Authentic Design a Key Component to Middle East Hospitality
By: Magd Fahmy, Managing Director
It is an exciting time in the Middle East for the hospitality industry. It's booming. According to recent data*, the region has 580 hotel projects under contract with specific hotspots being the UAE and Saudi Arabia. With large budgets, these projects offer unique opportunities to reflect the region's rich cultural history and natural riches. However, it seems that many times although the projects technically fit the location, they don't fit the design aesthetic of the region, lacking authenticity and doing a disservice to the culture of the region in which they live.
One example that comes to mind is the Palm Jumeirah. Although it is a spectacular property that boasts an interesting design aesthetic, it lacks community authenticity to its place. Within the project are differing concepts from around the world rather than a cohesive representation of Dubai and the Gulf. Roaming through the palm-shaped island, you get a feel of Miami, Vegas, and a giant Atlantis icon shading you most of the time.
On the alternate side, there are numerous examples in the region that leverage authenticity to enrich traveler's experiences, such as the Royal Mansour Marrakech. From the moment you enter the property, you identify that this property could simply not exist anywhere else except in Morocco. In fact, it seems as if the property goes one step further and honors and represents from every design detail, the very best that is Moroccan culture. I'm fortunate to know firsthand that this was by design. Although not during my tenure, my firm, OBM International (OBMI), working with local architects, interior designers, and hundreds of local craftsmen worked to ensure the property was authentic to Morocco, from its Moorish architecture to its gardens, riads, and interior details.
Another spectacular example of regional authenticity is the master-planned resort community of El Gouna. Themed by Michael Graves architecture, the resort is built around an existing small fishing village. It captured the village spirit and extended the development with further expressions and architectural languages around the native structures, creating a modern resort village nestled along Egypt's Red Sea coast, harmoniously sharing the shorelines and accentuated with several small islands. The resort delicately weaves its 554 rooms within the landscape, boasting regional architectural styling, and a well-planned community feel.
At a time when hospitality development is in high gear, it is important to realize luxury travelers demands for local, regional and contextual authenticity, that creates a unique experience. Smart investors are creating developments that are answering the call by creating not just remarkable properties but destinations unto their own right. Properties that are so elegantly woven into the fabric of their surroundings, they could exist nowhere else.