Kerzner International is a leading international developer and operator of destination resorts, ultra-luxury hotels and residences and innovative entertainment and gaming experiences. The creator of the iconic Atlantis Resort and Residences and ultra-luxury One&Only Resorts brands worldwide, Kerzner is globally renowned for being a pioneer in developing destinations, providing the ultimate in quality. Each Kerzner brand offers a different experience with the same vision to deliver, detail by detail, amazing experiences all over the world.

Could you tell us about your career to date? 

My father was a contractor and my weekend trips to his construction sites inspired me to design from a very early age. I recall the magical moments of watching professionals gathering on a green field, looking at large prints of plans and details and gazing at the environment. I recall how much I yearned to ‘see’ what they could. 

I had to be an architect – there was no other option for me.

I started designing and building exhibition stands, lighting fixtures and furniture during my second year of university, studying to be an architect in Istanbul. The construction industry was in its heyday, and I managed to build a select portfolio of affluent clientele who later asked me to design their offices and homes. It was an incredibly interactive experience that I still cherish today, as I can now see how I was formed to listen, process, learn and extract the ‘in between the lines’ context to deliver what was expected of me, and beyond. 

I completed my studies and did my master’s on developing sustainable design models for the hospitality industry, as small, unbranded luxury hotels came into my portfolio. In time, hotels proved to be my ultimate passion – especially complicated conversions of existing buildings into hotels. I have always associated that exercise with crafting a rough gem into a jewel, where the margin for error is very small.

My practice in hospitality design brought me out of Turkey and I worked in various countries while I acted as a consultant designer and architect for 16 years before I joined IHG – which was my first operator experience. I was truly fascinated by how a brand can bring order to chaos when I started as IHG’s design manager for South-eastern Europe. I was given the responsibility to lead the design of the InterContinental brand in Europe, where I enjoyed being part of a great team and honed my skills in the development process as well. 

My move to Aman to lead the design of an indisputably legendary brand was a dream come true. Aman had always been a mystical brand which I followed to learn from afar, and the sum of my expertise of actual involvement proved to be a lot more than its parts. I continued to hone my design skills, learning to discern the right location, finding an incredible level of balance between the design intent and the locale – building a place to heal the souI. It is an art form requiring a strong ‘poiesis’ approach with an abundance of ‘je ne sais quoi’, yet an undeniable challenging effort behind the scenes.

My personal circumstance at the time required some soul searching, and I decided to move on. It did not take long before I was blessed to be sought out by One&Only. I joined Kerzner International in 2019 and became the global head of design & technical services in November 2020. This move proved to be the best in my career, I could not be happier.

“Streamlined, simple luxury promises an airy and light ambiance to celebrate  minimalism, but the real challenge is to manage a complex array of physical and cultural factors to achieve sophistication”

How is Kerzner planning to ‘hit the ground running’ again in the coming months? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

I am proud that we never left the race. We have been extremely active, despite the global environment. Our community continued to show the confidence in our brands when they could travel. We opened three stellar resorts during the pandemic: One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysia; One&Only Mandarina in Mexico; and One&Only Portonovi in Montenegro. 

In addition, we have also announced a new brand to our portfolio, SIRO. Whilst we have been planning it for some time, the brand will deliver on what people are looking for — a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, we have the new articulation of Atlantis being introduced with Atlantis, The Royal Resort and Residences here in Dubai, and a number of One&Only resorts around the world in development, including One&Only One Za’abeel in Dubai, and One&Only Kea Island and One&Only Aesthesis in Greece.

Our pipeline is strong, with great projects where we enjoy meaningful collaborations all over the globe. We have additional projects that will be announced soon. 

How can design be used to manage the guest’s expectations of the hotel experience?

It is quite a considerate journey. One may suggest that this is ‘not rocket science’ but indeed, it is at our level. This is not one size fits all, and we stay clear of anything ‘expected’. This brings a layer of complication to design – we thoroughly test any idea to exhaust all alternatives. A variety of expectations come into play – we scrutinise every design element until we feel comfortable, celebrating different opinions and points of view.

Guest expectations are the baseline – what matters is the unexpected extra features and surprises we must provide. Simple ergonomics meet the unique tactile experiences that leave fond memories, innovative use of traditional materials, intelligent lighting that gives a different meaning to the venues after sunset … a sincere and thoughtful approach that puts the guest in the epicentre of it all.

Food and beverage and entertainment design provide joy to our guests, and we must provide a distinction between public areas and private quarters. Our objective is to deliver amazing experiences and everlasting memories in everything we do. We also put a focus on our footprint, utilising the best of the elements – whether that be the restorative power of water, making sure we are in harmony with nature, or celebrating each destination.

“Connectivity is indispensable, health is the new wealth, and freedom of movement to explore far, deep and high is a given for the luxury traveller"

Turning to the topic of authenticity of experience, how do you approach each project?

With respect. Respect to place, respect to culture, respect to people and respect to all factors that help shape the design in that location. Once the circumstances manifest their values into a design, the fun begins. It is important to acknowledge the responsibility we have to reflect the locale, whilst we manage to reinterpret the values to create a sense of belonging that is joyful and not just mimicry. It may sound naive, but honesty and humility are the two key factors. Once we strike the balance, comfort and ultra-luxury can be defined and guest needs can be met on a more sophisticated level so they can enjoy a sense of belonging, with the ease of feeling at home.

What was the brief and your inspiration behind Kerzner’s new lifestyle brand, SIRO?

With SIRO, we really set out to create a global, likeminded community. With fitness and recovery at its heart, SIRO is a gathering hub of well-informed and likeminded individuals with a modern gusto. We wanted to be forward-thinking, delivering futuristic and pioneering concepts to cater for individualised options in connection with locally focused sports. The public realm merges with a state-of-the-art fitness centre where one urges to become a part of the action, and the guestroom is the zen environment to recover. 

Do you believe simple design has become luxurious?

The golden rule was/is/always will be valid – simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. There is a fine balance that must be sought here. A cluttered design can become luxurious via simplification. But the real luxury must comprise many sophisticated elements which altogether provide simplicity with depth. So, a ‘simple’ design cannot be luxurious if it has no depth. Streamlined, simple luxury promises an airy, light ambiance to celebrate minimalism, but the challenge is to manage a complex array of physical and cultural factors to achieve sophistication. Real luxury via simple design is indeed sophisticated complexity in disguise.

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that you can tell us about?

I need to admit,  every project that I work on with my gifted team any given day is exciting. We are busy with a wide range of projects from the Far East to South America, urban conversions and nature resorts, beach resorts … it is a constant effort of maintaining the aptitude to exceed expectations all over the world, to maintain the element of surprise. 

The daily contextual switch in handling a heritage building conversion and a virgin island masterplan is exhilarating, as each project is truly unique per its location. Repetition and mimicry are not welcome – we challenge our own norms on each new design and improve the existing portfolio to keep surprising our guests.

Do you want your designers to think about loyalty when they design a hotel for you, or is it just an operator’s concern?

The magnets I witnessed that attract loyalty are indeed pieces of an experience that is carefully crafted. Every operator wishes to have a following, but the essential ingredients are not to be imposed at the luxury level to create loyalty. We create a unique kind of magic that is joyful and addictive because the venue has secrets and surprises, –times of day and seasons will cast their changes both inside and outside. 

Arrival and departure experiences are also equally important. The design sets the stage for impeccable, genuine service, and the designer must comprehend how they complete each other. The level of maturity that is required for a designer to allow the experience to take precedence over design is quite high, as all moves must be right. Affluent travellers notice the nuance and come back to explore more.

With social media (especially Instagram) becoming an increasingly important marketing tool for hotels, do you take it into account when designing spaces?

We are going through a very exciting time, as everyone can be the star in their own movie, or a photographer. We all write our own stories, and the art of spacemaking cannot ignore the trend, as there needs to be a background worthy of individuals to want to portray themselves against. 

‘Instagrammability’ became a significant parameter, and it sits well with the aspects of storytelling that I hold dear. When you make a choice to spend your well-deserved downtime, you expect to be able to talk about it during and after the visit, if you choose. Social media has settled well to provide the opportunity for broadcasting every stage, and the story comes together in many different ways for every individual. ‘That moment’ is sought throughout the design – it is impossible to ignore this fact. I find it enjoyable to watch people making decisions to utilise the design as their background, and programming that is a lot of fun. 

How do you think new technology affects the luxury traveller, and will do in the future?

Personification of comfort has a new meaning, as individual choices supersede necessities. Intuitive technology makes life easier – whether that be helping run errands, availing a clever use of time to be spared more for what we prefer doing. Connectivity is indispensable, health is the new wealth, and freedom of movement to explore far, deep and high is a given for the luxury traveller. 

The ‘can-do’ attribute new technology brings in our lives has amplified the creativity that the luxury traveller already has, and it will just get more and more exciting to find new joys – as in the digital realm, nowhere is far, and nothing is out of reach. Our interaction with life has changed – handheld and wearable interfaces define our habits and preferences, and hospitality must understand that.

Are there any architects or designers you admire?

I have always been inspired by pioneer designers. Frank Lloyd Wright and Carlo Scarpa will always hold a special place for me, as the meticulous design language they introduced carries the sensitivity of design from satellite image scale to minute details. 

I enjoy studying Paul Rudolph for his unique sense of volume, and Hassan Fathy for discovering the power of vernacular architecture. 

I am truly privileged to have worked with Kerry Hill and Tom Kundig, as the experience of reinterpreting the connotation between the design and the locale has been extraordinary. I would also like to commend Erik Nissen Johanssen for his brave and playful take on storytelling, no matter how complicated and challenging it may be.

What’s next for you and the brand? 

Atlantis will continue to evolve and be rediscovered, SIRO will grow globally, and One&Only will continue to be ‘the’ true ultra-luxury brand of choice. I am so fortunate to have the best team in the industry. We have a professional consultancy setup that our partners are very happy with. With the support of our board, we will continue to succeed. We are on a mission to lead.

What would be your dream hotel project?

An iconic landmark building that many would deem impossible to convert into a hotel.