As the construction boom continues apace, Mark Caswell asks if there is any limit to Dubai’s relentless expansion.
It’s testament to Dubai’s rapidly changing landscape that this is Business Traveller’s second update on the emirate this year. Some critics might cite Dubai-fatigue, but there is no doubt that, while many areas of the world are feeling the pressure of the credit crunch and soaring oil prices, the emirate continues to announce more offshore developments, hotels and airlines.
Almost inconceivably, 2008 has seen yet further reclamation projects unveiled for Dubai’s coastline (click here for a computer-generated future map of Dubai). Not content with the three Palm islands and The World, real-estate developer Nakheel has announced that the emirate will, literally, be the centre of The Universe, with a series of planet and galaxy-shaped islands located in a curved shape around the The World. The development is expected to take around 15 years to complete, and will include luxury living space, commercial opportunities and, most importantly, more artificial coastline.
In turn, this development has been dwarfed by recently announced plans for Waterfront, a 130 million sqm project which will transform the desert and shoreline halfway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi into an “international community twice the size of Hong Kong island”. The area will eventually house 1.5 million people, and include Waterfront City, a 1.3 sq km business and hotel district surrounded by a moat.
Waterfront will be supported by a comprehensive public transport system to reduce dependence on the car, something which Dubai has struggled with recently (although the first stages of the emirate’s metro network are due to be operational next year). There will also be a direct link from Waterfront to the forthcoming Al Maktoum International airport, and the project will include part of the 75km Arabian Canal, a US$11 billion artificial waterway stretching into the desert.
Back in the present, much of the residential space on Palm Jumeirah has now been completed, with over 2,000 families having already moved in. Later this month, Atlantis The Palm’s 1,500-room resort hotel and water attraction will open, and another 30-odd hotels will join it along the Palm’s crescent over the next two years.
Among the big names which will be jostling for business here are the Emerald Palace Kempinski, the Taj Exotica, the Tiara Palm Dubai, the Fairmont Palm and the Jumeirah Al Fattan Palm Resort, while the 61-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower will be located on the Palm’s trunk, and is due for completion next year. Later this year, the cruise ship QE2 will embark on its final voyage before coming to rest on the eastern side of the Palm’s trunk, where it will also be transformed into a luxury floating hotel.
So can anywhere, even an emirate as booming as Dubai, sustain this level of development? Nakheel certainly thinks so, as CEO Chris O’Donnell explains: “We have an incredibly proactive government which believes that, if we build it, they will come. As part of this, we’re building infrastructure for four million people, when there is currently a population of only 1.5 million. Dubai is the shining light of stability in an unstable region, and is rapidly becoming the business and tourism hub for the Middle East.”
O’Donnell added that there are some 1.7 billion people living within four hours’ flight of the emirate, a fact which has not been overlooked by Dubai’s government. Aside from the state-owned Emirates airline, which recently unveiled the first of 58 Airbus A380s, capable of carrying up to 644 passengers (for a review, click here), the emirate will soon launch a low-cost carrier to mop up the regional market.
Flydubai is due to commence flights in mid-2009, and will concentrate on routes to the Middle East, north and east Africa, south-east Europe and the Indian sub-continent, using Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The airline will be based at Al Maktoum airport to the south-west of Dubai, the first runway of which is already finished. When completed in 2017, the 120 million capacity airport will be some ten times the size of the current Dubai airport, and capable of handling simultaneous take-offs and landings across its six runways.
Staying inland, the Burj Dubai skyscraper became the world’s tallest man-made structure earlier this year, and that’s before it’s even been completed. Developer Emaar is keeping the official final height close to its chest, but says it will be at least 700 metres tall by the time it is finished in 2009.
Emaar also announced its own five-star hotel brand in May this year, The Address Hotels and Resorts. The brand will debut this month with The Address, Downtown Burj Dubai, a 196-room hotel housed within a 63-storey building looking out on to the Burj Dubai. The property will include over 1,000 sqm of swimming space over five tiered pools, as well as Neos, the hotel’s bar located on the top floor.
Other properties will follow within Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina before the end of this year, and Emaar has also signed an agreement to roll out the brand overseas, with The Address, Uptown Cairo, due to open in 2011.
The enormous Dubailand development also continues apace, with a total of 280 million sqm of attractions slated for the area inland from Palm Jumeirah. Among the projects are Dreamworks Park, a Marvel Superheroes theme park, Tiger Woods Dubai, Legoland Dubai, and Dubai Sports City.
So is the emirate finally reaching saturation point in terms of offshore and inland developments? Nakheel has hinted that the most recently announced projects may represent the last stage of Dubai’s offshore development. And looking at the computer-generated map, readers will notice there’s now little space along the emirate’s 76km natural coastline for further reclamation, excepting the gap around Port Jebel Ali, which for obvious reasons will need to be kept clear.
You would never put it past Dubai to announce yet more extravagant projects, but as O’Donnell put it: “What comes after The Universe?”
Atlantis The Palm, Dubai
Palm Jumeirah’s flagship resort opens on September 21 and will feature 1,539 rooms, all with private balconies and views of either the Palm or the Arabian Gulf. The hotel will be the largest ocean-themed attraction in the Middle East, and will include the 17-hectare Aquaventure theme park, complete with water slides emanating from a 30-metre high temple and passing through shark-filled lagoons.
There will also be an 11 million litre marine habitat and underwater exhibition, a maze of underground tunnels with views into the “mythical lost city of Atlantis”, and Dolphin Bay, a state-of-the-art dolphin education and conservation centre.
Among the 17 restaurants and bars at the resort will be the first branch of Nobu to open in the Middle East, as well as Italian trattoria-style Ronda Locatelli, Brasserie Rostang from two-Michelin-star chef Michael Rostang, and a range of steakhouse, Mediterranean and Arabic eateries.
Business travellers will be catered for by a 5,600 sqm conference centre, complete with a 2,100 sqm ballroom, capable of accommodating up to 2,500 delegates, and offering wifi internet access. There will also be a 1,000 sqm pre-function area with floor-to-ceiling windows offering beach views, and the Silk and Spice Ballrooms, each over 500 sqm in size, which can be subdivided. Atlantis will also feature a 1,900 sqm spa, with 27 treatment rooms, a fitness centre with Technogym equipment, and yoga studios.
Lead-in rates at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai start from AED 3,480 (£485) for a Deluxe Room.
Tel +971 4426 1000, atlantisthepalm.com.