Voco Monaco Dubai will open in the next few months, putting IHG in charge of a hotel its owners state has previously been challenging to run.
IHG will take over the management of Dubai’s Côte d’Azur Monaco Hotel, the only operational property on The Heart of Europe project. The Heart of Europe dates back to 2008 and remains committed to opening all its 20 planned hotels, even 16 years later.
The Monaco hotel will run IHG’s voco brand, its conversion brand used for soft rebrandings. This means the hotel will plug into IHG’s loyalty and operations systems.
The rebranding will be completed before the end of the quarter and be known as voco Monaco Dubai.
To date, IHG is the only hotel operator to back The Heart of Europe development, which plans one day to have a wide range of known hospitality players running its hotels. In November 2023, IHG signed to manage the Marbella Hotel, opening in 2026, under its more up-market conversion brand — Vignette Collection.
What is The Heart of Europe?
The Heart of Europe is a component of a larger development named The World — an archipelago project situated off the Dubai coast. The overarching goal is to replicate the world map through the creation of individual man-made islands, each representing a specific country. The entire project encompasses 300 islands, with six dedicated to The Heart of Europe.
In a land that calls the world’s tallest building and the world’s largest mall home, visitors are overwhelmed by choice and stuffed with superlatives. The Heart of Europe looks to recreate the continent in miniature form with each hotel transporting guests to a particular country.
At the proposed Marbella Hotel, for example, staff will speak Spanish and clocks will be set to Spanish time.
“We are building something that is not here yet. We need 1,000 ideas of things not currently available to tourists in Dubai,” said the Kleindienst Group chairman Josef Kleindienst in an interview with Skift.
The Monaco Hotel ‘Isn’t Perfect’
For the Monaco hotel, which opened in 2022, Kleindienst urges that the hotel has been in soft-opening all this time, intending to eventually hand it over to a hospitality operator.
“We are not a hospitality company,” explained Kleindienst. “We always decided to manage [ourselves] during soft-opening periods. We want to open as early as possible, but after the soft opening is done, we will hand hotels over to operators.”
The chairman told Skift that the Monaco hotel has been a challenge to run, and perhaps opened too soon, but that the company had to start welcoming guests so it could build its logistics teams.
“Monaco has a touristic difficulty, it’s our first hotel and near to 10 others under construction. Not many brands would like that, so it’s challenging. But it’s manageable. The construction sound cannot be as noisy as a beach but it’s challenging to keep that away from the hotel,” Kleindienst said.
“Is it perfect? No. Would we have opened later? Yes and no. We wanted to build up our logistics as early as possible,” he said.
Focusing on The Future
Kleindienst and The Heart of Europe has had its fair share of troubles since its inception 16 years ago. Back in 2013, Kleindienst was sued by World Islands master developer Nakheel for not paying for its islands on time. The case was settled out of court.
In 2019, the developers were criticized for promising Moldovan passports to investors of The Heart of Europe through a citizenship-by-investment scheme.
“Beyond the obvious ethical concerns, this poses a serious security risk to both Moldova and the entire Schengen area to which it has visa-free access,” Naomi Hirst, a researcher at anti-corruption group Global Witness, was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. “We look forward to an end to the super-rich buying citizenship and access to Europe.”
Additionally, a European Commission spokesperson told the UK’s Times newspaper that “the commission is closely monitoring the impact of the scheme launched in November [Moldova’s] as it could pose migratory and security risks.”
The scheme hasn’t been mentioned by The Heart of Europe since.
Apart from this, the project has been plagued by delays, not uncommon in Dubai, but few last as long as The Heart of Europe’s. Various completion dates have been given over the years, with 2026 being the new finish line.
“Most projects have delays, go dead for a while and get resurrected,” Haitham Mattar, Managing Director – India, Middle East and Africa, IHG Hotels & Resorts told Skift in November. “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 [in 2023]. The time is now to develop products and experiences.”
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Photo credit: A rendering of the voco Monaco.