Hospitality in the Middle East generates billions of dollars every year and will continue to do so as the GCC, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, invest heavily in tourism to diversify their economies. This has led to a “substantial transformation” of the industry. For years, tapping into the millennial market has seemed the way forward. But as guest demands change faster than new hotels rise from the desert, creating spaces that cater to this new-age demographic may not be the right approach.
Justen Wells, global head of hospitality at Design Worldwide Partnership (dwp), says “the focus on the millennial traveller is old news”. Generation Z will be the biggest travelling group in the next few years and hospitality design needs to “swiftly adopt the behavioural differences” between Generation Y and Z, he adds.
As dwp is working on five hotels that are under construction and five more at the design or documentation stage, meeting the requirements of people born after the 1980s – millennials and post-millennials – is crucial. But understanding the “need and influence” of luxury travel could be even more critical to success.
“Luxury travel behaviour is a morphing phenomenon that is enduring more acute shifts to need and influence than the habits of millennials or Generation Z,” Wells says. What the hotel design industry needs is “a global framework of need and influence.”
He points to one statistic that highlights why this could be the case: 60% of all luxury personal goods consumption is driven by the booming Chinese market. “Their needs and influence on luxury travel is becoming necessary to consider, no matter where the hospitality project location is,” he says.
UK-headquartered Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) is working on high-end hospitality projects in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. In the last 12 months, it has completed Al Bait Sharjah, Al Wathba by Jumeirah in Abu Dhabi and Al Seef Dubai. Jacinda Raniolo, lead creative designer at GAJ, says the influence of new travellers has had a marked impact.-
“The past decade has seen the emergence of new, niche hotel brands and lifestyle hotels for a new generation of travellers, incorporating stylised and individual design elements that bring the guests into the heart of the destination,” she says. “Hotel guests today seek authentic and meaningful experiences that are genuine and engaging, connecting them to the locality. A hotel should have its own personality.”
The hotel lobby is the first place in which the effect of this change can be seen. Raniolo says the space has “responded to the needs of the market, the millennials, urban nomads and savvy business travellers to become an urban transit lounge” for guests.
There are approximately 708 hotels under construction in the GCC, with a further 196 at the design stage, according to statistics from ProTenders. With the construction of more hotels – and the surge in renovation jobs – on the horizon, Kirstina Zanic, founder of eponymous interiors studio Kristina Zanic Consultants, says the GCC is leading the way in hotel design.
“I believe the Middle East is at the forefront of hotel design and continues to provide designers with more scope than ever before, as there are more sizable hotels coming onto the market.” Her boutique practice is currently working on The Palace Hotel in Fujairah and the Glee Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. The team is also designing a Sofitel hotel in Amman, Jordan, a Ritz Carlton in Montenegro, a Hilton hotel in Pakistan, as well as “a few hotels” in Saudi Arabia, Zanic says.
Despite a younger generation of travellers beginning to rack up points on their hotel reward cards, Zanic’s strategy toward hospitality design does not change just because more millennials and post-millennials are frequenting guest rooms.
“We work on a variety of hotel brands and there is a brand that appeals to everyone,” she says. “Each hotel has its brand directive which touches on all the key features and brand pillars that we need to achieve to make the project a success, whether it is for millennial travellers or not.”
ProTenders says the hotel market in the GCC is worth $508bn and with hundreds more properties under construction or at the planning stage, the market will remain buoyant for interior designers and architects.
Designing for millennials may be old news. But the rise in younger travellers and the way their needs and desires influence hotel design cannot be ignored. Guests want designs that are flexible and modern with a strong sense of style.