2018 Judging

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


The judges for AHEAD MEA are acknowledged industry leaders, who represent a wide spectrum of the disciplines involved in delivering new hotel projects across the region.

Marc Dardenne - Chair

Marc Dardenne joined Jumeirah in September 2016 as Group Chief Operating Officer and oversees group operations across its international portfolio. He has a long and established career as a hotelier, having worked internationally for more than 30 years.

He has been instrumental in the development of a number of brands and curated guest experiences across a range of diverse hospitality assets including hotels, branded residences, serviced apartments, resorts and clubs.

Dardenne’s appointment hailed his return to Dubai after 5 years in Singapore. His experience has enhanced the Jumeirah management team as well as Jumeirah’s continued evolution as a leading hospitality brand. A Belgium national, Dardenne has lived and worked in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East and is fluent in French, English and German.

Paul Bishop

Owner & Founder - Bishop Design

The creative powerhouse behind Bishop Design LLC, the international multi award winning boutique firm, is owner and founder, Paul Bishop. Paul is widely regarded as one of the UAE’s leading commercial and hospitality designers in the UAE and is noted for his ability in creating such diverse and unique concepts such as La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, UAE brand Caramel Restaurant and Lounge which is soon to open its first European location in London as well as working with world renowned chefs Massimo Bottura and Jean Edern Hurstel for new F&B venues Torno Subito on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai and Restaurant Edern soon to open in Paris, France.

Paul’s ability to further incorporate international concepts into the UAE F&B industry such as BOA, KOI and Toro + KO from the USA, Scalini’s in London and Ketchup Burger Restaurant & Bar from Russia is a further testament to his extensive knowledge and experience within the Interior Design industry. Following such success, Paul has recently integrated his skillset further into the hospitality industry as well as his portfolio with multiple hotel’s currently under design with operators such as Rotana and Hilton including boutique hotel brands soon to be revealed in the Middle East. 

Marcos Cain

Principal & Founder - Stickman Tribe

With over twenty years of creative experience spanning hotel, retail, residential and commercial projects, Marcos Cain has spearheaded hospitality concepts and projects across Asia, Australia and the Middle East - from award winning boutique hotels, to iconic newbuilds such as The Cook, The Meet, The Brew at the Kerry Hotel, Pudong, and Hotel Jen in Beijing. His most recent projects include the Waldorf Astoria in the Maldives, The Ritz Carlton Amman and Katara Sharq Village.

A passionate spokesperson for hospitality and F&B design, cain is a regular guest speaker at events on innovation and sustainability. His accodales to date include; the Asia Hotel Design award, Middle East Interior Design award and the International House and Property award,  and he has been recognized across a large range of categories, from best hotel and restaurant to luxury urban escape.

Pinar Calimano

Director of Design - InterContinental Hotels Group

Pinar Calimano is Director of Design for InterContinental Hotels Group, overseeing and inspiring the design delivery for hotels in the Middle East and Africa region. A seasoned hospitality design professional with a multidisciplinary background, she is passionate about creating guest journeys that inspire, delight and emotionally engage guests.

Calimano began a career in hotel management in her hometown of Istanbul, though, following eight years with international hotel operators, her desire to create hospitality concepts took her to US, where she received a degree from the New York School of Interior Design.

She has worked as lead designer for international firms in New York and Dubai, and on hotel projects operated by Marriot, Starwood, Hilton, Ritz Carlton, Movenpick and Hyatt International, as well as regional developers such as Nakheel, Al Mulla Holding and Dutco.

Claire Craig

Design Director - Wa International

Design Director Claire Craig established WA International’s Dubai office in 1996, which subsequently became one of the region’s most well known design consultancies. She leads a team of international design professionals, and has contributed to the interiors of properties in Dubai, across the UAE and abroad.

Craig brings to the team an enthusiastic approach to design, and keen leadership guided by a wealth of knowledge and experience. Having worked previously in Canada, USA, Saudi Arabia, London and Egypt, she embodies the spirit of an international and culturally diverse designer.

Craig has witnessed the evolution and growth of the region, and her contributions to projects including the Address Downtown, One & Only the Palm, and The Westin, Al Habtoor City have helped make the UAE a renowned hospitality and travel destination.

With a background in architecture, it is her love and passion for all things design that has led her to this profession, and aided her in creating original and distinctive properties.

Pallavi Dean

Founder - Pallavi Dean Interiors

Pallavi Dean is the founder and creative force behind Pallavi Dean Interiors, a boutique design consultancy. The company’s mission is to create experiences through design, and has an international portfolio spanning three continents, flagship projects include the new Delano in Dubai, Paramount Hotels and Resorts in Doha and the Edelman HQ in Abu Dhabi.

A trained architect and sustainability specialist, Dean has won awards for her work across sectors including the commercial, hospitality and residential markets. She was born in India, raised in Dubai and spent years working in London, and her designs reflect these eclectic influences. A former professor of interior design at the American University of Sharjah, she strives to implement the latest theoretical and practical research into the firm’s designs.

Dean debuted her furniture line Tension in 2016, a line that documents her design journey to date.

Carol Finnie

Portfolio Director & Head of Design - ‎dwp

Carol Finnie of dwp creates bespoke interior designs suited to clients’ individual needs. With over 26 years experience, she has successfully completed a diverse range of projects, and spent part of her career in the US as project director for the renovation of The Pierre Hotel in New York.

Taking inspiration from her many interests, and combining functionality and creative design with commercial realities, she is adept at communicating how excellence in design maximises value for the client.

As Regional Portfolio Director for the Middle East, Finnie has a detailed, passionate and thorough approach, and contributes critical analysis, planning and design guidance to each project. Her ability to execute experiential spaces, customised to the culture she’s designing for, means that she treats every project in a unique way.

Her expertise in construction methods, subconsultants, coordination and cost analysis, combined with her knowledge of materials, ensures the client's design vision is delivered on time and to a high standard.

​Beat Fornaro

Area Director of Portfolio Development - Design Hotels

Beat Fornaro is Area Director of Portfolio Development for Design Hotels™. He is responsible for the curation of the hand-picked portfolio of one-of-a-kind properties across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. With his multidisciplinary background of 15 years in hospitality and tourism. Beat held positions in the US, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. He is passionate about forward-thinking hotel concepts that engage local culture with international hotel standards to create exceptional guest experiences. In his role, he looks for hoteliers who act as elicitors for the guest’s personal enrichment.

Before joining Design Hotels™, Beat worked many years in Sub-Saharan Africa, where he has been responsible for creating and implementing hospitality related projects in challenging environments. Among others, in partnership with his alma mater, École hôtelière de Lausanne, he has built a hotel school in Angola.

Isabel Pintado

Senior Vice President & Managing Director - Wilson Associates Dubai

A seasoned interior architecture professional, Pintado has invaluable familiarity with the region’s culture and business landscape, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the design industry.

She leads the brand’s Dubai design studio, overseeing the design direction for each project, and generating opportunities for Wilson’s global design studios. Much of her inspiration is drawn from her love for travelling, watching people on the street, and visiting exhibitions by an eclectic roster of artists and designers. Her style is one of harmonious natural and contemporary elements.

​Sheri Smith

Senior Director of Interior Design for Global Design MEA - Marriott International

Sheri Y. Smith joined Marriott International in 1986, and currently serves as Senior Director of Interior Design for Global Design Middle East and Africa. With over thirty years of experience in the design industry, her passion for excellence and forward thinking design has resulted in memorable guest experiences around the globe.

Smith manages interior design decisions throughout the Middle East and Africa, and is responsible for instilling each property with unique character. Her expertise ranges from site market analysis to acquisition, conversion, renovation and new-build projects. She has further contributed to product branding, positioning and strategic brand product implemetations. Her international experience spans the Americas, Asia, Europe, and MEA, with her work present throughout the luxury, lifestyle, full and select service markets.

David T'Kint

Partner - HBA Dubai

Over the past 15 years he has successfully produced one of the most diverse portfolios; designing luxury and lifestyle hotels with some of the best international hospitality brands. He has created distinctive and original environments which reflect the Client’s aesthetic vision.   He has travelled the world collecting experiences from Shanghai, Paris, the Maldives, Los Angeles, Singapore and recently Dubai. In Dubai, he leads a multicultural team of over 60 designers, inspiring and guiding them on their journey to achieve successful and unique projects, cultivating their skills and creative diversities.

David’s keen sense for design and dedication is shown with his handling of multiple projects while delivering the high standards and quality in projects that can be seen all throughout the world. Speaking English, French and Dutch coupled with his life experience gives David a cultural sensitivity and uniqueness that each of his projects and clients demand.


The judging process for AHEAD MEA has been developed over the past 20 years to ensure a rigorous, robust and balanced procedure is followed to select the final winners in each category.

Call for Entries
01 Mar 2018
Judging Panel Announced
03 Apr 2018
Entry Deadline
30 Apr 2018
Shortlist Announced
26 Jul 2018
Judging Day
19 Sep 2018
Awards Ceremony
14 Nov 2018


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.

Eligibility / Entry

Hotel projects completed between January 2017 – February 2018 are eligible for entry to AHEAD MEA 2018.

A hotel is defined as a commercial building, or combination of buildings, primarily dedicated to the provision of lodging / accommodation. Please note privately owned accommodations exclusively rented out for lodging via peer-to-peer sites such as Airbnb are not eligible for AHEAD.

AHEAD is unique in its celebration of the key collaborators in hotel projects: the developer / investor; operator; architect and interior designer.

Anyone can enter an award, but we recommend that the designers / architects responsible for the hotel compile the entry.

Hotel owners, operators, developers, investors, PRs and other representatives are encouraged to co-ordinate entries for the hotels they represent with the relevant designers/architects.

Further guidance on specific criteria for individual categories is given here and during the entry process.

Entry costs for AHEAD MEA are 1120 AED for the first submission, then 560 AED for additional entries.


Photography should clearly show the design and / or architecture of the area of the property relevant to the category in which it is entered.

If entering more than one category please submit different photographs that reflect the category you are entering.

Before and after photos, CGIs and renderings, floor plans and / or CAD drawings can be included as supporting material where relevant.

Please do not submit CGIs / renderings in place of actual photography.

Please try and avoid use of advertising or marketing photographs e.g. posed models, elaborate table settings etc.

Please ensure that you have the appropriate copyright clearances for all photography submitted (see terms and conditions)