How to maintain the region’s reputation for top-class accommodation yet not demand high-end prices was the subject of a discussion at this year’s designMENA Summit.
“Midscale and budget hospitality – designing without compromise” was the subject of the debate which featured Justin Wells of Studio HBA, Maliha Nishat of dwp, Christian Merieau of MMAC Design Associates, Joe Tabet of JT+Partners and Veena Kanchan of VS Design Studio.
The panel heard many international and boutique hotel operators are in the process of entering the market or have already launched new budget and midscale properties in the Middle East.
Wells started the discussion explaining that in the region which is known for a five-star luxury segment, there is an appetite for boutique-style brands with guests searching for more authentic experiences.
He said: “One of the things that we’ve seen in this region is the re-education of the operators. Working with operators around the world, they realise that the Middle East is a very global, sophisticated and demanding market, so operators themselves are now rethinking their own approach and how to offer something different within existing brand that is more relevant to this market,” he said explaining that design freedoms are there, but they have to be measured taking into consideration the cost constraints.
Nishat looked at options saying: “One of the things that we’ve been working a lot lately is exploring locally sourced materials and explaining to our clients ‘this is where you should be spending your money and focusing it on elements that would create and generate what you may call today ‘Instagramable moments’.
“Getting the clients to polished concrete on the floor and paints on the wall as opposed to wrapping every single wall in wallpaper, stone or timber is where I personally faced a challenge.”
Merieau added that today it is much easier to design a midscale hotel than it was six or seven years ago as before designers had to deal with more standardised
Tabet added that the success of the budget hotel now depends on the mentality of the end-users and their expectations regarding the facilities.
“We are now having two types of clientele – the internal guests from the GCC region and the international ones and they have different expectations about the facilities they will get from a budget hotel. Facilities are something that is usually missing in a budget hotel due to the cost operation, so it has to be covered in other ways, and that is where the location becomes very important. If it is located near to the mall and has a good link to public transportation, all of that influences the success of the budget hotel.”
Commenting on the development of the concept for the Rove Hotels brand, Kanchan explained that the innovation was a key driver for the design team to think ‘outside the box’.
She said: “We were trying to achieve a budget hotel, which appeals to new millennial travellers, students and business travellers. They want something new to look at. All of these drivers helped us establish a very base pallet, a plane canvas and divert a lot of the budget into the trademark pieces that display Arabic heritage.”
Apart from the customer experience, Merieau noted that designers are actually delivering and designing a working tool.
“We have to facilitate the work of operator, design a working environment that is suitable for both guests and operator and the process of interacting with guests goes beyond the storytelling.”
Tabet agreed that the guest experience is key for any hospitality projects, regardless of rating.
“That experience will justify the successes or the repetition or star rating on booking.com. The sense of arrival and the experience from the moment you reach the hotel is crucial. How to make the comfort for the guest, from the arrival point to the lobby towards your room is the second level, the third level of experience is how you are going to get from your room to the F&B, and that is the questions what do we do with an F&B in a budget hotel.”
Kanchan added that in the case of Rove hotels, the main driver was the developer [Emaar], which supported the idea of playing it down with materials and putting the budgets into art and bespoke pieces, such as the sitting areas and canopies.
She said: “The idea was clear that it is a budget hotel, it needs to belong to the region, and therefore we needed to use the potential of the heritage, locally sourced materials and ideas.
“This project was a learning curve for me that we as designers can do so much just with paints, playing with colours and creating really interesting spaces.”