Skift Take

IHG will franchise a hotel at The Heart Of Europe, with potential for two more hotels at one of Dubai's best-known on-again-off-again tourism projects.

IHG is in talks to operate all three hotels on a man-made island that’s part of Dubai’s long-delayed tourism development: The Heart of Europe.

Earlier this month, IHG inked a deal with project developer Kleindienst for one of the properties on the island, the Marbella Hotel, IHG’s Vignette Collection.

“On the island where Vignette Collection sits, there are two other [hotel plots]. We are in discussions to see how we can operate those other two,” said IHG regional managing director Haitham Mattar.

The Heart of Europe is one piece of broader development known as The World, an archipelago project off the coast of Dubai that aims to recreate the world map with individual man-made islands representing countries. The World has 300 islands in all, with six for The Heart of Europe project.

The Heart of Europe is a destination so committed to the concept that original plans said staff will speak Spanish, clocks will be set to Spanish time and guests will have to pay in euros rather than the local currency of Dirhams. It’s unclear whether they will follow through on that vision, which is up to the developer, Mattar told Skift.

The original rendering of Marbella Hotel when it was announced in 2021.
The original rendering of Marbella Hotel when it was announced in 2021.

IHG’s Vignette Collection is the group’s latest conversion brand for upmarket hotels. After several delays, the hope now is that it will open in January 2026.

“Most projects have delays, go dead for a while and get resurrected,” Mattar said. “Now is the time to reinvest [in Heart of Europe] because the Dubai economy is so strong, IHG has had one of its best summers in many years with 80% occupancies. The time is now to develop products and experiences.”

The original rendering of Marbella Hotel's interior when it was announced in 2021.
The original rendering of Marbella Hotel’s interior when it was announced in 2021.

Sustainable Focus

The Heart of Europe’s six islands are connected by bridges and accessible by boat, seaplane, and helicopter, say developers. Original plans state the project will build its own coral farm and a marine life sciences center.

It was this commitment to nature that drew IHG to the project, said Mattar.

“There’s a growing demand from consumers for luxury and lifestyle brands and operators like us matching that demand. The Heart of Europe – what resonated with us was the focus on sustainability and the environment. Life undersea is being protected, and there’s a coral farm being built.”

For The Local Market

WIth just 150 rooms, Mattar said the upcoming resort will be there primarily to serve Dubai’s local tourism market. He said: “For World Islands, it’s going to be very big with the domestic market, very appealing for staycations. It will also be appealing for Dubai’s neighboring countries and its international markets. India, Germany, the UK, are all motivated by beach, sun and sand. These islands have a great offering of those things.”

“This is an entry-level luxury hotel. The smaller key count means more personalized experiences. It’s not hard [to fill the rooms] but we can be selective on our offering and appeal to travelers from across the world. That being said, I believe regional domestic travel will be big.”

In terms of future openings at The Heart of Europe, following the soft launch of the Monaco hotel, there are Cannes, St. Tropez and Nice-branded hotels to follow in the next 18 to 24 months, none of which have operators named, yet.

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Tags: Dubai Hotels, Dubai Tourism, ihg, Tourism news, travel news

Photo credit: This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows the unfinished World Islands. Courtesy AFP

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