Palace in the sun

30 November 2004
Palace in the sun

Can you name any of the United Arab Emirates? Even if you manage Dubai you might be hard pushed to come up with the names of the others: Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm-al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and even the capital, Abu Dhabi. Not too surprising, really, considering that the only emirate that has really foisted itself upon the international tourist arena is Dubai.

One of the Coral Park luxury bedrooms at the Emirates Palace
But things are changing. Abu Dhabi, an hour by road from Dubai, is very different from its neighbour. Unlike Dubai, which resorted to tourism in the face of dwindling oil reserves, it has vast quantities of natural resources; and whereas Dubai shouts about itself, Abu Dhabi is much more traditional, more reserved. Even so, it is starting to put itself on the map. There wasn't a lot there a short while ago, but now much of the wealth is being ploughed into developments to attract outside interest and, as usual, it is hotels that are stealing the limelight. One that will arouse interest is the Emirates Palace, which opens next month (December). If you've ever visited any of the Dubai developments and know the scale of them, then think even bigger, and there you have the Emirates Palace. It took 20,000 people three years to build, drips opulence, and all that glisters within it is clearly gold. But forget finding out how much it has cost to build; discussing money in a place where you wonder whether the leaves on the palm trees are gold-plated is not considered good taste. Let's just say that it's reported to be the most expensive hotel ever built. The Emirates Palace is owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi and will be operated by Kempinski Hotels & Resorts. It is located on a 1.3km stretch of beach and has 394 bedrooms, including 92 suites, and 20 restaurants reflecting world cuisine. If you were to walk around the entire building you would notch up 2.5km. For Kempinski this will be a flagship product like its Ciragan Palace in Istanbul and its Leela Palaces in India. "Just forget the word hotel; it truly is a palace," says David Benning, business development consultant for Kempinski. The idea is to treat guests like royalty, although the likelihood is that many of them will be royalty. Guests are greeted personally at the airport, fast-forwarded through the usual procedures and whisked to the Palace in a limousine. Approaching the complex, guests pass through a triumphal arch - think the Arc de Triomphe in Paris - and on arrival are welcomed by an entourage of male and female ambassadors in traditional dress.
A Panoramic suite complete withSwarovski crystal chandeliers
Check-in is carried out in the guest's suite while the dedicated butler for the floor explains the room. A bath concierge will then draw a bath from a menu of perfumes, essences, bath caviar and rose petals, and put on music chosen from a music menu. In the evening, turndown includes lavender- or rose-scented pillow liners and an Emirates Palace teddy bear. Benning anticipates that, as well as high-paying individuals, the Emirates Palace will attract meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) guests placed there by organisers who really are looking for something a bit different. The palace's conference centre will house an auditorium with fixed seating for 1,200 delegates, a main ballroom that can seat up to 2,000, 40 meeting rooms, a hi-tech business centre and a media centre. Six large terraces and a variety of pre-function areas provide room for breaks, cocktail receptions and banquets. Ultimately, the business plan is for the conference market to account for 45% of the total business mix; corporate 35%; and leisure the remainder. Architecturally, the Emirates Palace needs to be first appreciated from a distance. Built in the colours of the Arabian sand, it has 114 domes covered in mosaic glass tiles topped with gold finials. The largest, the grand atrium dome, is 42m wide with a surface finish of silver and gold-coloured glass mosaic tiles. On the apex sits a gold finial. The gazebo and main auditorium both have domes measuring 17m across; the smaller domes range from 12m to 7m in diameter, with the smallest dome measuring 2.9m. Move inside and the first things that strike you are the gold and silver everywhere, even adorning the front of reception desks. The lighting makes a statement, too, with 1,002 chandeliers made with Swarovski's premier Strauss crystals. And, as you might expect, technology is bang up to date. In total there will be 755 plasma screens - a 125cm screen in each guest room and 150cm screens in the suites. If you want to stay in touch with the folks back home while lazing around the pool, no problem. A network of up to 700 wireless points giving access to the internet will cover the hotel, beach, pool and marina. When you get bored with all that, just click your fingers. In charge of looking after the guests will be 2,000 staff, who have 350 service standards to which they must adhere.
An artist's impression of the Emirates Palace at night
It remains to be seen whether Abu Dhabi will be effective in attracting the tourist dollar. For the time being at least, Abu Dhabi is not Dubai, and it will need a big tourism push to have the same impact. Hotels do not serve alcohol in public areas during Ramadan, for example. Where the Emirates Palace will undoubtedly score is in the MICE market, initially from the surrounding Gulf nations and ultimately from other countries. Leisure, for the moment at least, is in its infancy. Emirates Palace General manager: Willy Optekamp Bedrooms: 394 Rates: Dh2,000 (£294) per night B&B in a Deluxe Grand room Abu Dhabi facts Considered to be one of the world's most modern cities, Abu Dhabi is the federal capital of the United Arab Emirates and the largest of the seven emirates that make up the country. Abu Dhabi is also one of the richest cities in the world: its oil wealth has made it a hub for the trade, commerce and industry markets, and it is the financial, oil and banking capital of the Middle East. It borders Saudi Arabia to the west and south and Dubai to the east. Travel facts Jenny Webster flew as a guest of Etihad Airways, a new airline that has Abu Dhabi as its hub. Etihad flies daily from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Abu Dhabi. Prices start from £300. For more information call 0870 241 7121 or click on [
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