In early 2023, any influencer worth his salt had a Cinderella moment, eagerly anticipating an invite to the most talked about address of the year. The big ticket was the grand opening of Atlantis The Royal in Dubai, which stretched over three days with magazine editors, models and TV stars among the 1,200 in attendance.
The events, which included a $24-million gig with Beyoncé and a tequila launch by Kendall Jenner wearing shiny latex gloves (of the sexy, non-Marigold kind), ensured full coverage in the world press. Meanwhile, a wide selection of Instagrammable settings (including a 28-metre fire and water fountain and a rooftop infinity pool where parasols float over sunken sofas) meant social channels were bursting with photos of people glamorous standing in front of blue expanses or flickering flames.
The hype certainly put the hotel on the map. After the launch, his Instagram followers grew from 17,000 to 178,000. But now that the fireworks are over and the fun has gone, who will stay at the hotel, where rooms cost over £800 a night?
Dubai is likely to be eyeing its four biggest markets as guests: India, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK, in that order, while Atlantis The Royal hopes to attract guests from the US and mainland Europe too. What these travelers have in common is a willingness to spend. Holidaymakers parted with more money in the emirate than any other city in the world in 2022, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council – a total of $29.4 billion.
They’re paying for a holiday somewhere safe (provided visitors obey their strict and sometimes controversial rules), clean and with every activity under the sun year-round, from designer shopping to skiing. Another draw for those who can afford a hotel like Atlantis The Royal – the impeccable service Dubai is famous for. Thanks to some of the most discreet hospitality staff in the business, what happens in Dubai hotels stays in Dubai hotels (unless, like the former NFL player who dropped his bare bottom in one pool, your antics get caught by another guest) .
Holiday of the oligarch
Indian travelers may be the most frequent visitors to Dubai, but Russians are on the rise, with 47 percent more visiting in the first half of 2022 than in the same period during the previous year. Why? The love of beach hotels with easy access to designer boutiques means that Dubai’s shop-and-flop holidays are on par with their perfect holidays.
But the richest people aren’t collecting ‘My Brother Went to Dubai and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt’ style memorabilia. At the skyscraper “seven stars” Burj Al Arab, guests can treat themselves to £ 990 bottles of exclusive perfume and, at Atlantis The Royal, they can even buy a Picasso. As the hotel brochure says, “Ancient Atlantis was said to be the greatest power the world had known, but its wares could not compare to those on display within the beautiful boutiques of Atlantis, The Royal Resort & Residences”.
It’s not just retail therapy that’s attracting wealthy Russians, however. Dubai’s neutral response to the war in Ukraine also helped. In 2022, the number of visitors from the country rose by 47 percent as the oligarchs found their French estates and Spanish yachts seized due to EU sanctions. As reported by the Wall Street Journalhis private jets were grounded at Dubai airport and, literally, nowhere else to go.
Fortunately for worldly Russians, Dubai’s offer is familiar. Many of the hotels have the same labels and their clothes, including the glitzy Palazzo Versace and Armani Hotel which, in 2018, launched a website dedicated to Russian-speaking guests. Some of the restaurants are also familiar: upmarket chains such as Roka and Caviar Kaspia, which also have branches in London, Paris and LA.
As President Zelensky cracked down on Ukraine’s oligarchs, they too began to arrive. In 2022, The Telegraph The country’s youngest billionaire, Kostyatyn Zhevago, reported his megayacht at the Bulgari Hotel Yacht Club, where services include on-board spa treatments and slap-up meals and where annual membership for boats the size of Zhevago starts from £190,000 .
No wonder some oligarchs are looking for longer-term homes in the emirate. The hotels have that covered too, offering residences with round-the-clock security for those who like their branded living spaces. At Atlantis The Royal, apartments come with “elevated gardens and sky-high infinity pools”. A three-storey penthouse with two private pools recently sold for $44 million (£36,410,000).
The final stay
Thanks to zero income tax, secure compounds (some of them on their own islands) and a favorable Golden Visa scheme, 20 billionaires migrated to the emirate in 2021 according to Forbes estimates, and around 70,000 millionaires live in it an increasing number of mansions and glitzy apartments. For them, nightly rates for rooms such as the £80,000+ Atlantis The Royal (where Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed for their opening weekend) are nothing but drops in the ocean.
At this duplex penthouse, the entrance is framed by century-old olive trees, the bath products are designed exclusively by Hermès and the infinity pool looks out over the glittering Dubai skyline. In a sea of gilded hotels, it manages to be opulent and surprisingly tasteful.
The guests who check in clearly have standards. So, Atlantis The Royal’s restaurants are a who’s who of the world’s best chefs, from Heston Blumenthal to Nobu Matsuhisa, and more expensive rooms come with 24/7 butler service.
Big-name restaurants and big-brand drinking are also attracting an increasing number of “leisure” travelers, many of whom frequent Dubai’s top clubs, where the DJs are world-famous and the guests are supermodels, hoping he will bring their business. Veneers add extra gloss. All this goes to explain why Dubai’s hotel rooms are the second most profitable in the world after Miami, according to research by hospitality industry data firm STR.
Not every guest is a resident oligarch or billionaire, of course. Others are literally living the dream, hoping that a little gold dust will rub off. For them, many of the best hotels have established pretender offers.
For example, if you are checking in at the Burj Al Arab, why not hire a Rolls Royce Phantom to transport you from the airport? Staying at FIVE Palm Jumeirah? Go to its bohemian beach party with the hope of mingling with UK influencers or even Cristiano Ronaldo (a Golden Visa holder and previously spotted in one of its restaurants). And if you’re relaxing at Atlantis The Palm, you could even charter a helicopter to show you around town. You have to fake it to do it, after all.
The most outlandish hotel rooms in Dubai
Kempsinki ski rooms
Skiers enjoying the world’s largest indoor slope at Ski Dubai can round off their alpine holiday by checking into one of these chalet-like duplex suites with views over the piste. Decorated with antler-style chandeliers and stone fireplaces, they are almost like being in the Alps (or Aspen, after which they are named).
Suite Imperial Duplex, Palazzo Versace
Donatella herself made the hotel look like a 16th century palazzo, this sprawling duplex hosts J.Lo and comes with bedrooms where the curtains, throws and chairs are all decorated in pastel fabrics to match a pattern while in a living room. The surface of a pool table is a vibrant purple. For that reason, it’s best to hangover at the shaded private rooftop pool where the sun loungers are a soothing cream.
Royal Suite, Burj Al Arab
There’s glitzy and then there’s this Royal Suite, which features a revolving bed and a gold-plated iPad on which guests can communicate their wishes to their hotel butlers. Jacquard drapes, pillar baths and the odd hint of leopard print don’t make for a particularly relaxing space here – but boy, is it a lovely space. Nelson Mandela, Justin Bieber and some of the Kardashians all stayed.
Panoramic Suite, Skyview Address
Scenes for Dubai Bling, a reality show about the lives of the Emirati rich and famous, were filmed at the city centre’s favourite. Its Panoramic Suites come with Instagrammable views of the mirrored towers from the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as a large balcony.