With tonnes of new options in the horizon for both tourists and expats to enjoy their break in style, the future looks bright for the hospitality design industry.
We might be approaching the peak of summer, which generally means a lean period for tourism in the Middle East — barring devoted sun worshipers — but it doesn’t mean the design industry that churns out one spectacular hotel after another across the region is slowing down.
The Middle East features amongst the leading markets for hospitality projects, with just under $30 billion (Dh110.17 billion) contracts due to be awarded in the region. According to recent reports, in total, 360 hotel projects are currently under construction in the Middle East. With 168 upcoming projects, Dubai is second on a global list of cities with hospitality projects in various phases of construction. New York tops that list with only three more.
In Q1 2019 the opening of mega-projects such as the W Palm Jumeirah, Caesars Bluewaters and Mandarin Oriental, Jumeirah underscored Dubai as an important destination for international hotel brands. According to Isabel Pintado of Wilson Associate’s Dubai Office, the Emirate is also the hub of hospitality design for the wider MENASA region, “Dubai provides us a centre, a nucleus with the infrastructure, transport and laws which allows business transactions in an easy and fluid manner,” she says. “As a result both design brands and design studios tend to base themselves in the UAE.”
In addition to projects in the UAE, her studio is current working on projects in Mecca (KSA), Marasi Beach (Egypt) and Taghazout Bay (Morocco). MMAC Design Associates and HBA are other examples Dubai-based studio’s servicing projects across the Middle East.
Key to this growth is the region’s push to diversify its economy beyond traditional sectors; tourism, as even KSA agrees, has great potential as the Middle East. The hospitality industry concurs: “The Middle East has consistently demonstrated a desire and the will to be current with popular culture all around the world. They’ve demonstrated that in their architecture and attractions like museums and restaurants, which I think you have to consider on a par to any major tourist hub in the world,” says Ian Schrager, the founder of Edition and Public hotel. “I see tremendous opportunity in the Middle East as the world begins to realise what a unique and enjoyable part of the world this region is with its culture and entertainment offering.”
Another key factor is the diversification within the hospitality industry. AccorHotels, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International lead the regional pipeline in three chain scales: luxury, upper upscale, and upscale. “The market is diversifying as the Middle East promotes itself to a wider base of travelers and new source markets. This has resulted in an upturn in demand across different segments of accommodation and guest experience” says Stephen Laucirica, Senior Director, Design & Engineering IMEA, IHG. The company will soon open their first Indigo hotel in Dubai and has acquired Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas with a view of developing new opportunities for the luxury brand in the region.
“There is a lot of interest in the region’s environment and natural beauty,” says Rachel Kidd, Associate at LW studio.
With projects like Vida Hotel Dubai Marina by Emaar and Waldorf Astoria, Kuwait, LW has its finger on the pulse of the region’s hotel trends. “What is nice is that there is still a strong emphasis on the local culture which is extremely important in ensuring what is designed has a sense of place.”
The success of properties such as the Al Bait Sharjah is proof. Located along a waterfront canal in the heart of old Sharjah and a stone’s throw away from the old souk, the property features the hallmarks of Emirati architecture — narrow alleyways and secluded courtyards. It is no coincidence – several of the hotel’s rooms are built upon the original foundations of old houses that were once thriving at the same location.