Hot Topic: Hotels plan 'assault on the senses' to wow guests

ChapmanBDSP regional director Reid Donovan gives his take on the future of the hotel industry in the Middle East and what it means for building services engineers.

It is exciting times for hotels in the Middle East, with a booming African market and an increase in business and leisure tourists from Europe fueling record occupancy rates.

But the hotel market never sleeps and smart operators know they must innovate to keep guests returning and attract new ones.

So, what changes can guests expect to see in the next couple of years and how should MEP companies respond?

Right now operators are planning to 'wow' guests through an all-out assault on the senses - more personalised visuals to tease the eyes, smarter acoustics to sooth the ears and subtle scent emitting systems to entice the nose.

But while hoteliers concentrate on awakening those senses, building services engineers need to make sense of what that all actually means for design.

And for us at ChapmanBDSP it means tailoring our offer to include ‘value-added’ solutions that are flexible enough to allow buildings to adapt.

Operators believe that individualising the experience, mainly via the use of the internet, will be a major driver of business. Keyless entry via mobile devices is being rolled-out out alongside Bluetooth enabled door locking systems and soon you will be able to walk into your room and see a photo, perhaps of your family or that special someone, projected onto a wall.

Guests will also be able to adjust room temperature and lighting, and even run a bath, from a hand-held device. Reclining beds will give space for multiple uses during the day and designers are also looking at whether bathtubs could sit in the main room environment to take advantage of lighting and visual aspects.

Subtle fragrances will be pumped around public areas like lobby and bars, designed to provoke positive memories. Smell is thought to be a more powerful sense than sight or hearing and some hotels are already designing their own range of perfumes.

But what does this enhanced user experience mean for hoteliers and building consultants planning their next new-build or refurbishment?

Simply, everyone involved in the process must consider MEP solutions at the conception and early design stage to allow for innovation and flexibility now and in the future.

MEP companies must offer more quieter and discreet access for regular routine or emergency maintenance to keep noise nuisance low, for example, while design must evolve to take account of acoustics inside rooms, adjoining spaces and from noise transference from common MEP risers.

Developers must also be wary that not all progress improves the experience - and mistakes can be very costly. We have got a situation in the United Arab Emirates where lighting control systems have got far too technical for the average user. Some operators have spent hundreds of thousands on high-tech systems only to receive a glut of complaints from guests that do not know how to turn of the light or close the curtains.

The message from customers is 'keep it simple’. Yes, use an iPad as the interface to control the room but again keep it user friendly. It’s infuriating when you arrive at your hotel after a long flight and need a few hours’ sleep before that important meeting but can’t close the curtains or turn the lights off!

The market in the UAE remains buoyant and highly competitive. Occupancy rates are still very healthy, and for some operators breaking all records when compared to their hotel brands in other parts of the world, especially Europe. Tourist and business travel numbers, key indicators for the market, continue to grow.

They remain the lifeblood of the UAE construction market and keeping on-track over the next few years up to and beyond Expo 2020 in Dubai. Designing with the future in mind is the key to success and building services engineers must impress on clients that the ‘value-added’ elements of health and wellbeing are integral to their plans and will ultimately affect their bottom line.

Reid Donovan is ChapmanBDSP’s regional director in the Middle East and chairman of the CIBSE United Arab Emirates committee. With 25 years’ in the construction industry, Reid has experience across many sectors and has been based in the Middle East for the past 10 years.

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