AHEAD is the leading Awards for Hospitality Experience and Design. Each year, the series comprises four regional annual awards programmes, celebrating the achievements of those shaping the hospitality industry across the Middle East and Africa (MEA), Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Entries for AHEAD MEA 2024 are now closed.

The winners will be announced at AHEAD MEA 2024, held at Banyan Tree Dubai on 4 November 2024Get tickets now.

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Andrew Moore

President (MENA) - HBA

Since joining Hirsch Bedner Associates in 1998, Andrew has been privileged to participate in two of the most dynamic decades of growth in Asia Pacific, especially China.

Andrew has led his design team in Singapore in creating some of the region's most important hospitality projects, and developing lasting relationships with HBA clients.

Christopher Browne

Owner & Creative Director

South-African-born Cape Town resident with a passion for creative design and hospitality. Founder and Creative Director of Fox Browne Creative, an award-winning international hospitality design agency since 2009. Highly experienced in crafting exceptional guest experiences and brand identities.

Chris was Creative Director at &Beyond Travel from 1996-2009, transforming the aesthetic of the brand across guest touch points and playing a key role in expanding &Beyond lodges from four to 40 during his tenure.

With Fox Browne Creative, Chris has worked on some AHEAD-award-winning projects including AHEAD MEA Hotel of the Year 2020, &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.

Elsewhere, Chris designed and operated Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, voted the best hotel in Africa for two years running, and has been featured in seven issues of the Andrew Martin Top 100 designers over the past 10 years.

Diana Espejo

Regional Director, Design & Technical Services (MEA) - Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas

As Regional Director of Design and Technical Services MEA for Six Senses, Diana drives the regional growth, design, and development of multiple projects across the Middle East & Africa, working hand-in-hand with Hotel Owners and together with some of the best designers in the world.

Diana is originally from Mexico where she trained as an Architect and joined the luxury hospitality design industry shortly after graduating. Her adventurous spirit drove her to relocate multiple times following her career and passion for design, as well as the opportunity to experience new cultures in Asia, Europe and more recently the Middle East.

Prior joining Six Senses, Diana collaborated in projects for several luxury brands of the likes of Aman Hotels, Four Seasons, GHM and Mandarin Oriental, amongst others, while working for award-wining international architecture and design studios, such as Denniston International, Kerry Hill Architects and GA Design.

Having always been passionate about nature, travelling, well-being and sustainability, Diana strongly identify with Six Senses’ unique ethos. She is a conscious traveller and an avid recycler/up-cycler who is constantly on the lookout for the newest sustainability and design trends.

Firas Alsahin

Co-Founder & Design Director - 4SPACE

Firas, the visionary Co-Founder and Design Director of 4SPACE, has consistently pushed the boundaries of architectural and interior design across the Middle East. Under his leadership, 4SPACE has emerged as one of the region's premier interior design firms, renowned for its innovative blend of light, space, and meticulously curated features that craft unforgettable aesthetics.

In 2023, Firas' exceptional talent and dedication were further recognised when he was honoured as the "Interior Designer of the Year"at the prestigious CID awards.

Guiding the design divisions at 4SPACE, Firas' international experience propels the team to venture into uncharted territories, exploring diverse shapes and forms. This results in spaces that seamlessly merge feasibility, efficiency, and originality. His hands-on leadership style ensures that every stage of the design process, from 3D modeling to site supervision, is executed with precision.

An accredited design professional with SBID, Firas' design philosophy is a harmonious blend of futuristic, minimalist, functional, and sustainable elements. His influential presence in the industry is evident through his active participation in various Middle Eastern discussion platforms. As a tech- savvy global influencer, Firas' innovative thinking and nurturing leadership inspire his team to craft unique designs using only the finest materials.But Firas' vision extends beyond the present. His ambitious plans for 4SPACE and the broader design landscape reflect a forward-thinking approach, always anticipating the next evolution in design and innovation. He envisions a future where businesses are equipped for the META space design era, harnessing cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, architectural NFTs, and virtual real estate.

​Hakan Ozkasikci

Executive Vice President, Design & Technical Services - Kerzner International

Hakan is Executive Vice President of Design and Technical Services at Kerzner International, overseeing the overall direction of the company’s new and ongoing projects. He joined Kerzner International in 2019, as Senior Vice President of Design & Technical Services, with over 30 years of experience working on iconic projects in 36 countries over 4 continents including the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Kerzner International, through its subsidiaries, is a leading global developer and operator of destination resorts, ultra-luxury hotels and residences and innovative entertainment and gaming experiences. He has been instrumental in the development of SIRO Hotels, Rare Finds along with Atlantis Resorts & Residences and One&Only Resorts and Private Homes.

With a passion for architectural design and fixtures, Hakan’s specialties include architecture, interior design, design and process management, branding, conversion, innovation, and sustainability. He approaches each individual project to reflect the locale, their culture, and their people to reinterpret their values to strike a streamlined balance between comfort, sophisticated simplicity, and luxury.

Hakan completed his master’s degree from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in developing sustainable design models for the hospitality industry including small, unbranded luxury hotels. He is a member of the Turkish Chamber of Architects, International Design Management Institute (DMI) and Ashford Institute Alumni and he holds a certificate on Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management from Cornell University.

Prior to joining Kerzner International, Hakan worked as a consultant designer and architect in different parts of the world. He joined Intercontinental Hotels Group to lead the design and development of the brand in Europe. Following that, he went on to work with Aman to lead the design of the brand across some landmark sites and instill the brand’s determination to preserve their natural settings and offer a luxurious peaceful refuge.

Recognised as a thought leader for the hospitality industry, Hakan has been an active attendee at prominent international hospitality events as a keynote speaker and moderator. He is also a loyal pupil of classical motorcycling, an experiential cook, and is currently penning his first book chronicling his adventures around the globe.

Kristina Zanic

Owner & CEO - Kristina Zanic Consultants

Kristina Zanic has had a distinguished career for three decades as an international designer for projects in over 20 countries. After starting an interior design company at age 26 and growing it to a multinational firm over 15 years, Kristina set up her eponymous studio to offer a more personalised service to clients.

Ten years on, the studio has grown to four offices and 180 staff and won numerous design awards – including #1 Interior Design Firm in the Middle East in 2022, with Kristina also earning the #1 Designer title. The studio designs interiors for urban hotels, nature resorts, VIP private resorts, and restaurants across Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Kristina particularly enjoys working on projects in unique natural settings, where the story of the place shapes the design and the visitor experience. She designed the award-winning interiors of Ritz Carlton Al Hamra and Al Wadi resorts, inspired by Bedouin life and the UAE desert.

Her studio is also behind the interiors of two Saudi luxury island resorts in the Red Sea, with architecture by Kengo Kuma and Foster + Partners, opening in 2023 and 2024. Other notewrothy projects include the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge situated within Kenya’s awe-inspiring wildlife reserve, and a beachfront resort in a UNESCO-listed nature reserve in Qatar. Kristina’s work is inspired by a passion for travel and exploring different cultures. She has been to over 70 countries, often seeking places off the beaten track.

Leila Abdul Rahim

Director, Design - Hilton Worldwide

Starting her career designing theme parks in Japan and Malaysia, Leila moved into corporate interiors in the late 90’s, where she had the privilege to design the newly created Lexus car brand headquarters for Toyota, as well as vanguard offices for Dreamworks, Warner Bros and Warner Records. It was through the start of the actor-owned restaurants that Leila veered into hospitality designing F&B venues for the likes of Michael Wayne.

In 2003, Leila and her family relocated to Dubai, where she first joined the developer Emaar properties and established design and execution standards within the retail department. A few years later, she returned to the consulting side of design, and headed the Dubai brand of several interior design companies, including DiLeonardo, HBA and Bilkey Llinas.

Today, with over 35 years of experience in the industry, Leila oversees interior design experiences for Hilton Corporate’s ME region.

Maliha Nishat

Director, Interior Design, Global Design (EMEA) - Marriott International

Maliha is Director of Interior Design, with a focus on Luxury Brands in Global Design for Marriott International across the Middle East and Africa. Marriott International’s luxury portfolio has eight leading brands including The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection and JW Marriott, and an addition of 22 Premium and Select brands.

Within her role at Marriott International, Maliha influences independent design decisions throughout Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Pakistan, and is responsible for creating memorable guest experiences in line with each of Marriott’s brands through her persistent and uncompromising drive for forward thinking design in the luxury space. Through her process of initiation and coordination of directed design, Maliha understands the complexity of high profile developments at all scales from inception to completion. Within her role, Maliha is highly experienced in hospitality design with 24 years’ experience in the hospitality design sector. An influencer in the Middle East hospitality design market, Maliha has a global mindset having worked across a range of projects in the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Africa both as an international hospitality design consultant for over 16 years and at Marriott International where she has spent the last 7 years. Innovation, creativity, and energy are the cornerstones of Maliha’s design thought process, injecting enthusiasm, passion and personality into every project. Working on new builds, renovation and conversions, she has a keen eye to transform environments.

Maliha oversees design and the strategic direction and delivery of the company’s diverse luxury hotel and residence projects across the region while harmoniously managing internal and external stakeholder relations. Recent highlights from across the region include the Marriott International’s first luxury safari lodge, JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, the arrival of Saudi Arabia’s first St Regis with St Regis Riyadh, and the most recent opening of the St Regis Red Sea.

Mark Eacott

Global VP, Design - Ennismore

Mark joined Ennismore in 2018 from Los Angeles as part of the Accor acquisition of the SBE Lifestyle Brands. Bringing with it his in-depth knowledge of the SLS, Mondrian, HYDE, and Delano legacy brands, Mark was part of a small team based out of Singapore, instrumental in the growth of Ennismore in Asia-Pacific.

Now under a global role from Dubai, Mark co-leads the Ennismore Global Design Team with Charlie North. Working as a ‘hand-to-glove’ link between the Ennismore brands and regional design teams, Mark is responsible for high-level design direction along with defining the design and product strategy for Ennismore brands, ensuring they remain future-proofed and true to their unique brand DNA and purpose.

Prior to Ennismore, Mark spent more than 19 years working in London, New York and Shanghai, training under renowned architects, designers, and hospitality groups such as Soho House, OMA, Richard Rogers, Softroom, HBA and Philippe Starck’s YOO.

Noora Lootah

Manager, Design - Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq)

Noora is currently the Manager of Design at the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) where she has spent the last 10 years. Throughout this time, Noora has been involved in numerous award winning projects under the Shurooq portfolio including iconic projects such as the House of Wisdom.

She graduated from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) where she earned a Bachelors degree in Interior Design in 2012; she later earned a Masters degree in Design Management.

Noora is passionate about all things design and takes a keen interest in the transformative power of design specifically within the UAE context. She enjoys working on projects of a diverse nature, namely restoration of existing structures of historic significance, while exploring sustainable solutions along the way. She also believes in the importance of context driven design and takes pride in being part of a team that continues to transform the face of Sharjah through exceptional projects everyday.

Sameer Grover

Technical Services Lead - Rove Hotels

As Rove Hotels’ Technical Services Lead, Sameer brings seventeen years of knowledge and experience to the role, from hotel and brand development to construction. With a Master’s degree in Real Estate, he likes to approach hotel projects by striking the fine balance between creative design and ROIs.

As an architect in the hospitality sector, Sameer was former Design Manager at the multinational hotel operator and developer, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, delivering luxury projects across the globe including India’s first W resort in Goa.

Simon Thompson

Executive Director, Interior Architecture - Red Sea Global

The Red Sea is one of the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism destinations, being developed on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. It is forging a new relationship between luxury tourism and the natural world.

Prior to joining TRSDG, Simon was a principle at Aedas based in Singapore. In that role he managed hospitality design in Asia and the Middle East, as well as having a guiding hand across all project’s complete restoration and redevelopment of Raffles Hotel Singapore and the iconic Marina Bay Sands™ Singapore.

Simon brings with him a wealth of experience in global cutting-edge hospitality design. He is responsible for driving design standards, quality and innovation within the developments working the world’s leading global interior and architectural design firms.

Surrounded by the world's fourth-largest barrier reef system and spanning over 28,000-square-kilometers, The Red Sea offers world-leading experiences across its archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands, idyllic beaches, dormant volcanos, sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons and historical cultural sites.

The Red Sea developments are creating 70,000 new jobs, both directly and indirectly, and is set to contribute as a much as 22 billion Saudi riyals (USD 5.3 billion) to the nation’s GDP. It is creating opportunities for local businesses, entrepreneurs and supporting industries, ensuring the local community is a central part of the destination.

The Red Sea destination opened its first resort in 2023 with the Six Senses Southern Dunes and the St Regis Red Sea Resort with Nujuma a Ritz Carlton reserve hotel, Desert Rock Resort, Sheybarah resort and Thuwal Private Retreat opening in 2024. The Red Sea first phase will be completed in 2030 with 50 resorts. while AMAALA's first phase with eight resorts is due to open in 2025 and will be completed in 2030 with 29 resorts. Other projects include staff villages, amenities, marinas, golf courses, an international airport and residential properties.

Wissal Jarjour

Assistant Director, Interior Design - Dubai Holding

Wissal is an accomplished interior architect with over 20 years of experience in hospitality, residential, and commercial projects. She has transitioned into a role as a client representative and developed a deep passion for design space planning.

Wissal excels in leadership roles, overseeing and coordinating with various consultants to ensure successful project execution. With experience across diverse sectors, including hotels, resorts, luxury residences, office spaces, and retail stores, Wissal's adaptability and expertise make her an asset in the field of interior architecture.

Currently, Wissal serves as an assistant director at Dubai Holding, contributing to residential projects with her exceptional skills and dedication.

Zak Ayache

Executive Director & Head of Design Center of Excellence - Nakheel

Zak is an Executive Development and Design Director with 27 years of experience working in leading roles, both client and consultant side. He has managed and delivered high-end projects worldwide and worked with renowned multinational consultants, Foster + Partners, as well as leading regional real estate developers, Meraas Holding in Dubai and Amaala (PIF) in Saudi Arabia. Zak currently leads the Design Center of Excellence at Nakheel in Dubai, overseeing design activities across their portfolio of projects.

Zak joined Foster + Partners in London in 2002. His role and responsibilities expanded and he became a partner at the practice, managing the design and delivery of several projects worldwide with a focus on the MENA region.

Zak moved to Dubai in 2013 to join Meraas Holding, a semi-government real estate developer with a diverse portfolio of large-scale, mixed-use, public realm and hospitality destinations. As Head of Architecture, he worked with an array of stakeholders and multinational consultants to drive and manage the design of several developments.

In May 2020, Zak joined Amaala/Red Sea Global, a multi-billion-dollar development on the western coast of Saudi Arabia lead by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and focused on ultra luxury hospitality developments. As Head of Design, he led a large team and oversaw the design activities across all projects covering a range of disciplines: Master Planning, Architecture, Landscaping, Public Realm, Interior Design and Engineering.


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Banyan Tree Dubai is around a 30minute taxi journey from either Dubai International Airport (DXB) or Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC).