Hospitality design is being driven by the need to provide interactive and sustainable experiences

Hospitality design is being driven by the need to provide interactive and sustainable experiences

Airbnb, Drawlink Group, Dubai Sustainable City, Expo 2020, Hospitality design, IGuzzini, Isabel Pintado, Meraas, Preciosa Lighting, Roca, Wilson Associates

The hospitality experience is being shaped by guests’ demands for sustainability, authenticity and interactivity.

One of the biggest disruptors of the hotel industry in recent years has been Airbnb. The peer-to-peer exchange service for hospitality around the world has been embraced by travellers looking for an alternative hospitality experience. The success of the Airbnb ‘live like a local’ model, driven by customer engagement and experience, is also influencing the way hotels are being designed now.


“Honesty of materials is one of the strongest trends I foresee,” says Isabel Pintado, senior vice president and managing director, Wilson Associates MEA. “My team and I have been fascinated by the use of traditional natural materials for finishes, in new and unexpected ways – such as terracotta. Either through new ways of allowing it to set, casting it or mixing with other materials, in prefabricated tiles with marble, recycled tiles or metal work. The rawness of clay and timber worked in a highly crafted manner is fascinating. I predict a move to a softer environment, where craftsmanship is celebrated without adding superfluous layers.”

“It’s all about the experience,” adds Daousser Chennoufi, founder, CEO and architect at Drawlink Group, specialists in hospitality projects. “Emerging demographics are looking for cultural, social, physical and sensory experiences. Quality of service and high-end materials are not their key drivers, but they do value design trends such as urban renewal and organic themes.”

Guests’ search for authenticity is also powering the rise of smaller boutique properties offering more personalised experiences. “Smaller hotels are better suited to driving the experiences and themes desired by these emerging demographics. Their branding as well as the experiential theming of the design can be more focused,” Chennoufi elaborates.

Does this hold true for the regional industry? Victor Schoone, country manager Middle East for Roca, believes the UAE’s 5-star segment has reached saturation point. “Retrofits and renovations will keep on happening to keep existing hotels within their star category and there is still room for growth in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman. However, there is also a demand for budget-conscious properties especially in the UAE, to keep up the inflow of tourists from across the globe. The challenge, I believe, lies in being able to offer value for money and being able to adjust the hotel offering, the design and layout to the needs of the type of guest the hotel wants to attract.”

The homegrown Rove Hotels chain, a joint venture between Meraas Holdings and Emaar Hospitality, exemplifies this kind of midmarket brand, designed to attract Generation Y and support Dubai’s Tourism Vision 2020. With interior design by Stride Treglown, the hotels are positioned as a gateway to local culture, offering tours of the neighbourhood, featuring art and design by local artists and quirky details such as inflatable toy installations in the luggage room. Guests can self check in and manage their stay using a phone app.

“The focus is definitely on branded mid-market offerings. Hoteliers with multiple F&B venues are also reaching out to independent operators who can bring a different perspective in terms of design and concept into their establishment,” says Abdul Kader Saadi, managing director, Glee Hospitality Solutions. With a slew of restaurant openings to his credit including Parlour Café, La Terrace, Nourish, SLAB in La Mer, The Roost in Jumeirah as well as the Mighty Quinn USA franchise in Dubai Mall and JBR, Saadi believes the F&B sector is doing well. “Despite the slowdown in retail spending, due to internal and external factors, we are moving ahead full steam. There are reports of an additional 80 hotels coming to the market by 2020, thousands of square metres in leasable retail space as well as amazing projects such as Dubai Parks. Shopping centres are also increasing their space allocation for F&B, in combination with entertainment.”

From growing their own produce and composting waste to offering farm to-table restaurants, hotels are leveraging sustainability as a business differentiator in the F&B sector.“It’s a mature, extremely competitive market, and customers have an abundance of choices. In the new hotels that we are working on, it’s all about catering for the millennial consumer with high-tech, minimum fuss and maximum comfort and healthy eating options. Another emerging trend is the “speakeasy” concept – restaurants and bars that hide their location,” Saadi adds.


Increasingly, millennial consumers are predicted to become the biggest customer segment for hotels worldwide, in tandem with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and personal devices – which Intel has projected to reach 200 billion by 2020.

IoT technologies in hotel rooms will not only give millennial travellers the levels of flexibility and customisation they seek, but also help hotels become leaner and greener operations.

The rise of social media ensures that what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas anymore. “Hotels need to have a global approach, taking into consideration the social media outreach of potential guests. Audiences around the world consume information through a variety of means, including vlogs, blogs, online and social content. As we design environments we must bear in mind how they will be captured and communicated to the world,” says Chennoufi. “Dubai, for instance, is perceived to be a city that is rich in design, current in trends and visually captivating – these are key factors in the potential growth of the region’s hospitality industry.”


Moving beyond the standard linen reuse requests, hotels are also designing and retrofitting rooms to consume less water and electricity as well as using sustainably sourced materials and finishes.

IHG’s Hotel Indigo Dubai Sustainable City, located in the city’s first sustainable integrated development, will be a Net Zero energy building, with 100 % of its energy needs met by solar power and sustainability principles incorporated at every step of the guest journey and hotel operations. Its café and restaurant will be supplied with fresh produce from urban farming facilities and bio domes within the development.
Element Me’aisem, opening this February, has been designed to cater to environmentally conscious travelers – with recycled materials used in the interior design and construction, low VOC paints and paper recycling bins in guest rooms. It marks the debut of Starwood’s eco-conscious Element brand in the Middle East.

“When it comes to lighting, the technological innovation offered by latest-generation LEDs, together with research into materials, optics and applications, have enabled us to use every precious millimetre and eliminate superfluous space,” says Sergio Padula, technical director and lighting expert at iGuzzini Middle East. Advances in LED technology have allowed for luminaires to reduce in size, without affecting light output. “Miniaturisation is not a question of dimensions, but also processing skills and integration,”
Padula says, citing iGuzzini’s Laser, “the first mini collection in the lighting sector, and an extraordinary solution for both lighting and decorating spaces with discretion and elegance. We invest around 7% of our annual turnover in R&D, and 76% of 2016 revenues were derived from new products launched in the last five years (in 2015 this figure was 64%), with a LED incidence of 76%. This clearly shows there is a market
demand for competitive and sustainable products.”


In a softened market, maintaining design integrity is a challenge, asserts Padula. “What we have noticed is there is a growing importance and power of the contractors’ role within the project’s execution, which makes it more difficult to maintain the original specifications that were requested and guarantee a high-quality finish.”

“According to many reports, the average room rate is down, the average spend per tourist has decreased in conjunction with a drop in occupancy – due to external factors as well as more choices on the market,” says Saadi. “We constantly face problems working with qualified contractors who can deliver on time and with prescribed quality. While we are not fit-out experts per se, managing the timeline is critical to the overall budget and success of the business. Staff recruitment, which is another element we cover, is also extremely difficult due to the nature of the work permits.”

Martin Fryzelka, managing director, Preciosa Lighting is buoyant about the great growth opportunities in the hospitality market presented by the upcoming Expo 2020. “Given the increasing demand for luxury lighting solutions, we have taken to working on some iconic projects. The main challenge we see on this front is the need for shorter and shorter lead times. We are working on this with our R&D, in order to come up with new solutions and get a head start for our customers.”

For Pintado, 2017 has been “an interesting although challenging year”. She believes 2018 could be the year when the market revives. “Competition between design firms has become fierce in the last six months of 2017, with fees seeing substantial reductions. It does not help the design community, on the contrary it removes quality for all parties.”

Read about LW Design’s award-winning hotel project at the CID Awards 2017

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