SPOTLIGHT ON Javier Hortal, SVP Design & Development, Middle East & Europe, sbe Corporate London

Javier Hortal

Javier expands on new projects they are working on in Dubai, France, and London, as well as a resort project in Sardinia, reminding us that the attention needs to be on how design facilitates a superior guest experience, and not just on the design itself.

You have a few properties that are opening in the near future. Can you tell us about them?
Javier HortalWe have a very exciting pipeline coming up in Europe and the Middle East, with fantastic projects across all our lifestyle brands – for instance, in March we are opening our first SLS Hotel in Dubai, a beautiful and elegant 330-m tall landmark skyscraper in the downtown area of the city. The hotel has almost 1,000 guestrooms, apartments, and residences and has all the main public spaces located at the very top of the tower, meaning you can experience the highest comprehensive destination restaurants, bars, spa, pools, terraces, and nightlife in the city, with stunning views over the Burj Khalifa district.

We are also excited to be developing our iconic Mondrian brand in France with two projects in Bordeaux and Cannes. In London, we are working on the conversion and renovation of the Curtain hotel which we will be opening in the spring as Mondrian Shoreditch, complete with a reconceptualized F&B including a great new destination restaurant with renowned Spanish chef Dani Garcia.

We are also doing some great resort projects, such as a new Delano Porto Cervo luxury beach resort in beautiful Costa Smeralda, which will be the brand’s first outpost outside the US and which is destined to become the epicenter for new lifestyle luxury in Sardinia.

SLS Dubai - Carna

Each property has its own distinct flavor. How do you capture the essence of the destination in the hotel design?
A clear cultural and design connection to the location has come to be a basic expectation from hotel guests today, however, the design has to strike the right balance, in a way that is sophisticated and yet understandable to guests. Designers must always remember that it is not just about aesthetics but more importantly about the quality of the guest experience that the design manages to deliver. It is the overall experience – much more than the looks – that guests will remember long after they have departed.

To ensure the design meets our objectives, we thoroughly prepare and develop the design brief with the designers from the outset, and we remain an integral part of the project team throughout. Any design-led brand today needs to invest heavily in resources, and smart owners welcome and recognize this valuable input. Ultimately, our role is not about merely policing the brand standards, it is about providing guidance, offering alternatives, finding solutions, and adding value to the project.

Mondrian Seoul

How has the pandemic altered any of your projects in the long term?
No, thankfully I cannot say that any of the projects have been affected in the long term. Thanks to vaccinations the worst of the pandemic will soon pass and we are confident that people will still long to travel, socialize, have fun and enjoy new and interesting experiences.

What do you see for 2021?
I see a very exciting year, based on what I am confident will be a strong recovery for the hospitality industry in the broad context. People will continue to trust hospitality brands, however, they will increasingly gravitate to those brands that are more niche and individual to reflect their own aspirations. Conversely, brands will need to work on making the guest experience more customizable, evolving whilst retaining their overall brand integrity.

I believe design will also evolve, away from the “home away from home” residential feel and onto offering something more unique and bespoke, intelligently designed to satisfy the demands of our changing modern lifestyle and the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and leisure; between socializing and relaxing time.

Last but not least, huge strides still need to be taken by the industry to roll out technological advances to further enhance the guest experience, and these innovations need to be understood to be in addition to – rather than instead of – a personal service.