Editor's Blog

08/02/2018
The unstoppable rise of Dubai

Can there be a nicer time to leave the UK for a few days of sunshine than February? Discover Dubai 18, a fam trip organised by Dubai Business Events for MICE buyers and media from around Europe took place over the weekend and, it turns out, February must also be the nicest month to visit this extraordinary place. With daytime temperatures in the mid 20s yet evenings still warm enough to host outdoor events, the weather is close to ideal. I gather it’s similar in November, too.

It is of course perfectly possible to host events in Dubai during the hot months – pretty much mid-April to mid-October - when you can also take advantage of some excellent rates and the same high standards and service levels. But if you want to be able to walk anywhere or host events away from the AC, perhaps cycle along the new canals opening where we were staying by the JW Marriott Marquis and Al Habtoor City complex - the Westin can provide the bikes - then this is the time of year to come.

Putting a programme together for such a big group – around 30 – with different needs, interests and level of destination knowledge is never easy. But fortunately this is Dubai and there is always something new to discover. We were taken up the just-open Dubai Frame, which looks like a giant gold picture frame and stands 150m high. Why? “Why not?” as one Russian buyer said enigmatically. You can host cocktails here and although there are many places in Dubai offering wonderful views – we were after all staying in the world’s tallest hotel, where the views are, of course, extraordinary – but here there is the added thrill of a glass floor running almost the length of the top of the frame  that you can walk on if you dare.

La Perle opened six months ago in a purpose-built theatre at the Al Habtoor complex. This exciting permanent show designed by Franco Dragone involves waterfalls, high tech projections and jaw-dropping acrobatic stunts.

More affordable is a day at one of the new theme parks that have recently opened and are keen to attract group business. We were told rates of 40 euros per delegate per day are available including entrance to the park. Choose from Bollywood Parks, Motiongate Dubaiand Legoland Dubai and Legoland Waterpark, all of which have large indoor and outdoor venues and attractions.

As a complete contrast, Platinum Heritage was responsible for a wonderful early evening desert safari into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where the reintroduction of Arabian Oryx has been a big success. In 1950s Land Rovers, the guides were entertaining and knowledgeable – not always the case – and the camp has as authentic a set up as I’ve seen in the UAE. CEO Adam McEwan prides himself on this. If you‘re looking for belly dancing and dune bashing, you’ll be disappointed. But with a camp fire, colourful rugs and cushions, delicious food and shisha pipes, you won’t miss them and you almost don’t notice that no alcohol is served. This won’t suit every group, of course, but those that decide they can cope with one dry evening will help keep their budget in shape. And to lie back and look up at the myriad stars in the desert sky is a very memorable and humbling thing to do. Astronomers can be brought in to offer assistance.

The JW Marriott Marquis (pictured above) is about to lose its status as world’s tallest hotel, apparently, but it’s still an extraordinary property. The rooms are lovely and the bathrooms are huge – with the bathtub placed infront of the window on what for me was the 65th floor. If I’m being picky, the lobby of the hotel feels a bit small for such a huge hotel – 1,604 rooms in two towers – and waiting what can be a few minutes for a lift when you’re on a tight schedule can be frustrating. But there is huge scope here for events with its large meeting facilities. Next door is the Al Habtoor City complex and a round of applause should go to director of sales Matt Cooper for managing an entertaining showround of its  three properties in under an hour including a juice in a suite in the Westin set up with gym equipment and exercise wear, a glass of champagne opened with a sabre in a suite in the St Regis and a whirlwind visit to the funky W.

But the showround that really got the group talking took place on the last evening at the Ritz Carlton Dubai. This quite traditional and ancient by Dubai standards – it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year – property excelled itself with a fun take on a guest’s hotel arrival with personalised room keys handed out together with a choice of mocktails, a harpist playing in one suite and a bath full of ice and virgin mojitos in another. The evening ended with a splendid buffet of seafood, sushi, risotto and dim sum together with a saxophonist and dancing in La Baie. Providing a nice contrast to the elegant hotel, this feels more like a fashionable beach bar and the group was really delighted to have the opportunity to dip their toes in the Arabian Gulf albeit after dark.

With seaplane tours, lunch at the new Dubai Opera and a fun afternoon of camel polo, Dubai showed once again that however many times you visit this exciting destination, there is always something new. And you might be surprised to learn that the average room rate last year was just 110 euros with five-star rates between 90 and 300 euros available. And that’s before another 30,000 hotel rooms – around 80 hotels - open this year in readiness for Expo 2020.



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