With large-scale projects spanning 14 countries, Oman-based S&T Interiors and Contracting Company is prepared to make a major march into the three and four-star hotel market.
Despite lower oil prices and the current geopolitical situation, which influence the GCC’s hospitality industry, most experts remain optimistic that the region is poised to experience further growth. As new developments come along ahead of Expo 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the positive upturn in the GCC hospitality sector spells an opportunity for interiors and fit-out contracts on fresh projects and also for hotel refurbishment.
The figures from the latest GCC Building, Construction and Interiors Market report by Ventures ME show the GCC interiors and fit-out spend in the hotel sector is expected to increase from $892m in 2015 to $1.8bn by the end of this year. As expected, the report shows that the UAE is projected to spend the most in 2016, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain respectively.
With these figures in mind, K.S. Ravikumar, executive director of international operations at S&T Interiors and Contracting company is also anticipating good opportunities in its primary markets – Oman, the UAE and Qatar.
“At S&T, our projects reflect this trend, as we are executing work at hotels in Oman along with the retail package and wooden panelling and doors for Muscat International Airport,” says Ravikumar. “We have recently undertaken food and beverage outlets, spa and gym fit-out works for Kempinski Hotel, Al Mouj Muscat; supply and installation of interior design works for Rotana Hotel in Muscat; interior fit-out works for food and beverage areas for W Hotel; and supply and installation of timber doors and joinery works for JW Marriott Mumbai.”
Headquartered in Oman, S&T has been operating for nearly four decades across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa, offering a range of products, including interior fit-out, general contracting and project supplies.
Commenting on the key challenges facing his industry today, Ravikumar says: “Skilled labour and expertise is a prime challenge and an obstacle facing the market. A company with qualified employees has various advantages like a flexible workforce, decreased labour costs, efficiency in planning and employee satisfaction.”
From interior fit-out for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Doha, Qatar and Mövenpick City Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka to the refurbishment of the Al Bustan Palace in Muscat, S&T’s current portfolio spans 14 countries and includes more than 150 executed landmark projects. However, the company is also looking to expand its operations to other markets across the world.
Ravikumar continues: “Being a global company and pursuing a truly global strategy, markets like Oman, the UAE, Qatar, the UK, India and Sri Lanka will remain important for us.”
In Qatar, S&T is the fit-out partner for one of the most prestigious projects, the Mandarin Oriental in Doha, designed by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. In Dubai, one of its largest projects is fit-out work for the Lapita Hotel.
Since it was founded in 1977, the luxury market has been the strongest performing sector for S&T. In the run up to Expo 2020, Ravikumar is aware of the great potential offered by the budget and mid-range hotel market, which S&T is now strategically targeting.
“Currently, there is a huge demand for three and four-star budget hotels as the luxury hotel market seems to be saturated. There is an urgent need for hoteliers to set up new benchmarks to serve tourists as the ‘Airbnb’ syndrome is taking a toll on the hotel industry and the concept of home-sharing to tourists is picking up, causing a drop in hotel occupancy,” explains Ravikumar.
Bringing a designer’s vision to reality while remaining within a budget is one of the challenges many fit-out companies face. For Ravikumar and his team, clear communication and close coordination between all stakeholders involved is the key to achieving this.
“We don’t believe that good design has to be equivalent to high budgets,” he says. “We maintain a clear and transparent communication with designers, which helps them to guide us on what to prioritise and come up with creative ways to work within a budget. This, in turn, ensures that the final result covers the brief and expectations.”
When it comes to the newest design trends in hospitality interiors, Ravikumar notices that the GCC region and Dubai, in particular, is making a big move away from using traditional materials, such as stone and marble to using contemporary finishings such as acrylic or glass.
“If you were to look at a city like Dubai, you would see that everything is quite modern – especially the infrastructure. The fit-outs are mostly glass and metal, design is simple and incorporates flexible aesthetics.”
While the company is targeting other markets, one of its major projects is happening in the country of S&T’s origin – Oman. The team is doing the fit-out work of all retail areas for the Muscat International Airport expansion, which is, according to Ravikumar, the largest project to be undertaken in the history of the country.