It is the hospitality awards programme’s second year in the region, which saw an increased number of “understated luxury” hotels win prizes, according to the judges.
“I sense a bit of a backlash against the fast-fashion school of thought when it comes to hospitality design,” said Pallavi Dean, jury member and founder of Dubai interior design studio Roar.
“I think the gimmicky selfie, Instagram culture has taken a back seat now and we’re creating spaces that are timeless, that are crafted beautifully.”
The Bulgari Resort in Dubai, designed by Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel, was one of the big winners of the night. It scooped four prizes, including the AHEAD MEA Hotel of the Year award.
“The Bulgari Resort in Dubai is a great example of luxury that whispers rather than shouts,” said Pinar Calimano, jury member and director of design for InterContinental Hotels Group.
“We are moving towards contemporary and understated luxury.”
Fellow judge Paul Bishop, founder of Bishop Design, added: “It is absolutely stunning when you go in there; the level of finishing is second-to-none.”
“The detailing is very simple and pure. Antonio Citterio really enhanced that space and brought to life Bulgari as a brand.”
According to Dean and Calimano, the most successful hotels prioritised guest experience above all else.
“We thought in the last few years that our market was saturated, but I think this saturation brings health to design quality,” said Calimano.
“We are paying more attention to the storytelling and the guest experience, in order to differentiate ourselves from the offering next door.”
Dean added: “How do you create that magical experience, that experience that’s unforgettable, an experience that really puts the user at the centre of the space?”
Winning hotels outside of the Middle East region include the Bisate Eco Lodge in Rwanda, which won the Lodges and Tented Camps category.
“Bisate had a great narrative running through it,” said Bishop. “It was great to see a project like that up against the bigger players in the market.”
The Silo in Cape Town, South Africa, won the Renovation, Restoration and Conservation category. The hotel is located in the former grain silo building that also contains the Zeitz MOCAA museum by Heatherwick Studio.
“I think this year saw a wider range of entrants, not just within the Middle East but also Africa,” said Bishop.
“The Silo, as a piece of architectural renovation, is absolutely incredible.”
All images used in the movie and this story are courtesy of AHEAD.