Talking about the challenges of working on the new breed of hotels, T’Kint says that the pace is different with mid-tier properties and there are peaks and troughs. “A typical situation is when one project is paused for some reason, we can’t have people just sitting around and doing nothing,” he says. “So the team moves on to the next, and as soon as they finished half of the latter project, decisions would have been made on the former and it gets restarted. Such is the nature of this business.”
While the scale of the projects have diminished, the volume has gone up, albeit in a condensed time. While the group saw none of their completed projects open in 2017, in the first half of this year alone, it has seen five projects being opened to the public. It includes Aloft City Centre hotel in Deira, and Zabeel House and Zabeel House Mini — the latter two in the Al Seef area are operated by the Jumeirah Group.
More properties designed by the firm are expected to launch in the second half of the year. “It’s mostly because we can’t control what is happening on the projects we have designed, once they go into construction stage,” says T’Kint.
According to the designer, curtailed budgets and timelines are not among the biggest challenges. “We’ve learnt to embrace reduced budgets and tight deadlines, and work as creatively as we can within the given resources or constraints.”
But how, if at all, has it brought about a change in the operators’ mindset? “The mid-tier hotel push started around five to six years ago, when people decided to focus more on this segment than luxury properties,” says T’Kint, adding that mid-tier has somehow become synonymous with lifestyle.
No matter what type of hotel it is, the design is influenced by both the developers’ as well as the guests’ point of view, regardless of how different their perspectives are. While the developers want a profitable property, guests do not want cookie-cutter hotels. “Just having a brand means nothing until it can reflect a strong identity, which connects with its audience,” he says.
However, despite the evolving and maturing market, the region still isn’t awash with independent, homegrown boutique hotels. Most successful smaller properties are sub-brands of global hotel chains. T’Kint attributes it to the fact that running a business in the GCC is still not as straightforward as elsewhere. He believes that four years ago, many of the big property developers in the UAE wanted to start their own hospitality brand. They envisaged better control if they owned the brand, as well as more financial profitability as they wouldn’t have to pay the operator.