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Hostage Negotiation – The He(art) of Designing

Cape Town, March 2019 – Meet Grant Gillis, the owner and manager of Delta Design who has partnered with BON Hotels to oversee conceptualisation and design of hotel refurbishments and new projects.

It is not often you meet someone who has 32 years’ experience in the hospitality industry who, with a boyish grin, introduces himself as a hostage negotiator, but that is exactly how Grant regards himself.

When asked about this, he explains that from a design perspective, he negotiates between the owner of the venue, on the one hand, and the architect and the contractor on the other. This us/them dichotomy can essentially apply to any property developments and office space where landlords and tenants face pretty much the same issues.


Grant Gillis

Negotiation is inevitable. “Whichever party contracts me inevitably feels that they are being held to ransom by the other party”. Does every negotiation go well? “Hell no”, says Grant.

For an experienced designer, it is the experience of having been on all sides of all problems that enables them to quickly, easily and, most importantly, cost effectively, drill down to the fundamental issues at hand. A designer is a little like the specialist who must tend to all the medical problems that the GP can’t handle.

Most of the problems can be summarised as unrealistic expectations in terms of the ability of the infrastructure to generate the expected returns. Sometimes owners expect yields that the venue just does not have capacity to generate: that is a fundamental problem. Without the infrastructure necessary to generate the required revenue, long term bad news for the owner is likely to result. That’s where a design ‘negotiator’ comes in.

Grant is a rare find: an interior designer who has also worked in the hospitality industry. As such, he feels that all too often hotels and restaurants are designed around aesthetics at the cost of functionality. Although there are many amazing architects designing incredible looking buildings and venues, very few, he feels, truly accommodate the flow patterns essential for maximizing an owner’s investment.

Hotel bedroom

This ‘error’ is a massive problem out there because the flow and functionality of any hospitality venue, or for that matter any retail venue, engender a beneficial experience for customers. Grant spends a great deal of time asking customers how they measure their experience and has found, generally speaking, that satisfaction in the experience is not specific, but a sense of well-being, an emotional experience where customers either get a warm fuzzy feeling or they don’t.

The essence of Grant’s theory is that a venue that is well-designed and functional will not only add to the customer experience but will directly impact on maximising potential revenues and return on investment (ROI). It is this attention ROI that encourages Grant to regard himself as a hostage negotiator.

In his words, “When I say I am a hostage negotiator, I understand that your capacity as an operator to produce results is directly related to the infrastructure, design and flow you have before you”.

A designer’s job is to increase opportunities for maximizing potential – or in other words, to negotiate for greater financial yield.

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