First look: Fairmont The Palm
I've walked for 58 minutes through Fairmont The Palm with General Manager Martin Van Kan and still haven't seen a room. It's not as if we've been dawdling either, shooting through the lobby, meeting rooms and ballroom - with their attractive courtyard and terraces - and then taking in a series of restaurants, spacious gym and colourful children's area.
Such is the scale of this 381-room resort, set to be Fairmont's third UAE property, which aims to open December 15 (DTCM is currently going through inspections on a floor-by-floor basis, with first and second floors ticked off). It is owned by IFA Hotels & Resorts, marking the Canadian operator's second venture with the company, following on from Zimbali Lodge, and the architects of this largely Arabian-styled resort are DSA from South Africa.
Most travellers - or taxi drivers - shouldn't have much trouble finding the resort, even if there isn't a great deal of signage at present, and it does somewhat blend into the series of large residences that line the western side of the 'trunk' of Palm Jumeirah. There's no direct left turn in, but it's a fairly straight-forward u-turn, after you pass the Shoreline Apartments 10, and the resort is on the right, flanked by two residences totalling 3,500 apartments which aren't part of Fairmont's operations - but are a key part of its target market. For all its geographical size, the Palm's layout is fairly straight-forward, even for first-time visitors. It took me exactly half an hour driving from the airport district, although that was during lunch-time.
The most striking first impression is the arrival space, which one imagines could comfortably accommodate a fleet of cars simultaneously, and it's a theme which continues into the reception - and throughout the building for most of the afternoon, in fact. The lobby is expansive and uncluttered with reception and concierge desks to the right and left respectively, and the hand-crafted calligraphy-styled Arabian stallions on each side provide an immediate link to the local culture, accentuated by ceiling domes and oversize vase-like plant displays.
A large window faces you at the end although curiously the area didn't feel flooded with natural light - probably because the sense of scale is so beguiling - and this area is dominated by the Mashrabiya lobby lounge, which splits into three sections and can seat 120 people, with more space on the terraces outside. The afternoon tea "experience" aims to deliver the best from the UK (scones and clotted cream, Eccles cakes, Bara Brith speckled bread, and Battenberg marzipan and sponge cakes).
Continuing our tour, we turned left towards the meetings area, which was an eye-opener for what is essentially a leisure-focused resort, with seven meeting rooms, all around 52sqm, which can be arranged in your chosen style, and one fixed boardroom. One of the pleasant aspects is the shared coffee stations, which should foster wider networking opportunities. The 591sqm ballroom can host 600 in for a sit-down dinner and is fully a/v with hanging points for lighting and drop-down screens and projectors, and sound systems built into the walls.
"The size is ample - we're not going to get local weddings, but it's ideal for social events. Two high-end automotive suppliers will be holding their car launches next year. It will be interesting to corporate travellers - and particularly those who want to have meetings, and we see residential conferences will be a big part of the demand," said Kan.
"We've got meeting space reserved January, February and March - and it's into the hundreds of room nights. It's a mix of overseas and regional business - but predominantly residential conferences, so people staying in-house and using the facility over three or four days. It's great commercially, because we're getting F&B and meeting space income, and footfall through the hotel. We're one of the few hotels that have this size on the island - most have concentrated on the leisure business - and all rooms have natural daylight and terraces, and the chef and his team can put together some good coffee break ideas on the terraces. All restaurants have similar seating quantities outside as inside, so you double your size during the al fresco season."
In this respect, the first five-star hotel on the strip will probably be going head-to-head with the last, Atlantis The Palm, whose meetings and banqueting facilities are simllarly comprehensive.
As with most things with UAE hospitality, it's the level of detail which astounds. The ballroom kitchen is probably as large as some hotel kitchens in more developed markets - the main kitchens take up another level - and the hosting options aren't just restricted to the rooms, but extend to the break-out rooms, terraces and large courtyard space, which could hold up to 400 guests. There are plans to glass-coat one of the four main pools nearest the 450 metres of beachfront when needs be, providing more function space.
"With the range of F&B outlets we have, we can display all of them in a function - you could do Brazilian or Chinese outside. The whole idea of selling banquets is selling à la carte, rather than menu 1, 2 or 3," added Kan.
Coming back on ourselves, we popped into the two-floor pan-Chinese Bã (named after the auspicious number eight - bar on top, restaurant underneath), where work is still ongoing - it will be the only venue not to open initially, but in the new year. Alongside the 'molecular' drinks menu is a hand-picked Asian culinary team which will be serving up a mix of regional favourites, and alongside the main restaurant is a private dining area affording views of the Gulf.
Thereafter, staying on the never-ending lobby level, is the Cigar Lounge, among the largest I've seen, which has leather settees, polished wooden flooring, a flame lit back wall and walk-in humidor. The Cigar Lounge specializes in malt whiskies and boasts a large collection of bourbons and exclusive evenings will be devoted to pairings of cigars, malts, wines and chocolates, hosted by a cigar sommelier.
Then in contrast to the serious smoking side comes Frevo (Portuguese for 'fever'), where the accent is on fun and celebration. A bar to the right will serve "a good frosty pint and here you'll get your tropical cocktails" and cipranha trollies will go round, providing a sense of interaction, and the menu features 17 types of meat, which you can eat for an all-in price for AED250, excluding alcohol. "There will be soups and breads and when you're ready, you can collect some salad, then you sit down and then the meat starts. The chimichurri sauce is to die for."
Outside, a small off-shoot corridor will have a gift shop and Delicacy bakery, where you can pick up home-made breads and chocolates (primarily for the immediate local market), and then we headed down to the lower level, to Flow, which has fiive sections and private dining area that can seat 24 (with separate entrance to the kitchens, likely to be popular with local guests and during Ramadan) as well as juice, ice cream and dessert bars. One unusual feature is the Chef's table on the left, dubbed 'Chef's Palette', featuring a long rectangular table and live kitchen.
"I'm loathe to call Flow an all-day dining restaurant - the lunches and dinners are completely different concepts. In the morning there will be a lot of buffet set-ups but in the afternoon it goes into brasserie mode - where we're serving Asian, French, Indian and Italian. It's all family style - the pot will be out of the oven, on the table, and you can get on with it."
Another key venue is Seagrill on 25° Restaurant & Lounge (pictured), and masterminding all the F&B will be an 80-strong team headed by executive chef John Cordeaux, who's worked with Fairmont over 20 years, including spells at Abu Dhabi and Toronto.
After seeing the Technogym-equipped gym with fitness studio (pilates and yoga etc, annual memberships available), I somehow missed the Wlllow Stream spa, but it has separate ladies’ and gentlemen’s hammams featuring thes hammam kesse (exfoliation) treatment in a private heated room, among other treatments. Opening at the end of December will be the ultra-bright children's area, complete with activity walls and astroturf outside with fun touches such as watercannon jets.
So to the rooms, which span floors 2-10, and accessed by six lifts. Never before have I seen so many connecting rooms, or doors within doors, but again, it's indicative of the level of detail and desire to take family hospitality and privacy to a new level. Fairmont Gold guest arrivals will be handled on the ninth floor, where there is access to the eighth via a staircase, and the 72 rooms on these two floors (a mixture of city/seaview rooms and suites) are served by 10 butlers. A microcosm of the resort, the ninth floor lounge is an enviably large space with plentiful seating and striking water views.
There's not much to choose in size between the Fairmont Room/Deluxe Room/View Room (48sqm), but Queen rooms are a little longer with bigger terraces. Naturally the Queen Suites, King suites and Presidential Suites are larger with more seating areas (deluxe view room pictured).
I had a peek in room 214, a standard Kingsize, which had a balcony, swivel deskchair, espresso machines, cups and glasses attractively contained in drawers and minibar (the decor is a mix of browns/golds/orange themes which is soft on the eye) as well as a Corner King suite with large dining and living area, seaviews and more spacious balcony. "There's no room service through the TV - we've opted away from that, we're rather you're spoken to. We want to talk people through their preferences and order what they want."
For a resort, it's a place where you can see yourself working. Full media panels are tucked away beside the oval desks, along with internet cable holders, although the whole hotel has wifi. For Fairmont Presidents Club/Gold members, internet is free, otherwise it's charged at AED100 a day. While Fairmont Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Roead will be more primarily corporate, there will clearly be opportrunities for synergies, whether in the corporate, leisure of function sphere. Opening rates are currently in the AED1,400-1999 a night bracket.
As with more top-end properties, I drive away not entirely sure what I've seen, such are the interchangeable work, leisure and food/drink boundaries these days. But there's no doubt Fairmont The Palm will leave its mark, and its fourth UAE property will open in Ajman next year.
Report by Dominic Ellis
TexasFrance - 29/11/2012 15:10
Basic journalism question: What city is this hotel in?
BusinessTraveller - 29/11/2012 15:35
Hi TexasFrance. The hotel is located on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.
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