With a limited budget and a construction schedule of one evening, the WATG Irvine office put together a Haunted Hotel (the Dead End Hotel) for Halloween. Most props were donated by the people involved and the hotel was built from scratch. The team, led by Duff Paulsen and DeeAnn Gray, proved more successful at scaring people than anticipated, convincing them to separate the hotel into two levels of horror, one for adults and one for children.
The hotel components included: the Entrance of no Escape, Front Desk of Fear, Hallway of Horror, Guestroom of Doom, Slaughterhouse Spa, and the Lounge of the Non-Living.
The mission statement here at WATG is "to design experiences that lift the spirit." And though previous emphasis has been placed on the latter part of that tagline, I personally take note of what comes before that, the designing of experiences. Now I enjoy sketching and doodling as much as the next guy in this design environment we all occupy, but I personally believe that in order to create the best projects we can, there must be an element of storytelling worked into and throughout the design process.
By sheer nature of the hospitality industry, it is our responsibility to make and keep the guest experience at the forefront of our priorities as we design properties and projects for clients. And though we communicate professionally through a series of visual media, these graphics cannot completely convey how a guest would experience the space and place. By implementing storytelling methods and setting up a narrative to accompany the visual tools we use, a more holistic depiction of the guest experience can be given.
If there is a theme to a project, creating a storyline acts as a system of checks and balances to ensure various parts of the overall project work together to give the guest a coherent thematic experience. And even if a project is not strongly themed, using storytelling before, during, and after the design process can give a project a stronger character which ultimately results in a more memorable experience for the guest. Perhaps a project is a completely new construction but is located in a historically rich environment. It is important that this design, though it may be aesthetically and chronologically modern, relate in some way to what surrounds and preceded it.
Beyond the story of the building and its character, another plot awaits attention: the narrative of the guest experience. In presenting a hotel property, for instance, it can be easy to merely point out locations (here is the lobby, here is the spa, here is the pool). The strongest presentations are those that creatively describe the various processions throughout the property made by the guest. Full of adjectives and a vocabulary that goes beyond "architecture speak," those listening are able to see and understand an enhanced floor plan, full of future guest experiences.
By making the narrative an important part of the design process, it can only lead to a better final product. They say every building tells a story, so why not tell a story with a building?
My keynote speech, delivered to 420 attendees at the Russia & CIS Hotel Investment Conference in Moscow last week, was entitled, "Turning Troubling Trends Into Opportunities." Even though I pointed out many problems associated with hotel development in this part of the world, the presentation was well-received and much appreciated. (At least that’s what they told me.)
While the delegates were aware of rising construction costs and declining hotel occupancies, the worldwide credit crunch and the volatility of the stock market, escalating payroll expenses and staff recruitment challenges, cumbersome bureaucracies and opaque regulations … most see the glass as half full – of vodka no less – and are bullish on the opportunities in the region.
• Many clients are wealthy enough to fund their own developments without needing to seek international sources of financing.
• While the Russian stock market just hit a three-year low, only one percent of the population has money in the market (compared to 45% in the US).
• There is a significant shortage of quality hotel rooms in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and many of the former Soviet countries – and lots of interest from international operators.
• Average daily room rates in Russia are among the highest in the world. They've had RevPAR growth in the double digits for each of the last three years.
With 19 active projects in the region, WATG is well-positioned to be a major player in this market. And while growth may decline to single digits in the near term, it will still outpace Western Europe and the US.
WATG was well-represented at this conference by John Goldwyn, Jeremy Heyes, Aaron Minson and Nick Poynton. We came away with new contacts, stronger relationships, a better understanding of the market's pitfalls and possibilities, several leads and prospects, and bellies full of caviar.
In front of St. Basil's Cathedral (Red Square)
L-R: Howard Wolff, Nick Poynton, John Goldwyn, and Aaron Minson
Nick Poynton and I visited Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai last week while in town for Cityscape Dubai 2009. In case you missed the news the Atlantis had a fire a few weeks before it opened. The fire was on the domed roof of the lobby and thankfully did not proceed to the inner dome and the interior finishes. The concrete structure kept the interior free from the fire although there was extensive water damage from the fire suppression system. The hotel had clean up operations in place the same afternoon and was able to have the lobby back in pristine condition for the main opening. There was extensive damage to the outer external dome and work on that is to be completed later next week.
The Dale Chihuly sculpture in front of which we are standing is estimated to have cost US$12 million and Mr. Chihuly himself was in Dubai to install the sculpture for two weeks. The sculpture was sent from the States in individual pieces and constructed on site.
Special thanks to Dorsai Khaghani for giving Nick and me a tour of the hotel.
Rory and Nick with Dorsai Khaghani in front of the Chihuly sculpture.
The early stages of this project in Dubai sees the designers, architects and master planners of London coming together to brainstorm ideas in a workshop for the initial design concept. This is the magical time that a variety of coloured markers and pens, scale rulers and tracing paper fly around the room until the individual lines, colours and shapes settle into a remarkable drawing!
An in-house design charrette presents the perfect opportunity for everyone on the design team to get involved, exchange ideas between disciplines and get the creative juices flowing, while quickly generating a design solution.
Flying into Johannesburg over miles of undeveloped Africa, I'm reminded of all the bad press this continent gets. On the ground, however, I'm immediately overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the people here in South Africa. My taxi driver chats happily about his job and how fortunate he was to get it. He leaps out the car at the hotel, whisks my bag out of the car, and wishes me a wonderful stay.
At the Hospitality Investment Conference Africa, I met delegates from all over the continent who were optimistic about the growth of Africa's hospitality industry.
Although often overlooked, I think Africa really has all the key ingredients for the development of successful industry--warm hospitable people (natural hosts), enthusiasm, unrivalled natural beauty and wildlife.
I look forward to us engaging in new projects on the continent as Africa emerges.
For some years, there has been a widely acknowledged correlation between building golf courses adjacent to residential and second home developments and a 15-20 percent uplift in the sales price of golf frontage units--regardless of whether the residents play golf or not. Golf is nothing short of a global phenomenon and has an army of devoted followers--both as spectators and players. The big personalities from the game have design studios who are busily creating new courses all over the world. People are excited by the idea of playing golf and the lifestyle it represents, particularly in emerging markets. Playing golf is a sign that they have "made it," and living in a community of like-minded individuals is often very attractive. It is also pleasant to look out onto a green open space while enjoying a drink on the terrace.
What worries me is there simply isn't the millions of gallons of water required to provide golf in many locations. In locations where rain is plentiful--such as in the UK, the US Pacific Northwest, in the mountains or much of the tropics, golf is a logical fit. However, in dry Mediterranean, maqui or desert environments, golf simply doesn't work without huge investment in desalination or other unsustainable means. We are frequently presented with clients who wish to turn deserts green.
This presents a challenge--we are a commercial firm working in every geographical location in the world, and are acutely aware that we are there to help clients maximize their return on investment in their land. We know that golf raises the value of this investment but we know that this comes at a price: shortage of water is one of the biggest environmental problems facing our generation.
What are we to do? This is a huge question that we should not be afraid to ask. We are currently thinking in-depth about what lies beyond golf in the desert and how we can find other, more sustainable ways to increase value and amenity for property on integrated resorts. We are also engaging with golf designers to make sure we team up and follow best practice with them in terms of using drought-tolerant grass species: re-use of grey water for irrigation and smaller fairways so that there is less to irrigate. We don't have all the answers yet, but rest assured that we are committed to a sustainable future. More to follow!
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