Dubai envisions future as tourist destination

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NEW YORK -- Luxury travelers seeking to experience the Arabian mystique should probably look first to Dubai.

The emirate is home to six properties represented by the Leading Hotels of the World -- half of the consortium's dozen members in the Middle East.

"To a large extent, Dubai still is an undiscovered destination by Americans, but the most discerning travelers have found it," said Marshall Calder, managing director of the Leading Small Hotels of the World and senior vice president of the Leading Hotels of the World, based here.

Burj Al Arab, an all-suite hotel in the shape of a wind sail, opened in December 2000. Kay Wood, owner of Wood's World of Travel, Sacramento, Calif., a leisure agency, was in Dubai for the second time last October.

Though she's not getting any business to anywhere in the Middle East since Sept. 11, Wood said, "it's one of the most exciting places you can go, but it's not going to be a big seller [in the U.S.] until all this uneasiness is all over."

However, if clients are interested in visiting that part of the world, "[Dubai] is definitely the place to go," Wood said.

Of all the states in the Middle East -- especially along the Persian Gulf -- Dubai is the most westernized, according to Calder, and tourism is seen by its government and royal family as the industry to replace oil as the emirate's main source of income.

"They've had a very strategic and visionary view toward tourism," he said. "They see that as the ultimate mainstay of their economy for the future."

Dubai's oil reserves, which have fueled much of its economic growth over the last few decades, "have a pretty limited life," Calder said, thought to be about 15 more years.

"As a consequence of that," he added, "they have encouraged hotel development, resorts primarily, and they have built infrastructure there that is incredible -- the airport, the road system, the ability to desalinate water, the golf courses.

"All sorts of things exist in Dubai that didn't exist there 15 years ago," Calder said.

Tiger Woods brought worldwide attention to Dubai's golf courses when he competed in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic last March.

According to Peter Streng, director, North America, for Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, people who watched that golfing event got a strong visual impression of Dubai through views of Burj Al Arab, a striking hotel in the shape of a windsail, which opened in December 2000.

The 202-suite hotel, whose name means "the Arabian tower," is said to be the world's tallest hotel at 1,053 feet.

Average rates at Burj Al Arab are more than $900 per night. Above, a suite at the property. Infrastructural wonders aside, Calder said Dubai's culture is "very hospitable by nature and is one that lends itself to the tourism industry very well."

That hospitality, he said, plus Dubai's "brilliant climate, beautiful beaches and water, great sailing, swimming and food," add up to "a wonderful spot."

It's no surprise, Calder said, that Dubai has a disproportionate share of the luxury consortium's members in the Middle East.

"It's a reflection of the demand," he said, "and there's tremendous demand from Germany and the U.K. The hotels in Dubai all have to operate at very high levels to be competitive."

Dubai is primarily a leisure destination, Calder said. The Emirates Towers and Al Bustan Rotana hotels cater primarily to corporate travel; the other Leading Hotels of the World members in Dubai are all resorts.

Of the resort properties, Calder said Burj Al Arab, the 540-room Jebel Ali Hotel & Golf Resort and the 619-room Jumeirah Beach Hotel "would be considered ideal destinations for incentives and conventions."

In stark contrast to those very large resorts is Al Maha Desert Resort, a Leading Small Hotels of the World property located within a desert conservation reserve, where guests stay in one of 30 separate, bedouin-style suites topped by canvas roofs.

"Al Maha is a very exclusive FIT destination," Calder said, "best suited for luxury travelers who are seeking a unique experience. It is 40 miles inland, essentially inaccessible by road."

Transfers for guests are mandatory at Al Maha, at an additional cost of $250 per suite, per stay.

Guests are picked up by a car at the airport, and at roadside transfer to a four-wheel-drive vehicle to cross the dunes between the highway and the ecoresort.

Not surprisingly, the novel desert resort is not cheap.

The average suite rate at Al Maha is $1,133 per night," Calder said. All meals are included. On average, he said, guests spend 2.5 nights there.

"Zero light pollution," he said, makes for incredible evening skies at the property, where each suite has its own plunge pool, patio and hardwood floors.

At Burj Al Arab, the windsail-shaped, all-suite hotel, "average rates are more than $900 a night, an enviable rate no matter where in the world you go," he said.

But generally speaking, Calder noted, Dubai is not an expensive destination.

"With the exception of the top, top hotels, you'll find rates in the $300 to $400 per night range, maybe even less."

While Dubai's hotel and resort rates have not changed since Sept. 11, Calder said, all of the Dubai properties represented by the Leading Hotels of the World are participating in the "One More Night" promotion through the end of the year.

The offer entitles guests paying for three consecutive nights to stay a fourth night for free.

Also, all members except Al Bustan Rotana Hotel are participating in the consortium's "Leading Suites" promotion, through which guests receive either 20% off the rack rate of a suite or the equivalent in added value amenities.

Commission is 10%.

For reservations or information, contact the Leading Hotels of the World at (800) 223-6800 or visit www.lhw.com.

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