After the Wynn casino was announced, luxury operators have been rushing to the once-quiet Ras Al Khaimah. Four Seasons could be next, betting on a "gaming state" to ensure its success.
Toronto hotel brand Four Seasons is likely to announce its own resort and standalone villa project in United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) Ras Al Khaimah. The proposed super-luxury resort is currently going through its master planning stages and has already found a plot of land “very close” to the $3.9 billion Wynn integrated resort opening in 2027.
The development was confirmed by the Four Seasons’ new regional operations president Adrian Messerli, who heads all of Europe, Middle East and Africa and is based in Dubai. Asked by Skift during a media roundtable if his brand was looking to Ras Al Khaimah, the president, said: “The short answer is yes.”
“Ras Al Khaimah could become the gaming state of the UAE and we’ve had a lot of requests to enter. We’re currently exploring one of those developments to open a hotel in Ras Al Khaimah. It would be a medium-sized hotel, the site has been defined but the master planning has not been finalized. It’s going to be a combination of hotel and villas. We don’t do gaming but we will be very close to the Wynn.”
Messerli did not give an opening date for the proposed project.
The Wynn Effect
Since the unveiling of the Wynn at the start of 2022, the once-quiet northern emirate has seen a boom in luxury development deals. Almost all of them are centered on the man-made Al Marjan Island, a four-island archipelago off the coast where the Wynn will also sit. Marriott has announced four five-star flags so far, including Le Meridien, a JW, a Westin and a W hotel. Smaller, more exclusive operators such as Nobu are also landing on the island. On the more affordable end, Emaar-backed Rove will open on Marjan Island and a home-grown brand called Earth, originally co-founded by the emirate’s now-tourism chief, will open its own resorts as well.
Up to September this year, Ras Al Khaimah had welcomed more than 904,000 travelers, 448,270 of whom were from overseas. That’s a 12.5% increase compared to last year for the emirate. Occupancy rates, a key metric in tourism and hospitality, was up 25.4% to 72%.
For comparison, nearby Dubai welcomed almost 17 million international visitors during its best tourism year ever in 2019.
The 2030 vision of Ras Al Khaimah’s Tourism Development Authority’s (RAKTDA) is to attract over three million visitors by the end of the decade. Analysts, however, forecast the emirate’s tourism sector could surpass that figure.
By 2030, it is envisioned by Colliers that the emirate will be able to welcome over 5.5 million visitors, contingent upon the success of the Wynn resort. According to STR, Ras Al Khaimah has around 5,000 hotel rooms in its pipeline — Wynn accounts for well over 1,000 of those. However, development is not happening fast enough, according to Colliers.
The growth in demand is anticipated to create a gap in the market of 3,500 keys by 2026 and over 6,000 keys by 2030.
Four Seasons’ Middle East Focus
In addition to the Ras Al Khaimah development, Messerli, who lives in Dubai, said the Middle East is now Four Seasons’ largest growth market, adding that the region is capable of creating more success stories like Dubai.
He said: “The Middle East is our biggest expansion pipeline, we’re talking a couple dozen hotels. It’s a big expansion. It’s a region we want to invest in. Look where Dubai was 15 years ago compared to where it is today. Some of those (Middle East) locations have the same potential.”
“In the Middle East, we really have the largest brand recognition. For us, it’s natural to expand in this region. What is encouraging for us: Four Seasons is the brand of choice overseas for Middle East travelers, too.”
As of 2021, Bill Gates holds a 71% ownership stake in Four Seasons through Cascade Investment, while Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns 24% through Kingdom Holding Company. Currently, Four Seasons manages 126 operational hotels, with roughly 50 projects in various stages of planning or development, encompassing around 30 projects featuring branded residential components.
The Four Seasons development has been turbocharged in Saudi Arabia. Upcoming hotels and resorts include one in each holy city, a new hotel in Jeddah, a resort in Sindalah, one in the Red Sea, and more to come.
Messerli said Four Seasons is setting up a new office to run its vast Saudi operation. He revealed: “We’re preparing for many Saudi openings in the coming years. In Saudi, we’re also opening in Medina, in Makkah, in Jeddah, Red Sea, Diriyah, Neom, Al Khobar. It’s exciting. We need to prepare for that (growth). We are preparing a shared service structure to support all the hotels from a centralized office. That means sales, marketing, finance, reservations — this will all operate out of one core office.”
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Photo credit: Overlooking Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah. Used for illustrative purposes. Credit: Unsplash