Riding up an escalator at the Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber International Tower, Dubai’s tallest building, some guests watch for the inviting green lights on their name tag. Others keep their eyes on the runway as the jetliner carrying them on the high seas twists past. Never mind what they’re wearing – no matter how flamboyant the attire.
It’s just two minutes to lunch. Emirati woman 50, preparing for Dubai’s lunchtime. Part of the dream of becoming a palace lady. Sunbeds on duty, headed by an employee trained by a German designer from KLM. Do they run more overtime or fewer? Who knows but she is very much part of the dream. It’s women who make up 80% of the Emirati citizenry and the money generated by their scanty garments makes them heiresses.
The mood changes at the prize table at the St Regis, Dubai’s beachfront five-star hotel. There is a gentle rhythm of laughter, conversation and laughter at the working of party tunes under the crystal waters of the Gulf. It is the eighth and final tour of the hotel’s flagship resort, where one of the world’s elite hotel customers is having his nights witnessed by hundreds of emirati royals and emissaries.
Since it reopened in January, St Regis Dubai has defied the economic slowdown to attract almost 4,000 guests over a five-day period in June, according to Managing Director Dimitrios Diamantis. The hotel experienced sustained bookings during Ramadan, a time when visits by the business community typically fall sharply.
“We are also quite popular during Muslim holiday periods when people come to the UAE to give or receive prayers and so on,” he said.
St Regis Dubai’s considerable success could almost be mistaken for a piece of unofficial PR for Dubai, an arena criticised at times for what has been described as its overbearing culture and favouring of conspicuous consumption.
St Regis, the first four-star luxury hotel to open in the UAE and chosen to open the £800m Jumeirah by Emirates hotel along with the Shangri-La, is clearly at the centre of a luxury trend that is gathering momentum in the Gulf and is spreading across Europe, the US and Asia.
It is the quintessential emblem of Dubai’s cosmopolitan, fabulously wealthy elite. Having opened just over a year ago, it is already home to a sprinkling of stars like Italian footballers Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano, Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco, and new NBA star Carmelo Anthony. It also hosts a football team known as the Dubai Stars Academy, has a nautical theme and the hotel has even bought into a local TV channel.
Diamantis says visitors at St Regis Dubai are drawn by “the Emirates cultural DNA with some low-key elements that make it especially spectacular”.
The gallery space occupies the hotel’s enormous main level. The architect says Dubai’s rulers, and many of the current emiratis still from the emirate’s former rulers, came here as students in the late 1930s and “they have always adored this setting as a place of contemplation and celebration”.
Overseas buyers return here to show off the country’s rich cultural and culinary heritage, and top overseas CEOs from major companies in Asia and the US often take home second homes as well as other luxury furniture and fittings.
A €59m renovation of the Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber International Tower (formerly the Atlantis hotel, which it replaced) brought three lifts to one side of the large complex, making the building’s 12 floors (the tower is 21 floors high) one of the smallest in the world.
“You get this unbelievable experience. I think there is something else,” said St Regis visitor Orly Mizrahi of Paris, who is on a two-month trip with her husband and two-year-old son.
“It’s such a special mix of all these cultures… there’s something here for everyone.”