Saudi successes

Saudi still presents plenty of opportunity for interior designers

Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia.

It’s little secret that Saudi Arabia is brimming with opportunity – just ask Wilson Associates. The firm has been appointed to design the interiors for 19 of the 26 hotels that make up Jabal Omar Development Company’s (JODC) latest development in Makkah.

Wilson Associates’ scope of work covers an area of two million m², including 25 towers, 17 grand lobbies and 40 food and beverage outlets.

Hotel brands due to be present within the development include Conrad, Westin, Marriott, Hyatt and Sheraton. The project is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2011.

“After 39 years in the business, we are thrilled to be selected as the designers of this prestigious and spiritual development,” said Trisha Wilson, founder and CEO, Wilson Associates. “As a firm we have designed and installed over a million guestrooms and we are honoured to be selected to design over 10,500 rooms simultaneously for one client.”

Another Saudi success story is hospitality design firm, J/Brice Design International, which has joined forces with the Al Khobar-based Fahd Alireza Engineering Company (FAEC).

“Soon after partnering with FAEC, we were retained by The Al Othman Group for a twin tower hotel office development, and then for a very large summer palace for a private client in Jeddah. We are currently negotiating a final contract for work for the royal family for a hotel in the north,” said founder, J/Brice Design International, Jeffrey Ornstein.

According to Saad Mehmod, director, contracts and development, Absal Group, a Saudi Arabian company involved in the design and build industry, a shortage of strong, locally-based interior design firms means there is still plenty of opportunity for international companies to make their mark.

“Unfortunately, interior design in Saudi Arabia is not up to standard, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to hospitality. I haven’t come across any five-star projects where design support is local. Even in our work, when we get design and build jobs, we seek international support,” Mehmod said.

However, in spite of its size and potential, stringent regulations and high levels of bureaucracy make Saudi Arabia a difficult market to break into, Mehmod warned. Foreign companies looking to work in the country need to be committed in order to succeed.

“Although Saudi is a huge market, you have a certain level of bureaucracy, and there are certain difficulties which are influenced by certain regulations. There have been a lot of improvements with new foreign investment regulations, but there are still restrictions on certain trades,” Mehmod said.

“Working in Saudi is not easy, from a social point of view as well as a business point of view. So yes, there are challenges, and for any company to enter the Saudi market, they need to be committed. And, most importantly, to be present here,” he added.

Companies also need to be at the top of their game in order to compete, warned Ornstein. “Saudi clients are well versed in high-quality design, and are fully cognoscente of the expertise that is required to execute a project timely, in budget and, all the while, distinctive to the market and respectful of the culture. It’s most definitely not a place for less experienced designers to solicit work.”

Doing business in Saudi Arabia is also about forming strong relationships, noted Terry McGillicuddy, designer, Richmond International, the company behind the 1005-room Makkah Clock Royal Tower hotel interiors. “Having a local relationship is extremely important for any designer attempting to break into the Saudi market. Without a strong link with the client, contractor and consultants, and without any local support, it would be very difficult to complete a successful project in the country.”

Most importantly, warned Ornstein, don’t be hasty. “Be patient. Decisions are rarely made quickly.”

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