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Salfo on role of consultants within the GCC’s hospitality sector

Ioannis Foteinos, chief executive officer of Salfo & Associates, talks about the company’s hotel construction experience, and key trends currently impacting the segment in the Middle East

The Heart of Europe is one of the sites where Salfo’s work is currently ongoing.
The Heart of Europe is one of the sites where Salfo’s work is currently ongoing.

The GCC’s hospitality segment is rapidly expanding, and Salfo & Associates – led by chief executive officer, Ioannis Foteinos – has been busy participating in the sector’s construction boom.

Tourism investments are driving hotel construction in the Gulf, and Foteinos expects these to deliver benefits in the years to come.

“UAE still is the leader in hospitality developments, but the vast potential of Saudi Arabia also attracts tourists other than those of pilgrim identity, placing it as a strong hospitality contender in the region,” he adds.

From resort master-planning and architectural and interiors design, to engineering and project management services, Salfo has played various roles in major hospitality projects across the region. The company has also provided building information modelling (BIM) services for  four-star rated serviced apartments developed by Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon).

“Another one of our significant projects includes two resort developments in Salalah and Duqm in Oman,” Foteinos tells Construction Week.

Salfo is currently working on three five-star resorts, including Cote D’Azur, “with a total of more than 1,700 keys, within The Heart of Europe luxury development at Dubai’s World Islands”, he adds.

Thanks to its involvement in such high-profile hospitality developments, the team at Salfo is able to point out the key challenges currently faced by hotel construction teams in the region.

“The main challenge we have identified is for the client to involve contractors with hotel experience that are capable of working in such challenging programmes,” Foteinos explains.

“Contractors must be adaptive to continuous changes and aware of modular and standardised practices. They should have strong procurement and logistic teams, and in general, must be able to think how they will reach to the end-product before they start building.

“A shortage of skilled labour in conventional contracting companies, for such projects where the level of finishes needs to be impeccable, can also delay the construction programme dramatically due to re-work requirements,” he continues.

Indeed, delays are not uncommon in hospitality schemes, but government initiatives to facilitate smoother construction works can alleviate the challenges associated with project lateness, Salfo’s CEO points out.

“Any project can face challenges; this is inevitable, let alone in a market [such as the GCC], where maturity comes fast and project targets are more ambitious than everywhere else in the world,” he says.

“Developers want to complete with no delays, authorities need appropriate time to review works, and consultants like Salfo need to manage the process for everyone’s benefit.

“Initiatives such as the recent one approved by HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to expedite building permit procedures in Dubai, only brings confidence to the market, and will assist investors materialise their schemes faster.”

Ease of delivery is a particularly crucial element of hotel development, given the esoteric nature of the properties. Foteinos says hoteliers aim for the same return on investment standards as any other property developer might, but the nuances of hospitality design and market demand must also be considered within the construction programme.

“Hotels have always had significantly larger construction costs due to the standards they offer,” he continues.

“Nowadays, increasing competition is making large brands move towards more bespoke characters, and they are trying to offer a unique yet affordable experience to their clientele through their design, services, and facilities.

“Hoteliers are basically trying to offer more luxury at a cheaper price. The latter becomes the most significant challenge that the industry is facing. The [client’s] business plan needs to have numbers that work, since [they] always want best value for money, and the only significant saving that can take place is in the construction cost,” Foteinos adds.

“Also, hotels require the involvement of many specialists, whose guidelines, practices, and timelines may come in conflict with each other. The only way to manage this effectively is with specialised consultants like Salfo, both from the design and the construction points of view.”

Appointing consultants that lack hospitality experience can prove detrimental for a hotel, both during construction and following completion. As Foteinos explains, avoiding these roadblocks is easy enough if a skilled and hospitality-savvy consultant team is selected for the project.

“The most common mistake made by clients is that they do not involve the operator’s technical team as early as possible, even at concept stage,” he says.

“Many operators have very specific brand requirements, which can have a huge impact on design development. Moreover, the consultants need to be fully aware of the local tourism authority guidelines. At the end of the day, it is this authority that will award the star rating to the property.

“Another common mistake is that the importance of specialist consultants, such as acoustics, lighting, kitchen, laundry, parking, and so on, is often underestimated, and they are brought on-board at a very late stage, thus leading to abortive works.

“In the same line is the delay in deciding on the theming of the food and beverage (F&B) outlets, which can have an impact on the front-of-house (FOH) kitchens and associated mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) services.”

The rise of technology will pave the way for more customised hotels, leading to increasingly intricate construction requirements, and Foteinos is optimistic about the future of hotel construction: “The smart technology that is being incorporated in buildings nowadays will soon be cheap enough to be part of every hotel room.

“Guests, through the use of this technology, will be able to customise their rooms, from the selection of the room’s scent, to the photos on the wall.  Hotels of the future will not only provide accommodation and vacation stay – they will offer temporary, yet wholesome lifestyle experiences.”

For more information, visit www.salfo.gr.

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