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Burj al Arab vs Emirates Palace

burj al arab, jumeirah, emirates palace, abu dhabiOnly in the Gulf does the hospitality industry boast not one but two seven-star hotels - a marketing gimmick since no such rating exists, but an effective one nonetheless. In reality classed as a five-star deluxe hotel, the Burj al Arab managed to draw international attention by declaring itself a first and unheard of seven-star title, and it did it well: its sail-shaped structure is now as iconic of Dubai as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris. So when the Emirates Palace opened six years later, new superlatives were in order.

Luxury rivalry

When it was opened in 1999, after a reported $1 billion construction, the Jumeirah-owned Burj el Arab - standing on an artificial island linked to the mainland by a private bridge - not only became the world’s tallest hotel, soaring at 321 meters, but it was also touted as the most luxurious hotel ever. Unprecedented lavishness has been devised, be it the Rolls Royce or BMW-chauffeured transfers, the 200-meters-above-the-sea restaurants or the small but significant details in each of its 202 duplex suites, where floor to ceiling windows offer spectacular views on the Persian Gulf. Unsuspecting and delighted customers discovered the complimentary full-size Hermes toiletries, the 13 pillows menu, the extensive staff of private butlers just waiting to run a bath for them. And more.

Then along came Emirates Palace. To make a stronger impression and shake the Burj al Arab’s dominance on this extravagant niche, the Kempinski Hotel Group-run hotel, had to do it bigger, costlier and classier: 302 rooms and 92 suites in a 1,000 hectares of green landscape setting, a 1.3 kilometer-long private beach, 114 domes (one of which is the highest in the world rising 60 meters high), two-helicopter pads, 1,002 Swarovski chandeliers, crystal-studded door handles, 6,000 square meters of interior covered of 22-carat gold leaf, etc.

When Burj al Arab offers caviar, Emirates Palace has two of the only six kilos of albino caviar produced every year worldwide. While Burj al Arab has 42-inch plasma screen TV in every room, the Palace goes for 50-inch TV sets. And fees follow the same trend, starting at over $3,800 a night per person at Emirates palace, against a “mere” $1,850 at Burj al Arab.

No effort was spared, as money never was the real issue: the Abu Dhabi government, owner of the hotel, didn’t release the actual size of the investment, but the Emirates Palace is rumored to be the most expensive hotel ever built, for an alleged $3.8 billion. It may never turn a profit and is not even expected to: the palace is considered a national asset, another jewel to the Abu Dhabi crown and a mean to impress the world.

Vegas meets the Arabs

In fact, the Emirates Palace - which central section houses the Palace Conference Center - is primarily meant to become one of the finest congress hotel in the region (if not the world) and, more importantly, the official guest venue of the Abu Dhabi government; 22 suites are dedicated to heads of state, out of which six rulers’ suites are exclusively reserved to UAE royals. No wonder then that the hotel opted for traditional Arabic architectural style and proudly boasts its sheer opulence. As Australian journalist Andy Phillips from the Sydney Morning Herald said, “it does not feel like a hotel as much as a palace which is being used as a hotel.”

Now, such ostentation may seem a bit overshowy for Western tastes: the palace was deemed the “ultimate bad taste hotel” in 2007 by British daily the Observer, which criticized its “sprinkling of gold on everything that doesn’t move, from ceilings to chocolate cake” among other things, and assumed it has been designed “to appeal to the sort of Russian oligarch who needs a visit from the taste inspectorate”.

Despite such occasional criticisms, Emirates Palace now overshadows Burj al Arab which, incidentally, has been excluded from famous British daily Times of London’s top ten ranking of the best hotels in Dubai for being too expensive. The sail-shaped hotel even suffered some harsh reviews. Specialized website explains that “After the initial dazzle, the interior [of the Emirates Palace] is not nearly as lurid as the Burj Al Arab’s. The exterior of Dubai’s premier tourist address is breathtakingly elegant; inside, it divides opinion sharply though!”

Burj al Arab’s interiors, with their exuberant, bold colors and the over-the-top decoration style aiming to provide an international atmosphere, have similarly been described as “tacky Vegas style” by, that says: “The architectural structure from the outside and even the inside is gorgeous. The interior is a disaster.”

In short, as UK daily Telegraph puts it, “the Burj Al Arab is opulent and showy; the Palace is grand but discreet”.


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