Redesigning Hospitality: Abdullah Alkhorayef on his vision for the future of hotels

Redesigning Hospitality: Abdullah Alkhorayef on his vision for the future of hotels

With a firm focus on the future, the entrepreneur and designer draws up his hospitality wish list
26 January 24
Image source: Unsplash: Mara Conan Design

Staying in a hotel, above all else, is a break from daily life.

Even when I'm travelling for business or a family commitment, being in a hotel immediately presents the requirements or expectations one associates with a vacation. Spending a night away from your own bed is an indulgence, whatever the reason.

We are witnessing a kind of gold rush of hotel openings in the Kingdom: from boutique stays to expansive resorts, international chains to local brands, new concepts of lodging and creative designs are emerging. Some are location-specific (look at the Red Sea resorts), while others are closer to five-star camping (look at AlUla). Then there are serviced apartments, studios, Airbnbs, cabins, and desert caravans. The growth of the sector is nothing short of breathtaking.

Have we reached saturation or is there more to be done?

To meet the tourism targets of 2030 and beyond, we certainly require more – more rooms, or to use industry-specific vocabulary, more “keys” are still needed, not just for inbound tourism from abroad, but increasingly for the young cosmopolitan population of the Kingdom (both Saudis and non-Saudis). In every category, in every city, for every traveller.

Hotels that are currently in the works are catering for today’s needs. However, by the time they all open, I believe we will already have changed how we think about the role of a hotel. It needs at least a year of feasibility studies, financing, design, and tendering, and two years for construction – that’s for a small and exceptionally quick project. Imagine the transformations our habits can undergo in just a few years. Saudi has changed beyond recognition in the past three years, all for the positive I might add, and the coming three will go by even quicker! So, if a hotel is designed in 2023, it will find it challenging to cope with the demands of the world it will open in.

Given that a hotel never gets a revamp before its 10-year mark, we need to be thinking of how we will be using them in 2033 when we design today. With costs being higher, tastes being more sophisticated, and life being more demanding and complex, hotels need to address a new challenge: the speed with which they can feel dated. We live in a time of change, an exciting time of letting go of the old. Yet, we still haven’t figured out what’s the new; it’s being tested and discovered – we are in an intertidal.

How do we build something new when we don't know what new is?

Many people will jump immediately to technology, but I believe that’s a lazy way of thinking. Technology is like fashion. Its strength is that it changes quickly, it is adaptable and flexible. However, a hotel is neither; it is a big slow-moving investment and a huge risk. Relying on changing technology, fashions, behaviours, and lifestyles, a hotel can easily feel dated before you get your return on investment, which can spell disaster for the investor, the city, and the economy.

I don’t have a clear picture for what the future hotel should be like, but I know it has to evolve from what is being suggested now. The answer isn’t really the point, anyway. Asking the question is the important part. We need to move beyond design and technology. What we need is imagination, dreams, and exploration.

For me, the starting point is how we live now: life is hectic for everyone, we are always stressed, busy, distracted, and anxious. But there is also optimism, opportunity, and a newly embraced diversity. Hotels are shared by people with a range of lifestyles, ages, ethnicities, genders, and hybrid identities. Guests today want wildly different things from a hotel than their parents did – and even among themselves. Meeting such diverse expectations will be a challenge for the industry to cater to.

Given the direction the world is taking, it seems the ultimate service a hotel will need to offer its guests in the coming decade will be time. Talk to anyone around you and they’ll tell you time is in short supply. This would be my starting point: how would I give guests more time? Maybe it’s time to get to work on my own hotel.