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Designers and hotel experts discuss changes in hospitality design at round table discussion

Designers and hotel experts discuss changes in hospitality design at round table discussion

Dubai, GCC, Hospitality, Hotel design, Hotels, Interior design

The design landscape is constantly changing, and today hotels are incorporating looks with functionality in equal measure. Here, interior designers and operators discuss the latest trends.

Designing hotels and resorts in the region is a serious business; interior designers have to create a look for the property that fits operator brand standards while also standing out in a sea of tough competition.

Under the auspices of Commercial Interior Design, Middle East Architect, and Hotelier Middle East, the Future of Hotel Design roundtable took place earlier this year, featuring the region’s leading hotel design stakeholders – independent and hotel group architects, and interior designers – to discuss, debate, and dissect the latest in hotel design.

Taking part in the round table were Cameron McPherson, director of design MEA at IHG; Sheri Y Smith, senior director- interior design at Marriott International; Ralf Steinhuer, director- Middle East and North Africa at RSP; Kevin McLachlan, partner and head of interiors at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ); Carol Finnie, portfolio director at DWP; and Marcos Cain, principal and founder of Stickman Tribe.

Designing for millennials

The M-word has been cropping up in all facets of the hospitality industry, whether it’s millennial guests or employees, and it certainly needs to be considered when it comes to designing a property.

DWP – Design Worldwide Partnership’s portfolio director, Carol Finnie, says designing for millennials is a talking point for everyone. “It’s been a hard push about how we’re going to be designing for the future, how that affects what we design, how we design as operators, and how the design of hotels has been affected by the next generation,” she says.

Finnie adds that the ‘millennial personality’ is all about sharing and collaboration, which is affecting how one looks at design.

Marriott International senior director – interior design, Sheri Y Smith, reveals that the hotel operator conducted a study to see where people fit on a ‘millennial scale’, and found that there were many who were on that scale who were not actually millennials, by definition.

Agreeing with her was Cameron McPherson, the director of design MEA at IHG. He comments: “I would definitely agree with that. In reality, there’s no such thing as a millennial. It doesn’t matter what age group you come from, your expectations are changing. With young people, we expect they want everything faster. They don’t want everything faster; they want it right.”

The meaning of the word ‘millennial’, and what that group’s members want, constantly evolves. Stickman Tribe principal and founder, Marcos Cain, says that what a millennial means is evolving and isn’t fixed.

“We did a full study five years ago on millennials for a hotel chain. And we designed the room for the particular characteristic of millennials, with activation points to figure out what kind of food and beverage (F&B) offering and business hub they wanted. With millennials, it comes down to [the fact that] they’re trying to do multiple tasks at multiple times, and we’re trying to create multiple pockets of revenue for operators, so we can utilise the space to create different moments within.”

Following on from Cain’s point about multiple revenue stream, one of the topics that everyone agreed on was flexibility of design. RSP director – Middle East and North Africa, Ralf Steinhauer, notes: “A lot more functions are merging into one. It’s not just a meeting room, it’s a place to hang out, and it’s a place to grab something to eat.”

Points of difference

There are many brands on the market right now, and a lot of competition. As a result, finding points of differentiation for brands that are within the same segment but fall within a different operator’s portfolio is exceedingly important. But financials are also vital.

Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) associate partner – head of interiors, Kevin McLachlan, says that designers are predicted to be under increasing pressure to “present an idea that meets a margin from the operational side of things”. He adds: “All it is now is a point of difference between one block of hotels and the next. It’s all about us researching who’s the next nearest competitor [for an operator] and making that point of difference, and that will add more and more pressure.”

McPherson says he’s being brutally honest about the hospitality industry and adds that the hotel sector can be a particularly conservative business. “It takes a lot of time to react, because you have so many stakeholders involved. If you are going to have brands, they have to have points of difference – they can’t blend into each other, otherwise what’s the point? You have to work out what that point of difference is, and how to keep it flexible.

“You have got to have flexibility in your design [in order] to have it last over time, without having to tear down the entire building and start again.”

A great deal of flexibility is also needed due to the fact that, as Finnie points out, hotels get different kinds of guests. McLachlan adds: “You can have one type of guest in the room, another in the lobby, another in the restaurant. Places like New York are fine examples of that, where you feel like part of the community.”

Flex those brand standards

The importance of hotel brand standards is well known, and they provide a checklist that needs to be referred to by everyone involved in bringing a property to life. However, sometimes, it is possible to flex brand standards – on a strictly case-by-case basis – says McPherson. He explains: “It depends on how confident you are at the level you’re at. If I believe strongly enough that we can flex that brand standard because it makes sense to do so, [then we can try]. If you’re gutsy enough, sometimes it is carried off; sometimes the quality inspector will come and talk to you about the brand standards.”

Smith adds that she’s open to suggestions as well. “I love that I get to meet with really creative designers, because they teach me about what’s new. I love when they say, ‘can we try something new?’ I will try it; I never want to make the brand fail an audit, but I’m definitely open.”

However, the caveat with this is that some designers sometimes go beyond what’s needed for the consistency of the brand and create something that cannot be realised – resulting in wasted time and resources. Steinhauer comments: “There’s a lot of pressure on a young designer to deliver. I find that I sometimes tell our designers to calm down and not over-deliver.”

Smith agrees and adds: “I find with our select-service brands, sometimes the designers over-design, and I look at it and I feel bad because I think they’ve done an amazing design, but it just doesn’t fit the brand and the [budget].”

McLachlan, however, says that newly emerging local three-star and four-star brands could feasibly go global and create their own design direction. “There’s a shift in polarity in terms of where design happens, in spite of all the hurdles [we face]. Things that we just wouldn’t dream of, like concrete rooms with graffiti on them – we just wouldn’t get them past an operator before. So how do operators stand out in the crowd and create a brand?”

He points out these types of features are great to attract the “20-somethings who may not have the budget but want to travel”.

This meets with agreement, with Smith referencing the Moxy brand and McPherson citing Hotel Indigo, which is coming to the UAE, as examples of this trend.

Hotel design is definitely undergoing a revolution – watch this space.

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