The “High” Life

What $3 Billion, More or Less, Buys: A Hotel Fit for Kings


Published: March 17, 2005

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, March 10 – At roughly $3 billion, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, which just opened to the public, is said to be the most expensive hotel ever built. A billion won’t buy what it used to, of course, but three seems to do just fine.

Although it has fewer than 400 rooms, the hotel features 128 kitchens and pantries, 1,002 custom-made Swarovski crystal chandeliers (requiring a full-time staff of 10 just to keep them clean) and what Willy Optekamp, the hotel’s general manager, says is the world’s largest dome over the lobby.

“Think about coffee,” he says, and obviously he has. “We serve coffee on a silver tray with rose petals, crystallized sugar, a linen napkin, marzipan croissants, a bottle of imported water and the coffee. The ladies get a rose.”

The hotel has nearly 150,000 cubic yards of imported marble, plans for 20 restaurants and a layout so sprawling – 60 acres of interior space – that the staff will soon be equipped with golf carts to navigate the corridors. “Some of them are over a kilometer long,” Mr. Optekamp says. “If a maid goes to lunch, she may never make it back.”

The $3 billion price tag is actually an estimate. But a few hundred million is a rounding error for this tiny emirate: with 92 billion barrels in proven reserves, every time the price of a barrel of oil rises by a dollar, as it has in the last few days, Abu Dhabi could build 30 more of these hotels.

During turndown service, the staff puts a sachet of lavender between the sheets to perfume them. When they are done, they tuck the lavender under the pillows so the fresh scent will waft over the guest at night. The hotel, which is managed by an upscale German hotelier, Kempinski Hotels and Resorts, has bath butlers standing by to prepare one of seven baths listed on the bath menu. If you’re prepared to go off menu, you can get your tub filled with champagne for a few thousand dollars.

Pool and beach service includes roving staff members to clean sunglasses, cool guests with soothing sprays of water and supply fruit sticks. Near the milelong private beach, two pools meander for the length of several football fields, interspersed with Jacuzzis.

Rooms, which range from an almost embarrassingly modest $625 a night to $13,000 (subject to a 20 percent service charge), come with floors of inlaid marble and soft carpeting. Recessed ceiling lighting almost imperceptibly illuminates a muted color scheme inspired by the desert sands outside…..

…Guests are still something of a novelty. In fact, with the hotel only beginning to take reservations, almost all of the people in the lobby are employees. Even when the place is full, staff members will outnumber guests by six to one. [more]

*thanks Abu3arab

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