inventory of keys.

In light of this, differentiating properties from one another is going to be key in attracting guests to book rooms, eat at in-house F&B facilities, and use the signature spas. An important factor to achieve this differentiation will be the hotel’s design. In the run-up to a busy hotel opening season over the next few months, interior design will play a crucial factor as owners and operators look for something that helps them stand out.

Daniel During, principal and managing director of Thomas Klein International, says innovation in design is important. During, who has lived in Dubai since the late nineties and has worked closely with the hospitality industry, tells Hotelier: “There is not much innovation in Dubai, when you talk about different building structures — there is a tendency to ‘copy and paste’.

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“Generally in Dubai you are faced with the situation where people come to you and say — ‘I have been to this restaurant in Shanghai or I saw this restaurant in London, can we franchise?’

“So that’s something we don’t do; we do not franchise, we develop our own concepts, home-grown.”

Simon Chambers, who is a partner in Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), further reveals what trends are set to change the hotel design landscape.

Chambers says there are three different revolutions taking place that will affect the way hotels are designed in the future: The concept revolution, space revolution and the operator revolution.

He states that the role of an operator is as important in the design phase as any other. “Operators and designers need to work together closely to create a genuinely original and innovative concept or brand. For some, simply developing an innovative theme, like the newly opened Book and Bed Hotel in Tokyo or The Margot House in Barcelona, is sufficient. However, for others, the brand revolution runs deeper, impacting on both brand standards and operations,” Chambers explains.

“We need to remember that the operator is in for the long haul. Immediately after handover, it is the operator who is responsible for maintaining the owner’s asset for anything from 10 to 20 years and so need to ensure that the building is designed and specified in such a way to allow the team to maintain it with relative ease,” he adds.

Hotel lighting design

Umaya: Lighting Consultancy design director Alex Shaw says that hoteliers tend to be quite knowledgeable about lighting. However, he adds: “What does happen occasionally is excessive value engineering, which ends up in poor lighting schemes that are not up to the brand standards. This is not something specific to the hospitality industry, but it is where bad decisions are more noticeable. That is why it’s extremely important to have workshops and do mock-ups during the design and specification process, so the client understands the reasons for going for a certain product.”

Shaw notes: “There is always room for savings, but it has to be done with criteria and always with the design intent and performance in mind.”

Chambers says that millennial travellers are dictating trends in the market now and as such, look for “value for money”. He states: “Large guest rooms are not as important as high speed internet or bathroom amenities. They just want functional uncluttered spaces.”

Another trend is localisation AccorHotels Middle East and North Africa managing director and COO Olivier Granet had previously spoken to Hotelier about the group’s efforts in localising a hotel’s design. He pointed to the Majlis Grand Mercure Residence Abu Dhabi as an example of an established brand adopting design inspiration from its locale to produce a completely different product, unlike the norm that brands generally confine themselves to.

During adds to the debate: “Take inspiration from your travels, for sure. But don’t copy paste. Do we have to do a Taj Mahal times four here? It is up to interior designers, project managers and architects to hold on to the least of their integrity.”

LXA Interiors director Sarah-Jane Grant is another designer who agrees with the idea of integrating a sense of local flavour into a hotel’s design. “At the moment, creating a hotel environment with a vernacular sense of place is a key design trend. Rove and Hyatt Central are two exponents of the trend, and are hotels that provide insights into local experiences. We are currently working with Hyatt Central on a hotel in the French Alps that will consider the local surroundings, culture and trends in the bespoke design.”

In architectural terms this design method is referred to as the “contextual approach”. However, the sheer number of hotel projects in the pipeline in the Middle East and North Africa means integrating local design cues (whether Arabian or North African) can reach a point of saturation.

So how can two hotel projects that are being constructed side by side, by a set of two completely different developers, architects, and designers, ensure that they look different?

Chambers says the key to not having two hotels look completely similar is understanding the historical elements of that particular city and the wider region.

“Responding to the local environment isn’t simply about fitting in with the building next door, or replicating traditional elements. Cities throughout the Middle East have a long and sustained past which strongly imprints a sense of identity on the culture and place. In order to maintain the character of a place and thus preserve its identity, it is critical to first understand the specific historical, social and physical conditions of that particular place. Only once these conditions are fully understood can a suitable architectural response be provided,” notes Chambers.

Another growing trend in the market is the introduction of celebrity architects and designers lending their expertise to projects in the Middle East.

The Four Seasons DIFC is one of Dubai’s newest hotels that was converted from the existing Gate Village building in to a hotel. New York-based designer Adam Tihany was responsible for the conversion.

Getting international designers to work on projects in the Middle East is definitely a growing trend as William Hitch, partner and senior project manager, Compass Project Management confirms. “We work with a number of renowned interior designers from London, New York, Madrid, as well as home-grown talent here in Dubai.

“As project managers we often scope the services and assess technical competencies, however creative assessment usually best involves our clients,” says Hitch, whose firm has worked with the likes of Karim Rashid, Harrison, Bishop Design and Conran & Partners amongst many others.

Hitch’s firm mainly works on F&B outlets — both standalone and within a hotel — and manages the product from concept to fit-out based on the area, size, locality, concept and budget of the owner and operator.

But, projects of these nature come with a diverse set of challenges, more so when the architect or designer is not based locally.

“‘Warehouse’-inspired fit-outs are doing well, with the concept now seen everywhere,” says Hitch.

During agrees and adds: “We first did cement-concrete finishes in 2002, for a restaurant called Elements in Wafi. People said — ‘what is that? forget it’. A few years later comes Tom & Serg and it’s trending and everybody loves it. Now you have the likes of Fümé and Coffee House — everybody is exacting the same trend. It just needs to be one concept that clicks — and everybody follows.”

“When we did Elements all those years ago, my inspiration came from Avida, which is a hair salon in London. That trend has now taken off in Dubai and everyone now looks the same. Whether it’s the vintage look, or the simple industrial look — there is very little creativity.

“But we need to see where the problem lies. Is it the owner or the architect? I think it is up to us interior designers to stand up and say ‘Sorry we don’t do that (copying designs)’,” During says.

An enduring trend, reveals Hitch, is that multiple F&B venues within a hotel with vastly different design concepts is still a frequent brief — with a majority of new five-star hotels across the UAE requiring at least one signature restaurant.

“But the additional three to four F&B outlets at each location poses a challenge in design,” Hitch says.

Hitch comments further on challenges faced: “Within the UAE we have a significant amount of issues with the processes involved in getting started on site following design completion, many of which are unnecessary and time consuming.

“Currently there are huge delays within relevant departments, which means getting a pre-opening inspection (date) confirmed can take weeks, which can significantly delay handing over projects.

“We counter delays by starting as early as possible on permissions — as soon as the ink is dry on a contract, we’ll start making noise on the client’s behalf.”

Architects and fit-out companies have also needed to take sustainable building practices into account. Strict government directives have also been issued to incorporate green building practices. In fact the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC), has a dedicated hospitality programme and hotel benchmarking system in place.

Nathan Cartright, a partner with Chambers in GAJ Architects, says: “Sustainability is a key consideration within hotel design and this is now being backed up with statutory minimum requirements from various government entities such as Estidama in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Green Building regulations. We’ve seen a significant shift with lifecycle cost analysis playing an important role now whereas previously the focus was very much on capital expenditure only.”

He adds: “Designing something to last the lifetime of a building is not always an option depending on the expected life of the equipment; however, it is important that systems are maintainable and replaceable to prevent significant downtime, loss of rooms or anything that is detrimental to the guest experience.”

“With the current rate of change related to AV/IT systems — for everything from hotel operating systems to guest connectivity within the hotel — it is critical that the correct infrastructure is in place to support these. However, as more systems shift to wireless technology, the hotel of the future will undoubtedly have less copper/fibre installed than what we are seeing today,” Cartwright adds.

Grant concludes: “Sustainability is a topic that has recently swept unto the scene in a commanding manner. People are beginning to realise the importance of thinking ahead for future generations.”

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