Since its launch in 2009, international design consultancy Stickman Tribe has completed a number of significant hospitality projects, from Zaya Nurai Island Resort, Abu Dhabi to Hotel Jen in Beijing. Its principal, founder and member of the AHEAD MEA judging panel – Marcos Cain – boasts over 20 years experience in the hospitality industry, affording him a unique insight and alternative approach to concept creation, design and commercial viability.
Following the AHEAD MEA judging day at Rove Downtown, Dubai, we caught up with Marcos to discuss evolving perspectives, urban explorers, sustainably conscious design and Stickman Tribe’s expansion.
The MEA region is undergoing a period of change in attitudes regarding luxury design. How do you see this evolving?
The sheer density of five star properties gives these questions special relevance to the UAE – a region perpetually at the forefront of luxury’s continuous evolution. The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural authority has taken unprecedented steps to set a modern expectation of five star. By surveying all of the hotels in the region and consulting operators, designers, engineers and venue managers, they’ve established a detailed point system covering the whole spectrum of accommodation offerings.
Whilst this is certainly a breath of fresh air, and a realistic step in the right direction, it does not take into account something that transforms a hotel from a building to a treasured memory – character. At its heart, and whatever comes next will certainly have to offer three things – discovery, experience and a point of difference, ideals the next generation in particular crave. But a better first question might be, who should decide what’s actually required? The answer must involve the guest. As the saying goes, the guest sees more in an hour than a host does in a year.
As an industry we pay a price for considering anything set in stone. By challenging and revolutionising the existing conventions and making character an essential part of its successor, operators would be encouraged to be maverick, not just for the sake of it, but because it makes bold operational sense – enticing customers through their vision and passion. Designers meanwhile, traditionally the purveyors of change and innovation, would be encouraged to exercise the full scope and sweep of their imagination, projecting and stretching their creativity to the absolute limit, thinking beyond the past, not just catering to it. A philosophy we should all embrace.
Authentic experiences are paramount for the modern traveller, have you noticed this reflected in particular design elements?
Authentic experience should be more tactile when referencing the modern traveller, for example with every project we do an in depth study into the guest profiles, and by doing so we sometimes fall upon new profiles such as “the urban explorer”, a term we claimed when developing Hotel Jen Beijing, embodying the new age way of thinking where health, fitness and experiential exploration are a way of life.
These principles have been translated into the hotel all the way from the planning down to the smallest detail. Even the guestrooms were designed around these guest profiles, specifically gearing towards a new generation of young entrepreneurs, artists and urban explorers. Similarly, the public areas and F&B were designed for these personas, what would they like to do? What would they like to eat? How would they like to work? Work hard play hard. Based on these principles we activated areas with subtle yet effective messages whether it be using material, graphics or ergonomics.
With AHEAD, the Lodges & Tented Camps category has enabled a number of incredible regional projects to receive recognition. As we introduce the category to other regional AHEAD events, what is the importance of these projects?
This dove tails into the above question nicely, as the modern traveller is always seeking to break away from the norm, on the hunt for experiential habitats. It is always a shame to witness unique projects and designs not receive recognition simply on the basis that they do not particularly fall under one of the set categories. By introducing this category, our community can pay homage to modern cultural influencers and unique locations around the globe that are exposing the local materials as well as nature’s wonders.
Speaking of variety, is the offering of hotels still diversifying throughout MEA?
With growing concerns related to the environment’s overpopulation, food shortage, water purification and plastic pollution, we are seeing more hotel operators leading a conscious responsibility to think of sustainability. It is not just a matter of diversifying offerings, but rather taking active steps towards positive change. The same goes with boutique hotels becoming the staple for unique experiences governed by diverse F&B offerings and the delicate juxtaposition in catering to a niche local market while equally providing to a mass consumer demographic.
We are faced with a gamut of change and growth in an industry that has blurred the boundaries and defined a global expectation in standards. It is refreshing to see that a multitude of brands such as Moxy, 1Hotel, 24 Hours, Joe and Joe, Alex & Tribe in Perth, Hotel Jen, Como Singapore, Capella Shanghai and many others, show and represent this shift in reality by preserving tradition while heightening discovery and experience.
Looking to locations, have you noticed any secondary cities or obscure locations that are currently pockets of development?
Since the conception of Stickman Tribe, the majority of our work has been international with only 30% local within the region. Being located in a central hub such as Dubai, we are fortunate to be working across nine countries simultaneously including China, Kuala Lumpur, Maldives, Hong Kong amongst many others. This unique outreach sparks an ambition to explore untapped potential like Latin America, which leads to my next personal project, to open an office in Miami.
AHEAD MEA will take place on Wednesday 14 November at The Meydan Hotel, Dubai. Limited tickets remain - get yours here.