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Hospitality: In a Blink

by August 13, 2016 General

Hotel design as art

Entering its second decade, Blink Design Group has reached great heights in the world of hospitality design, working with luxury hotel brands such as Alila, Conrad, Jumeirah, Kempinski, Mandarin Oriental, Regent, Rosewood and Six Senses.

Hotel designer and creative director Clint Nagata founded the firm in 2006 in Bangkok with a staff of 20. Flash-forward to today, and the firm boasts over 120 professionals working in studios in Bangkok, New Delhi, Shanghai and Singapore.

The Blink Design Group, which is known for its collaborative, design-concierge approach, focuses on creative services such as master planning, building and interior design for luxury hotels, resorts, restaurants, clubs, spas and residences.

The firm has completed projects in global destinations such as China, French Polynesia, Kenya, the Maldives, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, India and Indonesia.

Michael Sagild took over at Blink as CEO in April. With over 30 years of hospitality experience under his belt, including leading MGM Hospitality and Stein Group International, Sagild spoke with J+ during a recent visit to Jakarta. Here are excerpts of our interview, edited for length and clarity:

Tell us a little more about the firm.

Architecture and interior design have both traditionally been dominated by feature architects or designers. To a great degree, they’ve created a style, so when you walk into a location–be it a hotel lobby or lounge–you immediately know the designer. Not us. We build a relationship early on with our clients and we tailor and design everything in accordance with their tastes. We don’t have a style per se, we have guidelines.

We do branded residences and hotels, as well as mixed-use developments. We don’t do commercial projects. Our mixed-use projects are only those integrating apartments and hotel.

A hotel is a very emotional thing. When we meet clients, we ask a lot of questions, asking a lot of whys and hows. It’s not like building an office or a mall, where the emotional element is scanty.

Where does Blink Design Group get its name?

It’s the “blink” factor. There must be a strong connection [between] a brand and its products. As design consultants, it is important for us to be able to create that connection in the blink of an eye.

When we meet clients, we also build relationships with them, and those relationships are very, very important. It’s a relationship closer than that of your banker–or dentist. It’s a trust thing.

I’m neither an architect nor an interior designer. I’ve spent more than 30 years of my life in the hotel business. I tell owners what to build. I have built and opened hotels. The firms have shown me what they’re doing. They come to me and I have represented the owners, whether it’s MGM or Starwood or Hyatt. I sit at the end of the table and can tell the architect what to do, just like the owner.

Can a hotel’s design approach the level of art?

When a guest first has contact with a hotel, whether through a website or a reservation desk, a brand impression is naturally created. First impressions are very important. Other things that are also important are lighting, ambience, music, and so on. It’s all about creating a homey and comfortable feeling.

When I look at a hotel room, I can tell if the room has a mismatch. Our job is to fix that. Everything has to fit together, so our guests can feel like they’re at home and comfortable in the room–that’s a design skill, and it’s a form of art.

What’s the strategy for new markets?

Historically our market has been Asia Pacific, with a focus on five-star luxury hotel and resort designs. The biggest market, no matter how you look at it, is China. You have to be very selective in China. Many people often have a misunderstanding: China is not just one market. All the provinces have completely different laws and rules.

Asia Pacific is a lucrative destination, where owners can build five-star luxury resorts and make money. If you build a five-star luxury resort in Spain, it’s very, very difficult to make money because prices are so high there.

Thailand is a unique market. If you go to Tokyo, you will pay 45 percent more compared to the small towns in Japan. But in Thailand, you go to Phuket and you pay 35 percent more than you do in Bangkok. It’s just the nature of business in Thailand, and it has been a tourist destination for a long time.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia has a lot of untapped markets in the luxury hospitality segment, and this is one country that is on our business development map. We are currently doing master planning on three projects in Lombok.

There has been tremendous growth in domestic-brand hotels, like Fave and Archipelago, for example. Back in the 1980s, there weren’t too many Indonesians who wanted to travel, because it was not part of their lifestyle. Now the situation is changing. The media and the internet obviously play a part in the change. You are more aware of what places in the world have to offer.

The improved income of the middle-class sector is another determining factor that changes lifestyles. Most people in the middle-class segment usually choose to stay at three-star hotels when they travel. Indonesia’s burgeoning middle class is indeed helping to boost the budget hotel business across the country.