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CALLING FOR INDIVIDUALITY

With a bright future ahead for the UAE hospitality sector, the local hotel design industry is growing. As the market saturates and customers become more sophisticated, hotel owners are forced to come up with innovative and unique ways to appeal to and satisfy their target market. Cityscape magazine spoke to local hospitality design experts to find out how global trends are shaping the local industry and what they consider as key requirements in order to be able to stay on top of the game. For Rebecca Gernon, Managing Partner of Dubai-based design consultancy firm Serendipity, successful hotel design must be brave rather than safe and always inspire.

“It must combine drama with comfortand practicality with art. Good hotel design must strike a Zen balance between
creativity and common sense. For me, successful hotel design is a design which identifies with the end user of the particular hotel. A good design will enable the operator to attract and enthrall their ideal client, while a bad design will ignore the end user and propose a design for design’s sake.” Gernon adds that too often designers use hospitality design as platform to exhibit their own ideas irrespective of the targeted end user. “Good hotel designing every star group must evoke an emotional response from the guests - it must imbibe an aspirational lifestyle for its target
audience,” she says.

For Tony Allen, Director of Design Development at Ròya International, the MENA region’s oldest and largest hospitality consultancy firm, in order for hotel design to be considered successful, the commercial side is just as important. “Critical success is all very well, but commercial success is important, not just for the developer/investor, but for all the parties with interests in a hospitality development,” he says. “Meeting client expectations, adjusting to market requirements, flexibility in terms of target market are all critical to successful hotel design. Generally, a successful hotel design would meet all parameters set by developers, owners, operators, and target market without being a rigidly niche offering,” Allen explains.

GLOBAL TRENDS
As every design industry, hotel design is shaped by evolving trends which vary from region to region. On a global level however, the concept of individuality has come more and more into focus, thinks Allen from Ròya International. “[Today we see] more individuality, more sense of place, more sensitivity tolocation and guests’ expectations of a location as opposed to the ‘cookie-cutter’ type hotel rooms we saw from themajor players a decade or so ago, which would look the same from Beirut to Berlin,” Allen says.

With regards to the MENA region in particular, Gernon from Serendipity adds that rising competition has clearly played its part in shaping the development of the local hotel design industry. “Competition is fierce particularly in this region and operators have had to re-evaluate their brands and identify their ‘point of difference.’ Most international branded hotels have completely redefined who they are, what they stand for and who their target audience is. With the upsurge of boutique hotels across all star ratings from 3 to 5 star, many hospitality chains have realized that their guests are becoming more aware of design, expect a higher level of service and are seeking an experience rather than a commercialized product. Guests increasingly want to feel recognized and want to be part of a unique experience. Operators know that good design is the seed from which this new ethos will grow and allow their brand to stand out from the crowd,” she comments.

LOCAL TOUCH
Major global luxury hotel chains all carry a certain band identity, however when it comes to individual projects, owners commonly believe that it is important for the hotel design and architecture to reflect the location and local identity. Whether or not this is achieved successfully, depends on the finesse with which the local culture is incorporated, thinks Gernon.“I believe that a local touch is important in a design in so much as a guest needs to feel part of the surrounding culture…the trick to adding a local touch within hospitality design is to always remember that you are looking for an emotional response to the design so hanging pictures of camels and sand dunes on the guest room wall in Dubai will not help,” she says. Allen agrees saying that while it is important for certain hotel architecture to incorporate local identity, the challenge lies in avoiding a replication of themes. “Modern interpretations of local architecture can be repetitive across the hospitality industry in a city, hence brand identity elements may be something to be considered,” he says.

THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
The rapid advancement of technology is impacting virtually every industry today. According to Gernon, new technologies have redefined hospitality design and operations in such that the design needs to accommodate and reflect the new trends and lifestyles that technology allows guests to lead. She mentions more accessible power points in guest rooms, more high-tech and flexible meeting spaces and business hub areas/ media centres in addition to more flexible lobby spaces which are not only conducive to relaxation but also doubling up as Wi-Fi workspaces.

For Allen, the increased emphasis on the person evident in the overall hotel design plays right through to technology.  “I believe the trend is stepping away from conspicuous technology and is gearing towards a much more personal tech (personal phone/portable devices) as opposed to the plethora of visible tech and gadgets in the room which were all
the rage a few years ago. The expectation now is that the technology is freely available, fast, accessible, and it works, just like at the office, at home, even on the plane,” Allen says.

DIVERSIFYING THE INDUSTRY
Dubai is world-renowned for its collection of luxury hotels. However, recently the market has been experiencing a shift towards the development of mid-market hotels that cater to a wider audience at lower price points – a move essential in providing accommodation to those expected to visit Dubai in 2020, experts say. For hotel design this of course also means new concepts are required. “Dubai has long been seen as the capital of ‘bigger is better’ however emerging trends within Dubai’s hospitality offerings are different. Hotels […] understand that not all travelers are made equal, and that the ethos of ‘one size fits all’ is no longer profitable. All new hospitality designs currently on the drawing boards have their own identity and operators realize that it’s this ‘point of difference’ that will help them achieve success. Uniqueness and character are here to stay for the foreseeable future which I personally applaud as diversity in design is always exciting for designers and guests alike,” Gernon says on a final note.

A version of this article appeared in Cityscape magazine - October 2015 issue. http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/f4a0b4ef#/f4a0b4ef/1