Dubai Desert to House Eco-Minded Resort

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Possibly signaling a movement into the niche market of ecotourist hotels, Emirates Airline is developing the United Arab Emirates' first ecotourism project in Dubai's desert: the Al Maha Resort, scheduled to open in January.

Accessible from the Dubai-Al Ain highway, the resort lies approximately 45 minutes from Dubai Airport. The $12.5 million project is in the making on a 3,330-acre tract of high-dune desert, interspersed with trees, grasses and bush cover. More than 98% of the land will be dedicated to a nature reserve.

South African-born Tony Williams is the project supervisor. His credentials include more than a decade in African ecotourism, managing, for instance, the Mala Mala Game Reserve and advising on ecotourism in the Okavango Delta.

At the Al Maha Resort, the main building will house the reception, lobby, majlis (Arabic for meeting lounges) and restaurants, and recreation facilities will include a pool. Guests will be accommodated in units of 24 suites and one Royal suite, each with a private swimming pool and patio; suites, re-creating the style of a bedouin tent, will have a grand expanse of windows (with energy-efficient glass) to create the feel of opening to nature.

Lodging design follows an Arabic theme, using traditional furnishings, pink sandstone floors and pebbled walls that are typical of historical buildings found across the Gulf. Each suite will have its own blend of colors and collection of artwork and Arabic antiquities -- mahogany pieces from within the UAE or Oman. These will include large wooden poster beds, wooden wardrobes with handcrafted ironmongery, large chests with inlaid brasswork and table tops converted from the region's traditional doors. To simulate a bedouin tent, suites will have a draped fabric ceilings.

At Al Maha, guests will experience typical desert activities, such as horseback riding, falconry, archery and camel riding; a team of safari guides and drivers will be available for specialized desert expeditions. The Al Maha project aims to be ecofriendly to ensure that the desert environment is preserved wherever possible, putting into place facilities to harness solar power and recycle water and waste materials for irrigation and ecological rehabilitation purposes.

The Al Maha's rack rates are pegged at $860 per suite, per night, inclusive of taxes, service charge, three meals and on-site activities.

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