OUCH: St. Regis, W, And Westin Dubai All Leaving Starwood

Filed Under: Hotels, Starwood Preferred Guest

Dubai is Starwood’s second biggest market after New York, though it’s losing four hotels over the course of just a few weeks. Dubai will be going from having two St. Regis properties to having zero St. Regis properties. That’s rough.

Just over a week ago I wrote about how the St. Regis Dubai Polo Club was leaving Starwood as of July 1, 2018. That was very little notice, though it was reported that this was “a mutual decision reached amicably.” I had stayed at the St. Regis Dubai Polo Club in January, and found the hotel to be nice and… strange. It was a ghost town, but then again, so are many things in the UAE.

The former St. Regis Dubai Polo Club

The hotel is now branded as the Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club, and I can’t imagine it’s doing much better under that branding.

The St. Regis Dubai Polo Club was owned by the Al Habtoor Group, the same owner as three other Starwood hotels in the city — specifically, the St. Regis, W, and Westin Al Habtoor City. They’re all located in Al Habtoor City, which is a new development.

As I noted in the last story:

What I find interesting here is that this is only one of the Al Habtoor Group’s four hotels in Dubai. I wonder if there’s some sort of dispute between Starwood and the group, and if we could see the other three properties reflagged as well. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit…

That’s exactly what’s happening — Gulf Business is reporting that the St. Regis, W, and Westin Al Habtoor City will all be leaving Starwood as of July 31, 2018.

W Dubai Al Habtoor City

Losing nearly 2,000 hotel rooms and four hotels over the course of a month is a huge loss for Starwood, even with the impending merge with Marriott. There’s not much information about why they cut ties, though the only logical conclusion I can come to is that the hotels weren’t doing well, and the Al Habtoor Group was no longer willing to spend the money required to keep the hotels compliant with brand standards.

St. Regis Dubai Al Habtoor City

The chairman of Al Habtoor Group has said the following:

“We maintain a strong and friendly relationship with Marriott International. This decision marks the start of a new era for Habtoor Hospitality as we focus more on strengthening our own brands and expanding our hotel-management portfolio.”

It sounds like they’re not actually seeking out a new management company for this hotel, but rather that they’ll be branding and managing the hotels as part of the Al Habtoor Group. That seems like a questionable strategy to me, especially in a city with as much hotel capacity as Dubai, where being part of a large international brand seems like a huge asset. The W Dubai is also pretty “out there” when it comes to the decor, so I question how they’ll be able to rebrand that without spending a ton of money.

Now Dubai is left without a St. Regis and W property. However, by next year we should see a St. Regis and W open on The Palm. The W is expected to open in October 2018 and is already on Starwood’s website, while the St. Regis is supposed to open next year, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see that date slip.

I’m sad to see these hotels leave Starwood, especially since they were the nicest Starwood properties in the city.

  1. Recent trends in the mileage community certainly haven’t been favorable to attracting people to make plans to travel to (or transit through) the UAE on awards. Specifically, uncompetitive award costs on Emirates, loss of SPG properties, and cost cutting at Etihad.

    I have to wonder if this won’t drive more people through Doha and Istanbul, with those national airlines investing in improving the terminals/lounges/business products.

  2. Lucky, can you write about your experiences with hotel occupancy in the UAE? Data might be hard to come by, but I wonder if things are so empty there even during the winter, which would in theory be the high season.

    Personally I have no idea why anyone would go there on a vacation, but I get that many people like the luxury and that some of the desert attractions are interesting.

  3. I stayed at the Westin Al Habtoor City last October and hated it. The soft product was inconsistent [i.e. staff that ranged from pleasant to melancholic to rude – I stay in Dubai a lot and have never had so much variance in one property the way I did here] but the hard product was a disaster: construction quality was absolute garbage [lots of spattered paint, broken/mislaid tiles everywhere, portions of cladding that had fallen were visible from the upper floors], the ceilings on the guest room floors are extremely low and the overall design of the complex was awful [the Westin has a massive pool deck but only three small pools, so most of the space is just open emptiness, while the W’s pool was built for lounging and is only inches deep]. The location is also really bad since it’s on the isolated side of the Dubai Canal and the area surrounding it is one massive construction site; no metro links or proper walking is possible.

    I say good riddance. There are FAR better Starwood/Marriott options in the city and hopefully the forthcoming hotels will be better, more consistent options for those who choose to stay there.

  4. @Evan nails it. I feel like the golden age of travel to and through the UAE is largely over.

  5. The Palm properties will presumably be nice enough resorts but it’s hardly a convenient place to stay for someone planning to do anything in Dubai, or even for an overnight layover — it’s quite a drive to get out to the end of the Palm where the properties are, and then depending where they are located you have to drive all the way to the end and then back around the sides. It’s all kind of a silly layout.

  6. @Bgriff

    There are plenty of good Marriott options left in the city

    The excellent JW Marquis is next to these hotels and larger (1608 rooms)
    Renaissance Downtown is absolutely sublime
    Le Royal Meridien in Marina was better than any of these 3 (including St Regis)
    Grosvenor House Marina
    Westin Mina Seyahi (Marina)
    Sheraton Grand SZR has a stunning hard product
    The two well located Ritz Carltons….that are standard Ritz’s (the other options are better).


    Occupancies are very strong in winter (over 85% average in city). Close to 100% for beach hotels (Palm, Marina, Jumeirah) and Downtown, lower elsewhere. There are events several time a year when entire city nearly sells out. They dumped 50 hotels into market this year and almost absorbed it. Summer is (was) always challenging. RevPars are still some of the strongest in the world though. This is a story of someone making a million dollars now only making 500K.


    Qatar had a worse devaluation, went unnoticed. Their point to point rates have spiked tremendously, not covered. As a hotel market, it doesn’t hold a candle to Abu Dhabi or Dubai for value (or as a city for that matter)

  7. @Vineet Qatar awards are available quite reasonable prices with the AA program (and availability was decent when I booked an award from DAR-DOH-JFK last year). Its the same price as Etihad, but AA’s routing options are slightly better via DOH than AUH.

  8. @ Vineet — in your opinion, what are the best Starwood/Marriott hotels that are relatively convenient for exploring Dubai? Shopping is not a priority but having a beach would be nice.

  9. @Evan Sorry about that. I did not account for the American perspective (which is infact, the bulk of the readership in Points and Miles). From a non-US/CC perspective, Qatar’s program is the worst (Etihad is best :P, even Skywards got stronger with recent Flydubai integration). But partner redemptions is something that I did not consider.

    @Ivan Y:

    I will be publishing an article out on this within next 48 hours. Similar to Abu Dhabi up on Sam Chui’s website.

    But as a preview:

    La Ville (beautiful boutqiue Autograph collection, but small inventory and pricey) in Citywalk (stunning in winter)

    JW Marquis (1608 rooms, reasonably priced, central location for whole of Dubai, little within immediate walking distance, very good hotel, one of best lounges in Marriott system, globally)

    Renaissance Downtown (very central, stunning interior design, better than W, resonable)

    Ritz DIFC (financial center hotel – Downtown isn’t our business district)

    Ritz Marina (overpriced, not as good as Royal Meridien next door)

    Le Royal Meridien (gorgeous design, amazing amenities, central Marina location)

    Grosvenor House (sister Luxury Collection hotel to Royal Meridien, one of best lounges in SPG system, globally – free lunch)

    Westin Mina Seyahi – Marina (pricier than neighbors – LRM/Grosvenor house, more classic design, amazing beach and pool complex, great views)

    Sheraton Grand SZR- great hard product, cheap, metro access

    Sheraton Mall of Emirates – ok, metro access, central location, attached to mall

    Courtyard Barsha – Cheap good option, walking distance to mall of emirates, metro close by (opening in 2 months)

    Aloft Deira city centre – hardly central but on metro line so doesn’t matter as much, cheap, new, good views, great themed suites.

    Four Points Bur Dubai – cheap, old, located in dense middle income area

    Four Points SZR – cheap, old, very central location but Grand Sheraton is nearby and 10 times better at similar prices…

    I considered every Marriott+SPG option, so if its not on this list, avoid it (on the basis of location, access or quality) 😛

    Any of these would be considered ‘good’ locations

  10. Sorry for not being clear, the best beach option is by far, Le Royal Meridien Marina (but Tiffany hates it :P)

  11. So…how will this affect my pre-paid stay in September? The one time I make a prepaid booking far in advance….

  12. @Vineet- that’s fantastic data, and very interesting to me as someone who hasn’t been to any of these places and doesn’t really understand the appeal. Could you give a quick summary of the primary market segments which drive demand in the UAE? To my mind it would be people traveling on oil business (and related industries), rich people from the surrounding area who want a luxury experience, guests of rich Emiratis (friends and family), and a smattering of people from outside the region. But I really have no idea and am interested in where the demand comes from. Thanks!

  13. @Evan, Dubai is doing fairly well as a tourist market – maybe I’m misinterpreting your post but you can’t seriously be suggesting airline mileage redemption rates are partially responsible for this decision? The impact of mileage redemptions on Dubai’s tourism market is probably negligible at best. I’m fairly sure these hotels almost couldn’t care less than Americans aren’t able to get (excessively) cheap J and F redemptions on EK through AA / wherever any longer.

    The problem is the boom in Dubai tourism and in particular the insane prices hotels can attract over the high season for European tourists has driven insane numbers of 5 star hotels to be built (Dubai hotel prices in high season are heading towards London / NYC levels). Does Dubai really need two St. Regis’s and soon a third when NYC has only one and there isn’t even one in London? Not really.

  14. @Vineet- to be clear, I never understood the appeal to American tourists- it’s so far and there are very nice desert resorts in the US. I guess I understand a good amount of demand from rich tourists from Europe- a 6 or 7 hour flight seems within the realm of reason, especially in the winter.

  15. @DCJoe the few times I’ve been to Dubai/Abu Dhabi was because it was part of a longer trip I had, and worked in a 2-3 day layover in the city. This might be true for many others as well.

  16. @DCJoe

    I’ll do my best to give an overview.
    Dubai is 4th biggest tourism city in world, going to be 3rd within 18 months. It does this with half the year empty (6 months its hotter than 40 degrees Celsius, sometimes 50..)

    So its truly a massive market with something for everyone. The specific criticism of there being little to do in Dubai is unfounded (some other issues might have more ground).

    It is a shopping, eating, staying nirvana. Like a city sized entertainment zone. You will find some of the best value for your money in terms of hotels here (best hard product in the world) with over 100+ 5 stars and average rates plummeting. The cheapest property of any luxury brand in the world is usually in UAE and usually new and shiny 😛

    It is a wholesale hub for goods from Africa, China, South Asia.

    It is within couple hours of flying time for a 67% of the world’s population (this is crucial).

    The top source markets are:

    -India (some people use it as a weekend getaway)
    -China (massive numbers of packaged tourists, also it appeals to them in everyday that it doesn’t appeal to western tourists)
    -Russia (they absolutely love it and often make multiple trips a year). They are very much sun, sand, sea, shopping tourists (Russia has very very limited beaches itself, they’re enamoured by sand :P)
    -GCC countries (its a playground and getaway from Saudis, previously Qataris, Kuwaitis, Omanis)
    -Other Arab countries (Dubai is sort of the capital of the the block from Morocco to Pakistan, every HQ of every company operating in this block is usually here)
    – Pakistanis consider this the obvious first choice to travel
    – Germany is in top 5 source markets
    – UAE is possibly the densest Australian expat country after the obvious ones like UK/NZ. Not sure of absolute numbers but there are entire suburbs habited by Aussies (And mixed with UK, South African etc nationals). There is a distinct Ozzie feel to many places and a lot of the Business CEOs are Australia (airlines, banks, construction companies).
    -UK itself has a huge expat community in UAE (think 10s of 1000s, not few thousand).

    Heaps of business travel (not much oil related business in Dubai), however it is a Tier 1 alpha city and a global financial, business, commercial hub. MEA HQ for everyone is usually always Dubai.

    It is actually very liberal (possibly most liberal Islamic country? Possibly)
    Homosexuals do not get executed here actually. There is a fairly obvious LGBTQ scene, just don’t rub it in anyone’s faces and they tend to leave you alone as well (once a year, there will be a headline case involving something that shocks the west, usually not LGBTQ related, eventually the person is usually pardoned after a lot of time in limbo).

    Nobody is hostile to Police here and Police isn’t hostile to you (Police community relations are very much like UK, not like US. This in itself makes it more pleasant and less dangerous than many more liberal countries).

    I’ll be posting a tourist guide to localities on Sam Chui’s site soon (similar to the Abu Dhabi one already up)

  17. @DCJoe

    Yep Dubai isn’t big with American tourists. Increasing numbers but not yet in top 10 source markets I think.

  18. @DCJoe

    So sorry about the multi part, Dubai is *not* an expensive destination. Hotels are extremely cheap. Transport is cheaper than Western developed countries. Its associated with Luxury with good reason but that Luxury comes cheap! Flights from India are often 100 USD one way!
    Food ranges from very cheap to very expensive.
    Alcohol is always expensive (starting at ~ 10 USD for a beer or standard drink at a popular high end establishment, going upto to 20 USD often).
    Shopping is cheap. Apple products are some of the lowest cost in the world 😛

    Dubai is a family friendly theme park with over 30 things to see or do. Not a historical destination like Europe (the city is too young, less than 50 years old for anything resembling permanent buildings and less than 15 years for anything you’d see on media. It was of course, inhabited for centuries before that). Emirati (local culture) used to be nomadic and culture was passed down mainly in the forms of stories and poems rather than standing structures (because they’d move around for Pearls fishing, summers, fishing, trading etc).

  19. @Vineet- that is fascinating, thanks for a very useful summary. The Aussie influence I had no idea about, nor the interest from Russians, although it makes sense. Definitely knew about it being the “capital” of the region, attracting people from India/Pakistan/Iran, etc, as well as the headquarters of businesses.

    The idea of relatively inexpensive luxury hotels/shopping does absolutely nothing for me, but I get that it has an appeal to many of the broad middle/upper classes. I went into a Louis Vuitton store in Singapore over 20 years ago as a college student and was blown away by the willingness of a subset of rich tourists to spend their time in another country shopping at a mall store, even a very nice one, spending thousands of dollars on a single handbag.

    You mentioned food- are things there as good as the best you can get in places like Singapore/Paris? It feels doubtful to me, but like I said, I don’t really know and am interested to learn.

    All of this fascinates me as the type of person who went to Vegas once and has no desire to ever go back.

  20. @Vineet

    This is incredibly helpful, thank you for taking the time to post.

    To provide some perspective on why an American might visit as a tourist, I’m making my first trip next year. I am totally fascinated by the construction of the city and have watched numerous documentaries (NG channel, etc.) on the engineering behind the Burj Khalifa, Palm, Dubai Mall, etc. I want to see this for myself. Also, I also really enjoy the bling culture, at least for a few days, and so will spend a few hours wandering through the various malls (Ibn Battuta which looks really distinctive, as well as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates). And I’m interested in the feel of the expat culture together with the local Emirati population, particularly any of the trading/Trucial States history. So to me there is PLENTY to see and do, and I don’t drink so the expense/complications of alcohol consumption are irrelevant to me.

    I’m spending three nights in Abu Dhabi at the Four Seaons, three nights at Al Maha, and three nights at the Renaissance Dubai. Glad your view of the latter jibes with what I was able to gather from my online research.

    As for getting there from the US, I redeemed 218,000 Amex points and paid $1700 in fuel surcharges for Emirates First Class. Even with the surcharges the redemption rate for a $13,000 ticket from IAD was excellent.

  21. Dubai has a huge cultural arts side that is overshadowed and never covered in media. Think of San Fran being hypothetically next to Las Vegas and hence being overshadowed by gambling. It is also the regional capital for performing arts, all sorts of clubs and interest etc. The diversity of citizens from 100+ countries really can be seen and perceived. Dubai isn’t too much like Vegas because Vegas hotels suck (:p) and there isn’t as much for a *family* to do. Despite Vegas diversifying into entertainment, shows and food.

    I’d rate Dubai as higher than any western city for food but that’s very very subjective (don’t take my word for it :p).
    Eastern cuisines have extremely strong favours. Western born and bred residents can rarely tolerate Eastern good at length and Eastern ones can’t survive a day on western food (too bland for them).

    Objectively, the diversity is greater (than Singapore and Paris) though London is exceptionally is equal or better. Also it’s objectively cheaper than London, Paris or Singapore (though not Bangkok yet).

    But quality? Singapore probably has better Asian food. Paris better European and London pretty strong across most fronts (except Indian). Dubai would have better exotic outlets and better Indian (Dubai has a tongue in cheek North Korean restaurant for instance, and you can find Georgian – the country, Azeri etc)

    I forgot to add. Dubai crushes every other major world city for personal safety on day to day basis. Single girls can walk down streets at 3 am.

    Shopping seems nonsensical in these places because a lot of them are low duty hubs. Americans have cheapest goods and lowest duties and most everything (so far :p #tradewars) but in many countries,luxury goods would be 2-3 times the cost. Buying luxury good from Dubai (or Bangkok or Singapore) can sometimes justify the entire cost of the trip. Brazilians make similar trips to Miami since iPhones in Brazil are double or more the cost (as are cars or luxury bags for instance).

    It’s cheaper to fly to Dubai to buy an iPhone (or handbag) and fly back than it is to buy it from the store down the street.

  22. @ Vineet – thank you very much! Look forward to reading a full write up 🙂 I am thinking of spletting time between Al Maha and a hotel in Dubai.

    I vaguely recall Tiffany saying something about that hotel but for the love of me can’t find anything about Le Royal Meridien Marina on OMAAT now.

  23. @Drew

    For architecture, definitely check out Sheikh Zayed Road’s DIFC area strip (a mile long strip near Downtown)
    And Dubai Marina area closer to Palm (opp Mina Seyahi), this is where you will see the contorting tower and such (Cayan Tower).

    You don’t want to miss out on Citywalk, La Mer and Al Seef if you enjoy open air Retail/F&B with a “vibe” (winters only please 😛 December-March is prime. October, November and April are ok. You’ll evapourate outdoors in other months (unless you’re Texan or Arizonian..)

    If Paris and London are 4 day cities, then against that benchmark, Abu Dhabi is a 1-2 day city (theme parks would be 1 day itself, so 1 day without theme parks) and Dubai is 5-8 days (for you, since you are accepting of Dubai :P, days 6,7,8 would be relevant for specific interest, such as shopping or architecture or cultural pusuits. 5 days anyone can spend.)

    I’d cut down on Abu Dhabi perhaps (4 days 3 nights is too many: its a quieter, smaller, less crazy subset of Dubai) and maybe shift to St Regis or Park Hyatt on Saadiyat (amazing secluded beaches, 10 mins cab from city center) though Four Seasons is perfectly fine (on edge of city ,bit quiet since in Financial district but very popular F&B joints on weekends).

    Al Maha is overpriced honestly (great, but overpriced, there are equivalent calibre desert hotels for fraction of cost. However as a Desert resort, its probably the best located – closest to city, but 3 nights 4 days in Desert is again too much :P). Renaissance is near perfect for what you seem to want to do (amazing suite sized base rooms – 55 to 60 sqm, Burj Views)

    I’ll rush the Dubai guide out soon

  24. @Ivan


    It was in that thread, but yeah no full review. No worries, the hard product is stellar, amenities great and service can be iffy everywhere (its a % game). My first stay there was horrendous (like travel story bad) and I followed it up with perhaps 2 dozen review visits in past 2 years all of which were great.

  25. @Vineet. Sounds like you live or have lived in Dubai, from the specificity in your comments.

    I lived there for almost 4 years before moving back to New York in the last few months, and can say from my experience that I agree with most of what you have written, although I will emphasize the following.

    The art scene is both vibrant and growing. Performing arts have a lively niche presence, with theater and improv having respected local venues good for audience enjoyment and participation, if one is inclined to dip into performing. Go to the Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz to browse the many art galleries. Also the DIFC Gate Village has several high end art galleries.

    Food runs the gamut. There are some Michelin starred restaurants. I once has a meal fit for a Sheikh (really) at Le Cirque in the DIFC Ritz, as good as any meal I have had stateside or in Europe.

    For shopping, try Global Village, noting its only open from November to early April. They have pavilions from many nations, and if one is inclined they can bring extra suitcases and stock up on value items (I bought several leather coats that would cost in the high hundreds – if not more – in the US, for around $100 each).

    There is local history and culture in Bastakiya – the old part of town. There are museums that show what Dubai used to be, and the Sheikh Mohammad Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) should be on everyone’s list of things to do if you want an authentic meal and local perspective on Emirati life.

    One fair knock on Dubai is that it is not a “walking” city, unlike London or NY, especially in the summer. However, taxis and Uber are very reasonable, and if your destination lies along the Metro, such is both cheap and reliable. I actually commuted to and from work for 3 years from the Dubai Marina to the DIFC on the Tram and Metro.

    As for hotels, the only thing I wold add is that some are so nice, we would actually drive out to the Palm and stay at a 5* resort there for a few days when we needed a break, but did not want to deal with the hassle of international travel.

    Also, note that the Mina Seyahi Westin and Meridien are right next door to one another, share facilities, and thus have an incredible pool/beach complex.

  26. I’ll add my two cents, which basically supports what Vineet has written. Went there last year for the first time, stayed at the JW Marquis (the tall, twin tower hotel) and absolutely loved it. Used points for Emirates business class and the hotel; flew JFK-DXB. Everything looked new in Dubai. The malls were nice. The eating was great. The hot air ballooning and desert dune buggy trips were fantastic (a little pricey though). A Lyft ride to the beach was quick and affordable. Even a one day rental Mercedes convertible for a trip to Abu Dhabi was reasonably priced ($120 or so if I remember correctly). You had locals dressed in traditional clothing (women covered up) walking around mixed with tourists dressed in skimpy clothes (think women in shorts just below their ass cheeks). I was pleasantly surprised by all of this.

    Would I go there again next year? No, but only because there are a ton of other places I want to visit. If I had unlimited money then sure, I’d gladly buy one of those luxury condos Emaar is building all over the place and take a trip here and there.

  27. @Debit I actually find most of your comments surprisingly deep and layered, from a political astuteness perspective delivered in a subversive, ironic or satirical way. So I’m not sure if you’re actually asking that or drawing attention the second class citizen nature of most of the residents and the divide between them and actual locals 😛

    I forgot to mention earlier that one of the key reasons for Dubai’s tourist numbers is ease of access. The good western tourist spots are only relatively open to other citizens of similar countries. However, the masses (including those with money) from the industrialised developing countries (Russia, China, India, Brazil, Malaysia etc) are locked out and have to go through laborious visa processes often exceeding a month (or 2 for the USA). This requires advanced pre planning for trips and risk in the form of pre-paid rates. Dubai allows pretty much anyone access for upto 4 days and 30 and 90 day on arrival visas no-questions asked to Chinese, Russians, Brazilians, Malaysians, Ex-Soviet states. This in itself means that given a week’s notice, everyone will head to Dubai (instead of London or Paris).

    A practical non-sexy reason for why its such a tourist hotspot.

  28. Rather alarmist headline, don’t you think? Sounded like ALL St Regis and W’s are leaving Starwood.

  29. I applaud people in the comments who are explaining why Dubai is a great city, its importance and value for those who have misconceptions, have never visited, or are just curious.

    I myself LOVE the UAE, cant wait to return on vacation again, I love the beaches, the shopping, the different culture, the mega hotels, the attractions, luxury, Dubai is a beautiful vacation playground.

    I encourage those who have misconceptions or wonder why one would wanna vacation there to research more and travel there once in your life at least, if not multiple times. Its not for everyone but if you like it you love it. Its been my favorite vacation ever, and ive visited multiple countries.

  30. @CSue ummm the word Dubai is in the headline. I can understand if the word was gone altogether or in super small font with opaque coloring.

  31. I am willing to 100% bet this is because these hotels signed an exclusive Starwood agreement. I’ve been told by several general managers that Starwood, unlike Marriott, gave many owners exclusive hotel rights within X number of miles. I know there was some litigation that was quietly resolved in the United States.

  32. Drew,

    Don’t bother with the Four Seasons in Abu Dhabi. I was there recently. It’s ok, but the area around it sucks and there’s nothing to do. The pool is tiny and F&B is limited.

    Stay at the St. Regis Saadiyat (I’ve stayed there 3 times and really enjoy it) or the St. Regis in the city or the Emirates Palace. The latter two are located by the Corniche, and you can walk there in the evenings and see people, it’s quite nice.

  33. @Vineet

    I assume you live in Dubai. If thats the case then Hello! Nice to see someone else from Dubai on this site!

    I can agree with all your points, for I was born and raised in Dubai!

  34. Whilst this post seems to have been brutally hijacked by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Dubai, Abu Dhabi (and, God bless them, insignificant and struggling little Doha and Ras al Khaimer) all better watch out when Saudi Arabia finally gets its act together to facilitate tourist visas and develop international tourism. Jeddah (“Bride of the Red Sea”) knocks spots off all these inferior “Arabian Experience” impostors and delivers much beyond all the superficial Emirates bling and glitter. Apart from the luxurious hotels rooms, ancient suq and superior coastal resort attractions (where are Dubai’s waves and coral reef?), there is also the incredible natural beauty of the Asir Mountain range and the awesome desert wadi’s that are well within reach of the city. Only Oman can possible compare – Dubai and all it’s manufactured dazzle is sadly just a mirage.

  35. @andrew

    That’s right. I had to ask someone from jewellery industry (and there was talk of rappaport) but I’m told lowest Diamond and gold prices globally. Mostly to do with taxation, proximity to India/Africa (most of the material is mined in Africa and cut/polished in India). But it’s cheaper to buy here than India, apparently.

  36. @ Vineet

    “If Paris and London are 4 day cities, … Dubai is 5-8 days”

    I do find that a very weird assertion (though you may be targeting it at that one person’s interests – it’s hard to tell).

    I can see that if you are exceptionally interested in “bling” and shopping, Dubai might be a particularly attractive destination. If your thing is more about, say, fine art collections then I’d say London and Paris had much more to offer you than Dubai.

    All cities have their attractions, and Dubai is certainly an interesting place; but such over the top hype seems bound to lead to disappointment.

  37. @Evan, agree with you. I personally had a ton of EY trips (from the US) during the previous 4-5 years but now have abandoned it in favor of QR and TK. I would rather pay a little more to avoid EY because of its sub par hard and soft products. QR and TK economy is way better than EY or even EK. And then QR beats almost everybody in business class. Definitely it depends on each and everyone’s unique situation.

  38. @The nice Paul

    I don’t think its a stretch for me to say to be honest. 8 days is indeed targetted at that particular person who seems interested in architecture (which you may disagree, but can’t deny that there are more interesting buildings in 2 square miles here than whole of London, I’m not saying better or worse, but more interesting, different, diverse..).

    Even without a specific reason to stay longer, it takes about 5 days for a family to check out the attractions in Dubai that I’d say are unique to the place. Dubai is a family and wallet friendly ‘fun’ destination, the positioning is most certainly not to rival London or Paris for Art or History. One wouldn’t judge a SUV used for road trips on its 0-100 kmph time.

    A sample itinerary:

    Day 1:
    Burj Khalifa Level 125
    Dubai mall + Aquarium + indoor greenforest/zoo (and this is only one of 2 shopping inclusions in entire trip but is a massive mall and you ‘save’ money by shopping in Dubai relative to home countries in most cases, so it could justify your entire trip economically)
    Dubai Fountains (its the largest, its nice, its free, its fun)

    Day 2:
    Heritage areas (Deira markets, Bastakiya, Fahidi, some of the old buildings and Al Seef on the Creek)
    Cable car
    Citywalk (its a mixed use Boulevard)
    Dinner at La Mer (reach during sunset)

    Day 3:
    Marina Walk/JBR/ The beach/Bluewater/Ain Dubai (largest Ferris wheel, good views)
    The Palm
    Ski Dubai (skip if gimmicky)
    Madinat Jumeirah/Burj Al Arab (skip Burj Al Arab if blingy, keep Madinat)

    Day 4:
    Dubai Safari (is the best zoo in the region…its not as good as Serengheti, but its here, conveniently located and gives the same feel of free roaming animals and you in a vehicle)
    Global Village and/or Dragon Mart (for unique goods, not found in conventional malls)

    Day 5:
    DXB Parks (4 theme parks together) or
    IMG (in summer, indoors)
    Skip entirely if not your cup of tea but they’re the only parks of their sort for 30 countries in immediate vicinity, so you can see the appeal…

    If skipping, Desert Safari experience, if included, that would be Day 6.

    None of this is bling or high life specific (hotels, Gold souq, car/automative related activities at Autodrome, Clubs, partying, Brunches or endless mall days) etc, its just attractions geared at family in a packed 5 day itinerary.

    They specifically look to build ‘attractions’. With that focus, its not a surprise that they have a lot of them (more so than other cities that grow organically). The city is prupose built for tourism, it may not appeal to all, but it does have its appeal and I’m surprised that a lot of people who go back saying oh it was shallow infact had no clue about half the attractions or depth and diversity of activities. They came, they did shallow things, they made up their mind that its a shallow place.

    By that standard, Amsterdam is a brothel fit for only a few hours?

    I am actually Abu Dhabi born and raised and Indian by nationality. I would say Abu Dhabi is a one day city (2 if you include theme parks). I lived half a decade in Sydney and would say that’s charming and I could easily spend a week there. Singapore is also extremely attraction heavy.

    I’m not overly enthusiastic about Dubai specifically, I’m enthusiastic about discovering and exploring all cities. I think I’m merely being objective. Visitor numbers back that up. The average length of stay and average spend in Dubai was a magnitude more than the next best (London, according to the Euromonitor and Mastercard surveys, the two main global tourism metrics). This was simply a function of the amount of things to do (since hotels and such are cheaper here, so it definitely wasn’t because its expensive).

    Top 5 for tourist spend (google cities by tourism spend, Mastercard is the main annual provider, I haven’t examined the methodology in detail):

    Dubai 28.5 B USD

    NY 17.02 B
    London 16.09 B USD
    Singapore 15.69 B USD
    Bangkok 14.08 B USD

    These are figures when Dubai hadn’t broken the 15m tourists mark, the gap is greater now and will keep increasing since the growth rate is higher (especially compared to Paris, NY etc). London, Bangkok, Singapore are doing well in their own right.

    Dubai is near double the rest and is cheaper than all except Bangkok (though it will become a cheaper destination this year with the inventory dump of rooms whereas BKK is stablising).
    This implies people stay longer and do more (much more). It doesn’t of course imply people liked it more or enjoyed it more (though that is a likely co-relation) but definitely implies they did more or bought more.

    What proportion of tourism is Art Connoisseur vs Family/fun/getaway/beach/shopping focused. Art and niche tourism is a rounding error. There are plenty of museums here including the Louvre which I’d freely admit is nowhere in comparison to the actual one (and Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are focusing more on cultural tourism) but globally the museums are struggling. If a city is going to be the number 3 for tourism in the world, I’d say if someone sees no point in it, then that’s simply arguing against data. I merely follow the data.

    I don’t prescribe 5 days to demonstrate Dubai as qualitatively better, I prescribe it to have a complete experience and cover the bases (quantative).

    Hope those data points help.

  39. @Lilly Ming LOL in your dreams. First they need to fix their oppressive religion and government, THEN they have to invest in tourism, and maaaybe in 20 years it will be a cool place to holiday. Until then, Dubai it is.

  40. @ Vineet

    They’re most interesting points, thank you. But I think they prove my point: that what may well be great about Dubai for some people would be stomach/charmingly repellent for others – and the same applies, of course, to London and Paris. Different people want different things.

    As an architecture geek I profoundly disagree with your assertion that:

    “[you] can’t deny that there are more interesting buildings in 2 square miles here than whole of London, I’m not saying better or worse, but more interesting, different, diverse…”

    I can, and do, deny that. “Interesting” is a value judgement, but different and diverse are measurable. London is a 2,000 year old city with some substantial remains from the earliest times and everything between then and now. Dubai, for all its strengths in 21st century “iconic” architecture, is not. So, just taking representation of architecture through time, Dubai is simply not more diverse and more different than London. Claiming it is will just lead to disappointment.

    There are things where Dubai has more to offer – much more – than London and Paris. But it is not better in every respect.

    You now state that Sydney is a week-long destination. I love Sydney, but are you seriously arguing that there is 40-60% more to do in Sydney than in London or Paris?!

    I guess it all comes back to what the visitor wants. As you agree, the new Louvre, delightful though it is, is a tiny echo of the original.

    I’m also not wild about the type of stats you use as a measure of “best”; by that sort of measure, Ryanair is the best airline in Europe. Ibiza, which is my idea of hell, has all sorts of attractions for many people; remote ancient Paradores attract a tiny fraction of Ibiza’s visitor numbers but, for people like me, offer an extraordinarily more delightful experience.

    One size rarely fits all.

  41. @The Nice Paul

    No no, I agree with your subjectivity in that different people will take various lengths of time. Sydney is a week long jaunt only for *me* 😛
    I agree re: architecture in London over time (and originality) and most historic cities are birthplaces of some school of design or form.
    I see Dubai more as a showcase (a supermarket if you will, little bit of this, little bit of that) than a speciality store which would go far more in depth.
    Interesting is a polite eupheism for an expletive that most people would respond with when confronted with the designs that pass here 😛 (though they have value, such as Cayan tower, I view it as both [email protected]# and interesting).

    I agree entirely its subjective and its not the destination for all. I think I made that clear from the get go, however it gets a thorough flogging amongst US/UK travellers (despite its popularity with British folk) so I thought I’d just provide a contrarian view.

    I merely use the datapoints to illustrate the objective validity of its ascent and positiony, like I said, it is objectively the destination pulling in most $$, but that does not translate to being best or most enjoyable, merely that it probably is for a big section of the population and there is likely correlation. As I stated earlier, a lot of the reasons for success are merely practical and not based on ‘merit’ (being within 3 hours flying distance of 2B people and 6 hours for 4B) and granting easy access to everyone. For sure, if London or Paris doled out visas as easily, they’d surge ahead.

    Anyhu, the introductory posts are up on SamChui.com and I’ll cover some indepth hotel comparisons and attraction guides for the more culture minded tourists. I’d be more than happy to answer questions there (and here!).

    I prefer European destinations for vacations myself (simply a factor of me being born here so desensitized to skyscrapers and all that).

  42. @Vineet

    Your last sentence above is the key point for me, in reverse. I have been to Europe dozens of times in various capacities (vacation, study, business) and while the cultural depth, diversity, and sophistication are undeniable, after a while it becomes somehow monontonous in spite of the ostensible “variety”. OTOH I find “constructed” modern cities fascinating, not only because of their architectural ambition but because of how they present modernity outside of a Euro-Atlantic setting. To take a less-known place that strikes me (not having been to Dubai yet) as a mini-Dubai, I spent a very rewarding five days in Astana earlier this year. And in spite of everyone (well, everyone who’d been there, admittedly a small number) telling me that I would like Almaty more because it was more genteel, had more cafes, street life, etc., in fact I preferred Astana because it was so in-your-face, particularly given the somewhat lunar setting of the Kazakh steppe. But then, I may not be your typical tourist, of any nationality. I once walked along the side of a freeway in Sao Paulo (another city I love, though many do not, including many Brazilians I know) because Google maps misled me about pedestrian routes and I stubbornly refused to alter my course. The fact that I survived does not mean that I recommend this to anyone else 🙂

  43. @ Drew

    You’re a brave man: Sao Paulo is one of my least favourite cities in Latin America, though I’m sure it has lots of merits (it’s just that I’ve always found them to be very successfully hidden).

    I am with you that some “constructed modern cities” are intriguing and enjoyable: I spent a happy week in Brasilia, exploring more Niemeyer than I could ever hope to find everywhere else, while staying in the blissfully peaceful Brasilia Palace Hotel – the first building he designed and built there, to provide VIP accommodation for visitors to the construction site of the new capital.

    Chandigarh has long been on my list of places I *really* want to visit, though it’s a bugger to get to and I have not yet had the opportunity.

    @ Vineet

    I just spent 10 days working in Australia: Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, in that order. The only thing that both my Sydney and Melbourne colleagues could agree on was how dreadful Perth was – whereas I found it to be utterly delightful.

    Diff’rent strokes, etc…

  44. @Drew

    Haha, I find those Central Asian capitals dreadful, you’ll love Dubai then. The Caucasian capitals of Tbilisi and Baku are also nicer than the Central Asian one’s (kind of like an exact average between the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics and the Eastern European ones). Only my opinion. They also get more liberal moving East to West (less dictatorial).

    @The nice Paul

    Chandigarh?? Chandigarh?? You can’t drop something like that and not expect to explain yourself 😛
    I went for a wedding, asked the guide assigned for a tour, he’s like umm…there’s not much…we have rock park (he was local).
    Perth is known to be friendlier and more laid back, perhaps they were implying you’d get bored sooner. Did you prefer it to Melbourne?

    There’s a whole subset of Abu Dhabi over Dubai sort of people locally, that I truly don’t understand (Abu Dhabi is more expensive too, despite being a much smaller subset). There is literally nothing in Abu Dhabi you can’t find in Dubai (including peace and quiet or green leafy suburban housing).

    I’ve had airline employees swear to me they were happier in Qatar (Doha, there is only one ‘city’) but when prodded why, they said they saved more relative to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and spent less………because there was so little to do and they consequently went out fewer times. Not sure if that reasoning for being happier was sound 😛

    You might enjoy Muscat, some people say it has more soul (and Oman in general definitely has more natural beauty). In reality, Dubai subjectively has more of everything, including soul (if soul can be defined by a vibrant arts and culture scene, or a ‘buzz’/’vibe’ around the city) but its eclipsed in Dubai whereas Muscat has no skyscrapers, no concrete jungle feel, so I guess people notice it more. It is also much more local (and hence ‘authentic’ feeling) since they are aggressively getting rid of expats to free up jobs. Dubai feels more like a melting pot, there are locations that feel like downtown Sydney, some like any western suburb, some parts like South Asia and then some local parts, but you never have local residents living in older mud homes like in some other neighboring countries. To experience anything close to that, you have to goto Al Ain or some other city (which is mostly local).

  45. @ Vineet

    Chandigarh was one of the greatest projects of legendary architect Le Corbusier. Do a Google image search for “Chandigarh corbusier” and you’ll see what’s to see!

    How would you travel there?

  46. Connect via Dubai, Delhi or Mumbai.
    Delhi would be most convenient since the Dubai to Chandigarh leg would be a long flight in a sub par LCC (Indigo).

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