Hotel design: Industry experts discuss current state of hospitality in the Middle East

In the Middle East, the is UAE currently leading hotel construction with Abu Dhabi and Dubai its strong markets, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey following closely behind. The latest report published by Jones Lang La Salle for The Hotel Show Dubai reveals that Dubai is set to see a massive increase of 28,000 new hotel rooms by 2018.

Already one of the world’s top holiday destinations, Dubai is currently gearing up for the World Expo with the Government’s Tourism Vision forecasting 20 million visitors a year by the time of the event in 2020.

“More than 70% of hotel room supply in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are in the 4 and 5-star category. The proportion is higher for Abu Dhabi than for Dubai. While there is an orientation in Dubai to develop the branded quality mid-scale segment offering, Dubai is also moving higher up in the luxury hospitality offering with the planned opening of high profile luxury hotel brands,” explains Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, executive vice president at JLL.

Fairmont Ajman, designed by GAJ


Interior designer Hilda Impey, working for Dubai-based architecture firm GAJ, believes that now is the right moment for the design industry to step outside the box and move forward with its designs.

“There are various contemporary projects ahead of us and with so many design professionals with different cultural backgrounds who are working in this region, I believe that we should be the trendsetters of this new momentum. We all came in here to help build this place providing a multicultural mix and different experience.”

In comparison to other markets, Mohammed Ibrahim, CEO of the Wellness points out that the design in the Middle East strongly differs from other regions as the cultural influence leads to a different design approach.

“Most hotels in the region reflect Arabic culture and heritage and we can frequently see that many luxury hotels with opulent materials and finishes have Arabic influences. At the same time, the contemporary design hotels are increasing in the Middle East market with a focus on authentic spaces using creative recycling as well as raw materials, which lead to more sustainable venues. Our design community is following very high international design standards in terms of the technical process of design development, but in terms of concept and aesthetic point of view, we can rarely find two projects which are similar.”

Hotel spa interior designed by the Wellness.

Carlo Moro, regional manager for the Middle East at Flos, agrees that Dubai is definitely different from any other part of the world right now as “this is the only place you can find so many different styles of hotels and, even if the attention to detail could still be developed, the overall experience is great in the majority of cases”.

Moro adds: “The more formal hotels are leaning towards simplifying their design with clean lines and softer colours and decoration, while the minimalistic ones are getting to a cosier atmosphere with accent details and colours. Likewise, if you look at the trend in terms of lights, cove lighting and hidden, but warmer light sources are taking shape in most of the new hotels coming up.

Flos Soft Architecture composite is comprised of environmentally friendly materials.


The region has plenty of high-end hotels, but to cater to demand from the short-stay and middle classes passengers, hoteliers will need to quicken the development of budget room options. According to JLL’s report, almost 50% of the 3,600 new hotel rooms to enter the Dubai market in the final months of 2015 have a 3-star or lower rating. The near-saturated luxury market is set to be rivalled by a supply of lower-graded properties with more competitive room rates.

Lobby area at Hues boutique hotel in Dubai designed by Draw Link.

Hues boutique hotel in Dubai is one of the rare 4-star hotels that offer the new concept of affordable luxury and high hotel standards at reasonable prices. According to Daousser Chennoufi, chairman and architect of the Draw Link Group, which designed this contemporary hotel, the main challenge for architects and designers working in the region is finding new ways of accommodating guests.

“Otherwise, our work will be classified as just another 4 or 5-star hotel. There is a lot of competition in this market, but the guests are now seeking the quality of accommodation that will reflect their lifestyle and provide them with different experiences.”

Catering to the sheer mass of people, Joe Chamberlain, CEO of Alger-Triton International, also agrees that the majority of local projects are still done on a larger scale and that boutique business is developing slowly.

Lighting installation by Alger-Triton adds elegance to this hotel library.

Similarly, Stuart Allen, founder of Allen Architecture Interiors Design, points out that boutique hotel doesn’t necessary mean a 3-star hotel and that you can take this concept to a 5-star level and have the ultimate luxury, but in a more intimate way.

Nienke Steenbergen, sales advisor at EeStairs, supports this view and explains that hotel chains should offer something distinctive, which will set them apart from other properties within their brand. EeStairs recently contributed to several Citizen Hotels, including the citizenM hotel in Rotterdam, where timber staircases acts as genuine focal points in one of the hotel’s main public spaces.

“This means more bespoke, statement features that make particular hotels within a portfolio memorable. Various groups and boutique hotels are delivering attractive digital innovations from the virtual concierge to services specifically aimed at business travellers, such as 3D holographic conferencing. Bedrooms are gradually becoming smaller – with importance being placed on gadgetry allowing guests to control their room’s temperature, or television, at the click of a button ­— often on their own smartphone.”

Timber staircases designed by EeStairs is the main feature in CitizenM hotel.


Commenting on the Middle East’s hotel design industry, Chennoufi says that hospitality trends are coming in cycles.

“Dubai, in particular, is changing its orientation towards more spacious outdoor areas. A decade ago it was unacceptable to tell the client that you will design a big terrace. It was considered a waste of space. Now when we look at all the new developments such as The Walk on JBR or Marina Walk, we can see that the overall lifestyle is changing and that people are now spending more time outdoors. The weather is also much better than 14 years ago and the outside seating season is now extended from six to eight or nine months. This new lifestyle is now embracing local people as well.”

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Steenbergen agrees that there is a definite demand in creating public spaces, which guests are not only drawn to but want to spend their free time in, and also meet other people. She says: “It is important for hotel designers to create large open spaces, with plenty of lights and often, where less is more. Minimal design is certainly desirable and spaces with few unnecessary obstructions allow the easy transfer of sound – which helps to create a ‘buzz’, particularly in bar and restaurant areas.”


With sustainability playing a major role in hospitality design, Tarek F. Ardakani, general manager at Bond interiors, says that green is the upcoming trend.

“The hospitality market is seeing more of green as it can now be translated into design concepts with various products available that are sustainable, cost-effective and have either less or no maintenance at all.

With the global economy gradually reviving from the recession, investors and hotel operators have become more cautious when it comes to finances. Though the Middle East, especially the UAE. has a steady rise in the number of hospitality projects for the coming year, the design elements will be greatly influenced by factors such as cost-effectiveness, practicality and low maintenance. Products that fit into these criteria will definitely dominate the design trends in hospitality,” says Ardakani.

Bond Interiors incorporates Arabic patterns in its design.

Chamberlain confirms that there is an increasing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products.

“Since LED is the new illumination standard, we have integrated this technology into the design development of many of our fixtures. We are no longer bound to designing a light fixture with a regular socket in mind. Staying on the forefront of this technology allows us to share our new design approach with our clients and open the door to more creative and innovative ways of illumination. With new laws supporting sustainability, this has put pressure on owners to implement energy-saving solutions.”

According to Espino Soodbakhsh, managing director at Vann Furniture and Interior Design, utilising natural light and a greater use of LED is what we should be concerned about nowadays.

Soodbakhsh says: “We have observed that trends within the hospitality sector for bespoke lighting do not follow a specific path and it is apparent that variety really is the spice of life. The new trend in lighting and generally in design is the use of green and eco-friendly products.”

Lighting installation designed by Vann Furniture and Interior Design.


Dubai’s appetite for luxury is still present as this year’s openings include the 5-star Palazzo Versace at Dubai Creek, movie-themed Paramount Hotel in Downtown, Starwood’s first St Regis Dubai on Sheik Zayed Road and the first Hard Rock Hotel in the Middle East in Marina 101, the second tallest building in the UAE after the Burj Khalifa.

Nakheel’s Hospitality and Leisure division plan to deliver a number of hotels in Dubai over the next three to five years. Located at various locations across the emirate, including Palm Jumeirah, Deira Islands, Ibn Battuta Mall and Dragon City, the hotels range from 5-star, luxury properties to mid-market offerings.

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Starwood Hotels and Resorts is planning to double its portfolio in the Middle East in the next five years, including the launch of its first world-popular W Hotel and St Regis brands in Dubai by the end of 2015. Alongside a new Westin, the three hotels will be located in the new Al Habtoor City complex.

Dubai-based global luxury hotel company, Jumeirah Group, has two properties scheduled to open in Dubai by 2017 including the Jumeirah Al Naseem at Madinat Jumeirah and the first hotel under its lifestyle brand, Venu, opening off the coast of Dubai at the new Bluewaters Island. The Venu Bluewaters Island Hotel will offer close to 300 rooms surrounded by the retail, residential and hospitality zones of the mixed-use island with the world’s largest Ferris Wheel at its heart.


Alger-Triton — some of the notable installations recently done by Alger include the P&O Cruises Britannia ship, KAFP Sofitel and Nobu in Riyadh.

“Technology is always improving and each new hotel has to be more cutting-edge than the last. Every new project brings its own design challenge and developing new materials into the creative process is essential. The broad array of materials Alger-Triton utilises from natural quartz, blown glass, high-quality crystal, cast resin and various metals, provides capabilities uncommon to other manufacturers,” says Chamberlain.

Vann Furniture and Interior Design has successfully handed over the Hyatt Regency, H Hotel, Habtoor Grand and Ministry of Interiors in Doha Qatar.

Soodbakhsh adds: “We are now working on two projects in Saudi Arabia and three hotels in Dubai. At the Hotel Show this year we will showcase our latest designs for chandeliers along with our most recent line of light fittings for hotel rooms. Our design process and in-house manufacturing ensure that the designer’s vision is retained and the whole process from concept to installation runs smoothly.”

The Wellness is currently working on more than 30 projects across the Middle East, such as The Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, The Westin at Habtoor City, Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort and Spa and Rocco Forte in Jeddah.

“This year we launched a new development for spa equipment products, where the mechanical room is integrated within the equipment and previously required space for a plant room is no longer needed. This new development is saving both the investor and the hotel operator valuable space, which can be used for a different function,” says Ibrahim.

Bond Interiors — One of its recently awarded hotel projects is Renaissance Hotel in Business Bay, which involved a conversion of an office building into a 4-star hotel and construction of a 5-star resort Oberoi Al Zorah.

“One of the key factors that keep us ahead of our competitors is the in-house manufacturing facilities that we have such as joinery, MEP, paint shop, upholstery, glass works, metal works, civil works, solid surface and signage. This gives us a greater control on quality and time frames thus enabling successful and on-time project handovers with a 5-star finish,” explains Ardakani.

Flos — With its lighting, Flos supplied the Four Seasons hotel at DIFC, the Sky View restaurant at Kempinski Hotel in Doha and some areas at Nobu Hotel in Riyadh and Vida Hotel in Dubai.

“For these projects we have used a number of items — from our Soft Architectural range, new fixtures such as Light Shooter, Light Supply, Circle of Lights or interesting items from our residential collection such as IC and AIM.

Flos is part of design history: from the famous Arco to the most sophisticated “Black Line” architectural system, we are always inspired by the same philosophy to provide the clients with something that has unique details.

The concept of the art gallery we used during the recent Euroluce in Milan was exactly a statement of our brand as a global inspirational hub, now including even an outdoor offering collection,” explains Moro.

EeStairs — As part of its commitment to driving innovation and pushing boundaries EeStairs has created the EeBook, which features some of the most extraordinary staircase designs in the world.

Steenbergen adds: “The Middle East is a fast growing market for us and we’re seeing a significant appreciation for the staircase as a design element. The region presents us with the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best architects, interiors professionals and construction companies. Our in-house design team has a collective experience of over a century in staircase design and will support clients through concept generation, visualisation and the detailed design stage before handing over to EeStairs expert engineers.”

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