Counting the cost of remote resorts in the Middle East

Hopeton Austin

Associate Director

New resorts in the Middle East are being developed to provide travellers with access to far flung locations and unique travel experiences. Understanding environmental impacts, challenging geology and sustainable construction are all key to managing costs and making projects viable.

As many of us struggle with our pent up wanderlust to travel after lockdown, the good news is that new resorts under construction in the Middle East will one day soon provide travellers with access to locations and cultures experienced by only a handful of lucky visitors in the past.

Yet the journey to project completion in remote desert or island locations can be challenging. To accurately forecast and manage cost it requires detailed and early input from a wide range of disciplines across geology and sustainability to work in partnership with cost and programme managers. 

Clients and investors looking at remote locations in the Middle East need to consider a number of factors and trends.

Dig deep and assess the location as early as possible

Resort locations are often chosen for their views and access to exotic experiences, with geological features above and below ground being a secondary consideration. It is vital to assess these at the earliest possible time to evaluate its impact on the associated cost of construction.

Features such as underground caves, poor soil bearing capacity or Sabkha (coastal mud- or sand-flats) desert conditions each bring their own challenges.

Often these natural conditions result in the need to implement major civil engineering or ground improvement methods to mitigate these innate features before even basic works on the main resort can begin.

Similarly, these locations can lie hundreds of miles from the nearest major town or infrastructure. Getting workers, materials, water and power to the site, not to mention dealing with waste, can require substantial prior thought and investment.

Think beyond the cost per square metre  

Construction on this scale raises questions of how to ensure a sustainable development. Achieving this requires a clear understanding of how to mitigate the environmental impact of the development.

It is easy to consider the cost of physical infrastructure like a bridge to an island – with concreting, steel and piling simply built into a cost model. Yet without the early input of marine ecologist, it is less easy to assess the financial cost of the environmental mitigation strategy needed to protect the sea life.

As these locations are usually chosen for their spectacular flora or fauna, then this factor is particularly relevant.

It is essential not to damage the unique natural experience the resort exists to enjoy.

Consulting environmental impacts at every stage of the planning and design process is vital to prevent proposals being rejected on environmental grounds.

Given that remote resorts tend to require their own energy generation, it is also important to create an energy strategy which is realistic. Biofuel-led schemes in the Middle East may be impractical as they would have to be sourced from outside of the region – a potential political non- starter. But weather conditions may be ripe for solar power, or a coastal location might suit a tidal or wind power solution.

Consider international and local design experience

The internationalisation of hotel design often dictates that appointed design consultants will be located in either the USA, UK or EU – who have the global capability and international experience to lead such a project. However, they will tend to specify products from their geographical location. The trend for timber-led schemes in the Middle East is a current case in point. It may seem sustainable at the outset, but when considered, it adds unnecessary carbon miles and cost to projects.

The solution is a blend of international and local consultants.

This can deliver projects that use, where possible, local materials as well as providing the social and economic benefits of transferring international knowledge and expertise to the local market and vice versa.  

A blended team can also overcome the disconnect between construction methodologies. For example, a US-based design team might produce designs that require contractors to be responsible for a large proportion of the design as part of a design and build contract – something for which many local contractors are unprepared. Therefore, collaboration from the earliest stage of the project’s development will allow for these differences to be identified and solutions found – hence securing a smooth delivery process.

Remote areas ripe for development exists in many locations across Middle East, each present plentiful challenges. Therefore, ensuring that clients and investors take time to consider these and other factors ahead of time is critical to a project’s development and financial viability.

For further information contact:

Hopeton Austin
Associate Director