Designers and architects discussed the rigidity of hotel star ratings and the need for more involvement during post contract stage during the designMENA Summit advisory panel.
Justin Wells of Woods Bagot commented that the DTCM (Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing)’s rigid guidelines are stopping hotels from offering more diversity in the market, which in turn affects potential design solutions.
“The DTCM has a very prescriptive measure of star ratings and hotels, and we all align to the thinking that there needs to be a lot more diversity around that,” said Wells.
He added that if hotels don’t always meet strict hotel criteria, it is OK as long as it achieves other performance standards such as exemplary design, or cultural and heritage references.
“One of my clients wanted something different in Studio City, looking at something more diverse with a 3-star offering but a visual diversity. But you can’t give them that because the DTCM say you have to do this and that. You can’t do something off the wall that the client desires,” Paul Bishop of Bishop Design shared.
“It’s mainly in Dubai, because if you look at Saudi Arabia the guidelines are far shorter,” he said, adding that with these instances, the importance of value-engineering also comes into play.
“There’ve been a few instances where we were removed post-contract because [the client] didn’t want to engage us because it would cost more money and then they make their own decisions, compromise on materials and finishes and then they call you in the end because they want your name on it. And it’s detrimental to our business and those around us,” Bishop said.
“I turn over a restaurant in 2 weeks and at the end of the month your staff are very upset and they don’t understand everything that we have to deal with behind the scenes and they migrate to other practices, but it’s not any better,” he added.
Tatoum Athanassiou, director of interior design at Marriott International commented: “We’re finding that our 3-star products are out-branding our luxury products because clients are now having a little more leeway in their budget. Room sizes are smaller and they can spend that money elsewhere and we’re finding that our 3-star products can be value-engineered and that’s just the nature of the region.
“Clients get their internal consulting team to source products and that’s always quite dangerous, because I’ve had that a few times now and what you end up getting is like 30 people in the room, so you’ve got designers from the consultant side, the operators side, clients side, the project directors side, and you’re trying to veer this strategy.
She continued: “A lot of the time, we’re finding that hotels are already half-built by clients and then they decide to put the operator on the project and it all changes. Designer fees are cut tremendously, time frames are cut tremendously.
“What’s really important for value-engineering is that designers need to push to have post-contract presence. We find a lot of our projects with no designers on site and get sent fabric swatches and what have you and what are we supposed to do with that information.”
Jonathan Ashmore of Anarchitect added: “That goes back to what we talked about – knowing what we do as a profession and informing the client. We don’t just sit and design. There are conditions. It’s the idea of taking the post-contract from the consultant… is it value engineering in a sense already? There’s money that they’re going to save by not engaging.”
“But that comes back to us,” Bishop argued. “Is the integrity of the project followed? We’re not project managers, but we’re the designers.”