Is there a real demand among travelers for robotic luggage handlers, 3-D mapping technology, or a massive rainforest? When is too much just too much, or do we need these types of hotels to remind us of what we can achieve when it comes to hospitality? Or when it comes to Dubai, does extravagance equate to authenticity?
Dubai has made a global reputation for itself as the home of a number of impressive, over-the-top luxury hotels, and its newest hotel, currently under construction, fits the bill perfectly.
The $550-million Rosemont Hotel & Residences, slated to open at the end of 2018, will encompass more than 2 million square feet over two 53-story towers, as well as its own rainforest and robotic luggage handlers. Owned by Royal International, which is led by a Saudi prince, the hotel itself will be managed by Hilton as part of its soft-branded Curio Collection.
In essence, the new Rosemont takes the whole “bringing the outdoors in” concept quite literally, and on a grand scale. To escape the brutally hot summers in Dubai but still be able to enjoy the lushness of a tropical rainforest, the designers behind the hotel are bringing all of that into the hotel.
In any other destination, amenities and features like these may sound farfetched or impractical, but not so in Dubai, said DJ Armin, managing partner of ZAS Dubai, the architectural firm behind the grand designs for the Rosemont project.
“You have to understand, there are two types of hotels being built here,” Armin said. “It’s either luxury or not luxury, more mid-range. There’s no low range here. If you don’t do luxury, it’s not Dubai. People come here to experience different types of hotels. It’s about being at the same level as all the other hotels being built here. There’s an expectation of luxury being a trend here. That’s why we created a luxury hotel which has added value to the guests.”
But is over-the-top luxury what hotel guests really want, even in a place like Dubai? Or is it just what people expect, given the fact that Dubai is home to indoor ski slopes, the world’s tallest building, and manmade islands?
The latest April statistics from STR, a hospitality data company, show some year-over-year decreases in Dubai. While they’re not huge drops, they could be indicators that even with increased supply and demand, occupancy and average daily rates may not always be positive.
Although STR noted Dubai’s supply increased 6.1 percent and demand did as well, up 5.2 percent, from April 2015 to April 2016, there’s been a slight dip in occupancy (down 0.9 percent to 79.7 percent occupancy), a 15.4 percent decrease in average daily rate and a 16.1 percent drop in revenue per available room.
As far back as 2014, a government-owned company embarked on a strategy to build more midscale hotels, knowing that the destination had an unhealthy luxury hotel imbalance.
But that doesn’t seem to have stopped other developers from embarking on over-the-top hotel concepts. Rosemont, by comparison, seems rather pragmatic when judged alongside the Floating Seahorse villas that have submerged, underwater bedrooms.
Last year, STR Global also noted Dubai was building more hotels more quickly than any other city in the world.
A Closer Look at Rosemont
In addition to having an indoor rainforest and artificial beach, the new Rosemont Hotel will also have a 30-foot skypool on its elevated lobby level, somewhat similar to the famous infinity-edged pool at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Other features include a zipline attraction, an on-site movie theater, and a bowling alley.
The 75,000-square-foot outdoor rainforest will also have its own rain room, and built-in sensors throughout the rainforest will detect when people are near, and continually maintain a high humidity level throughout the park. Other tech features, Armin noted, include 3-D mapping technology.
The entire project will be spread out over two towers — one tower housing 448 hotel rooms and the other housing 280 serviced apartments.
“We wanted to create something different that offers an experience of four seasons to guests,” Armin said. “In summer, Dubai is not very popular with guests. People are not coming and a lot of hotels have to offer very good deals and low rates for people to come in. Now, our property is not beside the beach or waterfront, but that’s why we’re doing something different. We have a sky lobby with a zero-edge pool where you can catch a lot of wind, so the heat will not be as harsh. Mist coming out of the trees in the rainforest will cool down the air. This will attract a lot of people during summer and winter time.”
Armin said the hotel will also be utilizing technology to continually change or enhance the guest experience, so that the scenes from the ground lobby can change from day to day.
It continues to be a crowded field: Between now and when the Rosemont opens, Dubai will also be welcoming a slew of new luxury properties, including the Viceroy Dubai, Bulgari Resort & Residences, Venu Bluewaters Island Hotel, and the Royal Atlantis Resort.
That travelers want differentiated luxury experiences is not a new concept, but within their desires for new and different experiences, they’re also looking for authenticity. While the definition of authenticity varies from traveler to traveler, it’s something most travel companies and brands are hoping to achieve with their products and experiences.
Gray Shealy, executive director for Georgetown’s Hospitality Management master’s program and a former global design director for W Hotels, said that the No. 1 thing all travel brands and travelers are looking for today can be boiled down to authenticity:
“Trust and authenticity go hand in hand connecting to locations and people in other ways, especially when we move people across the globe and we’re traveling,” Shealy said. “People are looking for more differentiated, deeper experiences that go beyond what Google or social media can teach us.”
“Everyone is trying to be different here in Dubai,” Armin said of the many luxury hotels in the region. “Being different is what it’s all about in Dubai.”
In that sense, perhaps Armin is right. Maybe, in at least trying to provide travelers with new, maybe overly extravagant experiences, that’s just how Dubai defines authenticity.
While we’ll have to wait until 2018 to see how well the Rosemont is received, Armin remains confident it can be a success.
“I’ve been in Dubai for 11 years,” he said. “I’ve seen many ups and downs in the Dubai market. Dubai is a real tourist destination. About 21 percent of the local income comes from tourism. The name Dubai is known all over the world and all the luxury brands and plans are here.”
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Photo credit: A rendering of the massive rainforest that will be a part of the new Rosemont Hotel & Residences in Dubai. The $550-million hotel and serviced apartments development is scheduled to open in 2018. Plompmozes / ZAS Dubai