Having developed designs for renowned international brands, such as the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Marina, but also for H72, the first boutique hotel in Sharjah, Draw Link Group, an architectural, interior design and fit-out company, is exploiting the current demand for a more diverse hotel portfolio to expand with new projects in both the UAE and Tunisia.
Commercial Interior Design talks to Daousser Chennoufi, the company’s CEO and key architect, about the future growth prospects of the hospitality market and what designers can do to support the much-needed diversification of the Middle East hotel landscape.
“The region has experienced a booming hotel market in recent years, but compared to Europe and Asia, it is still an immature market,” says Chennoufi. “In the past 15 years we have seen a lot of luxury hospitality projects, but I think that different segments of the market still need to be developed, such as budget or family hotels.”
Chennoufi believes it is imperative to expand the accommodation offerings.
He continues: “The key is to be innovative with design, to find and further develop other areas, offering tourists a wider range of accommodation and within different price ranges. I think this is where the market will grow and we are seeing a lot of new hotel brands entering the market offering more identity in terms of arts and culture with an emphasis on lifestyle, especially within the three-star range. Furthermore, we are getting to a stage where clients have a better understanding that luxury is not about how much you spend on materials, but is about creating memorable guest experiences.”
Leading up to Expo 2020 in the UAE and in addition to several other regional projects, refurbishment projects within the hospitality sector are evidently on the increase and Chennoufi advises that investors should rethink their strategies.
“Not all investors are thinking in the same way. Some refurbishments are done to refresh hotel or to make it look new. But I think a refurbishment is also an opportunity to upgrade the concept of a hotel and change whatever it is not working well in terms of design.
“My advice to anyone who wants to do a refurbishment is before they start buying new chairs or choosing new upholstery for sofas, they should take into consideration current market demands and respond accordingly. The market is constantly moving in different directions, creating different demands all the way from food and beverage venues to rooms, so renovation should not be confined to refreshing a space, it is a chance to redevelop and redefine concepts as well.”
ENTERING THE UNKNOWN
In 2011 Draw Link established Hues Boutique Hotel, which became the first representative of Hues Hotels & Resorts – a full-service hospitality management company. So Chennoufi became one of the partners (along with Bin Suloom Group) and a concept creator of a young hotel chain of contemporary designed hotels. In 2013 Hues Hotels & Resorts launched H72, its first boutique hotel in Sharjah, which was named the best five-star hotel in 2014 by Sharjah Tourism Authority.
Three years later, with the same client, Draw Link offered another alternative point of view for the Sharjah hospitality market with The Act Hotel.
Chennoufi comments: “In the past we worked with many international brands, creating designs in line with their identity and image. On the other hand, when working with unbranded hotels, we are able to use all of our expertise and experience, which we learn from the international brands, but at the same time we are able to deliver more ‘out of the box’ designs, so creating new products with owners who are more flexible to take that risk and respond to the current hospitality needs.
“We have a chance to deal with clients who believe in our vision and the work we do. Sometimes it is not easy to convince them to take a more risky path as the safest way is always to do what others have done and has proven successful.
Chennoufi says that Dubai is starting to be recognised as a hub for art, so designers have to cater to guests who want to experience the culture as well as the usual high-end tourists.
“For me, Dubai Expo 2020 will not only attract luxtravellerslers, but also students and backpackers from a younger generation. So, we need to be ready to accommodate these people. They like to stay in good and comfortable spaces, but they cannot spend a lot.
“This doesn’t mean they have to stay in basic and cheap hotels. In the last five years, we have started to see how budget hotels are coming closer to the high-end in terms of design without being expensive.”
FINDING THE BALANCE
Shifting from a traditional vision of a hotel to new lifestyle and contemporary concepts, Draw Link is currently orchestrating the execution of the Rosemont Hotel and Residence and the design of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Business Bay.
Commenting on future developments within the hospitality sector, Chenouffi says he wants to see a better interpretation of local culture within contemporary interiors.
“We have a lot of hotels across the region that follow either a very traditional or contemporary style. Our future projects will address how to make this more of a balance, emphasising the culture of the region. If you go to Bangkok, for example, you can find very elegant and contemporary interiors with strong design features, which also take you back to the history of the city,” he concludes.
Looking back at 2016, Chennoufi, shares his insights into the design and hospitality trends we can look forward to in 2017.
The Influence of travel
The contemporary millennial travels a great deal, more than ever before, resulting in an abundance of choices for travel that can adapt to any budget. This has brought about increased competition within the travel and hospitality industries, and has resulted in the modularity of furniture and flexibility of design.
The influence of the East
Previously, Far East–inspired trends were not widely popular, yet they are now adopted in the Western world, with travelers preferring Eastern elements incorporated into Western design.
The influence of budget constraints
Due to the instability of the global economy, one of the greatest challenges are budget constraints. There is an increased demand for new and innovative materials that offer cost-effective and practical solutions.
Additionally, traditional materials used in design are now being recycled into completely unexpected roles. Metal finishes like brass, copper and silver are widely used, and have gained a new, rich application in the interior design.
The influence of lifestyles
With an increased pressure of an active lifestyle and extreme business practices, people are looking for options for relaxation and peace of mind in all their living spaces. In fact, the bathroom is now being given the same importance as the living room, with many designers giving more consideration to this space.
The influence of colour
As people seek to enjoy a hospitable atmosphere within their homes, we see an increase in the popularity of colours that are warm and welcoming, such as terracotta and shades of green.