AHEAD Americas 2019

2019 Judging

AHEAD Americas is adjudicated by an independent panel of experts, comprising leading hospitality architects, designers, owners, operators, developers and industry commentators.

The judging process for AHEAD Americas has been carefully developed to ensure a rigorous, robust and balanced procedure is followed to select the final winners in each category.


Mari Balestrazzi

Director of Operations, Environments Design - Airbnb

Mari Balestrazzi is Director of Operations for the Environments team at Airbnb. Prior to her role at Airbnb, Mari was Vice President of Americas Design Services for Hyatt Hotels where she oversaw design for Hyatt's portfolio of full service brands. Previously, Mari was Senior Vice President of Design at Morgans Hotel Group where she was responsible for overseeing all design for the company and Director of Design for St. Regis Hotels at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Prior to her in-house roles, Mari was Studio Director for Aero Studios Limited in New York City where she oversaw new construction and renovation projects for both private residences and commercial projects, including 60 Thompson and Giorgio Armani’s private residence in New York.

Ximena Caminos

Founder - HoneyLab

Ximena Caminos is a creative powerhouse. Internationally known as a non-traditional curator, she is a cultural agitator who has pioneered new ways to approach and discuss contemporary art and cultural manifestations at large.

Art making, culture, design, and place-making are at the foundation of all her endeavors. She is Founder of the cross disciplinary cultural platform HoneyLAB. She is former Artistic Director and Chair of Faena Art and CCO of the multi-awarded Faena Group.

She has recently been appointed Artistic Visionary Planner for The Underline, the largest public art project in the US. Caminos is the Founder of the cultural platform HoneyLab.

Jou-Yie Chou

Creative Director - Studio Tack

Jou-Yie is one of four partners at Studio Tack, leading creative direction, marketing strategy and ongoing partnerships. Prior to this, he served as the Brand Director of Ace Hotel Group. Jou-Yie cut his teeth at Neverstop, a marketing agency specialising in brand activations, with clients ranging from Nike to Uniqlo.

He is also currently on the Board of Advisors for Taylor Stitch and serves as the Managing Member to a consumer focused boutique early stage investment company called Tusk Partners. Jou-Yie received his BA in International Political Economy at Colorado College.

Johnathan Garrison

Managing Partner - Yabu Pushelberg

Johnathan Garrison leads the Yabu Pushelberg studio with an extensive range of project types including hospitality, retail, residential, building design, lighting, product, branding and graphics. Trained as an architect and with 20 years of experience in the design industry, he develops innovative and purposeful design solutions that cultivate cohesive, emotionally resonating experiences.

Current and recent projects include the Times Square EDITION, Park Hyatt Shenzhen, the debut of Moxy brand in North America and the Park Hyatt Bangkok. Award winning projects include Interior Design Magazine’s Best of Year Award Four Seasons Kuwait Burj Alshaya for New Build category, Tiffany and Co. 37 Wall Street and Michelin star Hong Kong restaurant Arbor. Johnathan has been a part of the Yabu Pushelberg team for 16 years. Prior to his tenure he worked at Inglese Architecture and Engineering. Johnathan is a graduate of Ball State University and received his M Arch at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Sam Gelin

Founder - Craft Hospitality

Sam Gelin is an award-winning Hotel Developer and Founder of leading hospitality and experiential company, Craft Hospitality.

In September 2017, Sam opened MADE hotel in New York City, which was added to Condé Nast's Travellers Hot List as one of the Best Hotels in The World in 2018. Within the hotel, Sam created and launched three celebrated food and beverage concepts — Paper Coffee, Good Behaviour, and foodie favourite, Ferris. In April 2018, Michelin Guide announced that MADE's food and beverage program is the model for hotel restaurants based on quality.

Sam was included in Hotels Magazine's Rising Star List of Top 20 People in the Hotel Industry under 40 and recognised by Vanity Fair as having "a passionately personal understanding of today's traveller". In 2018, MADE was awarded the AHEAD Americas award for "Best Guestroom" in North & South America", and The Sunday Times announced Sam's hotel as "the best example of next-gen hotels".

Since 2011, Sam has lead the creation and execution of unique food and beverage experiences in over 11 cities around the world, which are regularly enjoyed by more than 30,000 people every year.

Verena Haller

Chief Design Officer - Standard Hotels

Verena Haller joined Standard International from Equinox Hotels, where she informed the creation of the Brand, Design Vision and Guest Experience for its new concept. She began her hospitality career with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, refining & honing her hospitality and design knowledge. For over a decade, Verena has worked with leading brands, designing for The W, Four Seasons, and James hotels. Verena went on to join Ian Schrager as EVP of Architecture and Design, working on and opening a variety of Edition Hotels and The Public Chicago. She later partnered with Morgans Hotel Group as SVP of Design, defining the brand’s next steps. She opened properties in London, Las Vegas, Istanbul etc., utilizing her expertise to help create the brand as it is today.

Currently Chief Design Officer for Standard International, she is helping to expand The Standard label and brand worldwide, with their first international property opening in London later this year. Verena’s unique innovative vision and refined eye for detail has greatly contributed to the overall success in the expansion and evolution of The Standard.

Greg Keffer

Partner / Studio Leader - Rockwell Group

Greg Keffer is a Partner and Studio Leader at Rockwell Group, where he oversees a wide variety of project types, including hospitality, retail, residential, and workplace environments. Greg's combined strengths in architecture, interiors, graphics, and branding allow him to develop innovative and holistic design solutions for a global roster of clients.

Current projects include Moxy Chelsea in New York, Nobu Hotel Barcelona, 15 Hudson Yards in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Warner Music Group Headquarters in Los Angeles, W Nashville, and the Kempinski Hotel Chengdu. Greg also has extensive luxury residential experience, including 111 Murray in New York, Sky in New York, and Station House in Washington, D.C. Other notable projects include the iconic New York restaurants Nobu Downtown and Union Square Cafe, NeueHouse in New York and Los Angeles, Chefs Club in New York, The Time hotel in New York, Hotel EMC2 in Chicago, the MGM Cotai, the Doheny Room and Nightingale Plaza in Los Angeles, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City and Five50 Pizza Bar at the Aria in Las Vegas.

Tony Machado

Senior Vice President Design - SH Hotels & Resorts

Tony Machado is Senior Vice President of Design for the hospitality leader and innovator, SH Hotels & Resorts, an affiliate of global private investment firm Starwood Capital Group, where he is leading all aspects of design for the company’s fast growing 1 Hotel, Baccarat Hotel, and SH Collection brands. 2022 hotel openings will include 1 Hotel San Francisco, 1 Hotel Nashville and 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay Kauai.

Prior to SH Hotels & Resorts, Tony was with Morgans Hotel Group where he served as Global Vice President and Head of Design and Construction for the expansion of all brands including Delano and Mondrian.

Tony attended Syracuse University’s School of Architecture in Florence Italy and San Diego State University where he received a BA with an emphasis in Environmental Design. Tony is a California state licensed architect.

Alessandro Munge

Principal - Studio Munge

Born into a world of design, Alessandro Munge quickly transcended teenage sketches to become one of Canada’s most sought-after designers. Through his inquisitive nature and fundamental drive, Alessandro has redefined the role of a designer by provoking profound emotion in his work.

Specialising in thoughtful design solutions that conquer business challenges, he approaches every project with a deep understanding of practicalities, artistic expression, and human connectivity. With an innovative point of view, Alessandro has earned Contract Magazine’s Designer of the Year Award and Interior Design’s Hospitality Design Leader, strengthening his ties to a host of top-tier hospitality brands.

Alessandro continues to establish himself as a multidisciplinary visionary through design architecture, landscaping and product design. Leading a dynamic team of over fifty, Alessandro’s eponymous studio sculpts spaces into signature experiences from New York to Hong Kong. Among many international endeavours, Studio Munge’s recent projects include the Park Hyatt Hotel & Residences Los Angeles, the Park Hyatt Hotel Toronto, the first integrated NOBU hotel, residences and restaurants in Toronto`s Entertainment District, and E Madison Avenue by Equinox.

Kristina O'Neal

Founding Partner - AvroKO

Over the last two decades, AvroKO has earned a reputation as one of the most impactful and influential design firms in the hospitality field. Founded in 2001 by four partners - Kristina O'Neal, William Harris, Greg Bradshaw, and Adam Farmerie - the group is now operating with offices in New York City, San Francisco, London and Bangkok with over 200 employees. Their significant portfolio of critically-hailed interior design work expresses a humming conversation between the ideals of the past and off-beat sensibilities that point to the future, between cultural memory and social interaction, and between the physical, emotional, and psychological realms.

AvroKO is known for its award-winning, concept-driven projects that resonate with guests by providing a unique combination of narrative-driven and environmental psychology. Their work maximizes innovative hospitality experiences through their trademarked process coined Hospitable Thinking®, which addresses core human needs through design.

Through the Partners combined spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship, they have also founded additional companies under the AvroKO World umbrella, including: AvroKO Hospitality Group, which conceptualizes, owns, operates and licenses restaurants and bars both domestically and abroad; Brand Bureau, a creative agency rooted in hospitality that focuses on strategy, branding and visual design; and Hospitable Bridge, an accelerator studio supporting POC female-identifying founders who are changing the hospitality world for the better.

Chad Oppenheim

Principal - Oppenheim Architecture + Design

Chad Oppenheim is a Miami-based architect whose work is praised for its ability to transform the prosaic into the poetic. A graduate of Cornell University and a Fellow of the AIA, Oppenheim has lectured widely and has taught at various architecture schools, including most recently at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

In 1999, he founded Oppenheim Architecture (Miami, Basel, New York). The international practice has received over 80 awards and distinctions, including the AIA’s highest distinction, the Silver Medal, and featured in numerous publications around the world. In 2018, Oppenheim Architecture was the recipient of one of the National Design Awards by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Markus Schreyer

Chairman – META Foundation

Markus is a global hospitality executive and experience-architect at the forefront of business development, innovation, experience design and technology. His career encompasses roles across 40 countries and 20 luxury brands in global hotel chains like Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; as well as leadership positions in lifestyle brands, including Senior Vice President Global Innovation at Design Hotels, a Marriott brand, and Chief Development Officer at Proper Hospitality.

His passion for fostering growth, accelerating startups, and developing new revenue streams in retail, experiences, and membership models for lifestyle brands through strategic innovation and human-touch points across multiple digital platforms has earned him recognition across industries.

As the co-founder and chairman of the META Foundation, a visionary hospitality innovation lab established in 2020, he accelerates global projects in cultural, social, and sustainable development. The foundation collaborates with governments, universities, and technologists across industries introducing impactful business models in living, travel, and community building enabled through AI, web3 and spatial computing.

Markus holds an MBA and a PhD in Innovation Strategy from the University of Dresden, Germany. He teaches competitive strategy at New York University (NYU) and lives in the city with his family.

Ilan Segal

Co-founder - Soulity

Ilan Segal has a relentless flair for innovation. His 24 years' experience as a highly successful hotelier spans two continents and is characterised by a daring creativity and innate knowledge of operations.

Born and raised in the hospitality world, Ilan was exposed to all aspects of the industry. Both a musician and photographer, Ilan has developed a profound understanding of how to enhance vibe and style, capturing the senses and spirit of our guests. He has introduced concepts that elevated the standard of hospitality, reflected in his impeccable track record.

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Ilan’s path includes Standard International, where he was Managing Director, The Leading Hotels of The World Headquarters, Starwood Hotels’ first W Hotel in New York City, Hotel Victor, The Tides and Marlin Hotels in Miami Beach, among other distinguished roles.

In 2008 Ilan took it a step further forming Soulity, a hospital consulting boutique firm. His first project was creating the iconic Tcherassi Hotel + Spa in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, followed by other hospitality and food and beverage experiences in The Americas, including Hotel Matilda, one of Mexico’s best boutique design hotels. Most recently, Ilan has led activations at Miami’s Design District as well as providing creative direction for Brookfield’s Hospitality’s division.

Jayson Seidman

Founder and Principal Managing Partner - Sandstone

Jayson Seidman is the Founder and Principal Managing Partner of Sandstone and its various affiliates, Drifter Hotels and The Basic®. Jayson has accumulated years of experience working for Goldman Sachs, LNR Property (now Starwood Capital), Credit Suisse, and most recently as the Head of Development for SHVO in New York. He has gained key knowledge concerning the financial implications and methods for developing ground-up or repositioning a property through pragmatic creative approaches, smart sustainable design, and problem mitigation.

His wide-ranging real estate knowledge includes a strong background in hotel finance, operations, design development, asset and portfolio management. He also possesses insight of acquisitions, as well as the structuring of capital for complex real estate transactions. Recent projects include 3 hotels in New Orleans; The Drifter, The Frenchmen and the Hotel Saint Vincent. In addition to this are The East Austin Hotel and The Basic Marfa; both based in Texas.

Larry Traxler

Senior Vice President, Global Design Services - Hilton Worldwide

Larry Traxler serves as Global Head of Design Services at Hilton Worldwide, overseeing the design of all of Hilton’s luxury, full and focused service hotel brands. Traxler and his global design team work closely with developers, architects, and designers to ensure that the unique style of each Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand is reflected across the properties within its global portfolio.

Traxler has amassed more than 20 years of international hospitality design experience working across luxury, boutique, full-service and focused-service hotel segments. Most recently he ran the Architecture & Design department for Hyatt Hotels North America & Caribbean, and prior to this served as the Design Director for Ian Schrager Hotels, Wilson & Associates, and Hirsch Bedner & Associates, focusing on hotel design and development operations.

His career began at the experimental architectural design office of Jordan Mozer & Associates, and Traxler holds a six-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree with a minor Professional Practice award from the University of Cincinnati.

Audra Tuskes

VP of Design - Neue House

A design professional focused on hospitality & lifestyle development, Audra is responsible for reimagining the physical environment for NeueHouse. With locations in New York & Los Angeles, NeueHouse will continue to expand across North America. Audra has been the Vice President of Design & Creative Director for The Lightstone Group, overseeing design & brand experience for their lifestyle projects.

Audra concurrently serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for Hospitality Design Magazine. With 20+ years of experience in the field, Audra's past positions include Vice President of Design for Commune Hotels, Director of Design for Starwood Hotels & Associate Design Professor at Pratt Institute. Audra holds a Master of Architecture from Columbia University.

Caitlin Zaino von During

CEO - Porter & Sail

Porter & Sail’s CEO and co-founder, Caitlin Zaino von During is a creative technologist and entrepreneur who has dedicated her career to hospitality and travel.

Since founding Porter & Sail in 2014, Caitlin has developed the Company into a leader in transformative hospitality, growing the team globally from a fledging startup to a tour de force in the industry. She has appeared at events from Design Hotels’ Arena* to LE Miami to the Future of Travel, where she advocated for the power of technology to architect a new guest experience for today’s digital age.

Prior to Porter & Sail, Caitlin created and led the popular online food pop-culture magazine, The Urban Grocer, which she later produced and hosted as a television show on the Cooking Channel. She has led a monthly column and digital series for BBC Travel, as well as authored thousands of travel and lifestyle pieces for leading publications, including Lonely Planet, BBC Food, Nota Bene, and Lost At E Minor, amongst others.


Call for Entries
02 Dec 2019
Entry Deadline
28 Feb 2019
Judging Panel Announced
08 Apr 2019
Shortlist Announced
25 Apr 2019
Judging Day
21 May 2019
Awards Ceremony
18 Jun 2019


The application of design and architecture to deliver great guest experiences are at the heart of AHEAD.

The criteria for success are based not only on creative excellence, but also on commercial viability.

As well as projects that are aesthetically impressive, the judges will be looking for evidence that winning designs have also met the needs of client and customers alike.

The judges will be looking for submissions showing rigorous and appropriate design, demonstrating a sensible use of budget to contribute to the guest experience as well as the 'theatre' of hotel life while satisfying the client brief.

Submitted material should demonstrate clearly why the project is thought to be worth an award in its chosen category and how the design sets the project at an award winning level.

Click here to see our AHEAD Checklist, which guides you through the entry process.