In early 2023, every influencer worth their salt was having a Cinderella moment, desperately hoping for an invite to the hottest launch of the year. The opening spectacle of Atlantis The Royal in Dubai was the big ticket, stretching over three days with magazine editors, models and TV stars among the 1,200 in attendance.
The festivities, which included a $24 million performance by Beyoncé and a tequila launch by Kendall Jenner wearing shiny latex gloves (of the sexy, non-Marigold variety), generated widespread coverage in the world’s press. Meanwhile, a vast selection of Instagrammable settings (including a 90-foot fire and water fountain and a rooftop infinity pool where umbrellas dip over outsized lounge chairs) caused social channels to erupt with photos of glamorous people posing in front of blue expanses or flickering flames.
The hype has definitely put the hotel on the map. After the launch, the number of followers on Instagram grew from 17,000 to 178,000. But now that the fireworks are over and the glitter is gone, who’s going to stay at the hotel, where rooms cost more than £800 a night?
Dubai is likely to expect its four largest markets as guests: India, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK, in that order, although Atlantis The Royal also hopes to attract guests from the US and mainland Europe. What unites these travelers is the willingness to spend money. Vacationers left the emirate with more money than any other city in the world by 2022 — a total of $29.4 billion dollars, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
They pay to vacation somewhere safe (provided visitors abide by strict and sometimes controversial rules), clean, and in every activity under the sun year-round, from designer shopping to skiing. There is another benefit for those who can afford hotels like Atlantis The Royal – the faultless service that Dubai is known for. Thanks to some of the industry’s most discreet hospitality staff, what happens in Dubai hotels stays in Dubai hotels (unless, like the ex-NFL player who bared his buttocks in a pool, your antics are being captured by a fellow guest ).
The holiday of an oligarch
Indian travelers may be Dubai’s most frequent visitors, but Russians are on the rise, with 47 percent more visitors in the first half of 2022 than in the same period of the previous year. Why? A love of beach hotels with easy access to designer boutiques means Dubai’s shop-and-flop holidays are on par with their picture-perfect holidays.
But the wealthiest don’t buy ‘My brother went to Dubai and all I got was this crappy T-shirt’ style souvenirs. At the towering “seven windows” Burj Al Arab, guests can treat themselves to £990 bottles of exclusive perfume, while at Atlantis The Royal they can even buy a Picasso. As one hotel brochure puts it, “Ancient Atlantis was supposed to be the greatest power the world had known, but the wares were nothing like those in Atlantis’ beautiful boutiques, The Royal Resort & Residences”.
However, it is not just retail therapy that attracts wealthy Russians. Dubai’s neutral response to the war in Ukraine has also helped. In 2022, visitor numbers from the country jumped 47 percent as oligarchs found their French estates and Spain-based yachts seized due to EU sanctions. As reported by the Wall Street Journaltheir stranded private jets were languishing at Dubai airport with literally nowhere else to go.
Fortunately for worldly Russians, there is familiarity in Dubai’s offerings. Many of the hotels have the same labels as their clothes, including the glitzy Palazzo Versace and Armani Hotel which launched a dedicated website for Russian-speaking guests in 2018. Some restaurants are also well known: upscale chains like Roka and Caviar Kaspia, which also have branches in London, Paris and LA.
When President Zelensky cracked down on Ukrainian oligarchs, they too began to arrive. 2022, The Telegraph reported that the country’s youngest billionaire, Kostyatyn Zhevago, docked his mega yacht at the Bulgari Hotel Yacht Club, where services include onboard spa treatments and slap-up meals and where an annual membership for boats the size of Zhevago’s starts from £190,000.
It’s no wonder some oligarchs are reportedly looking for longer-term homes in the emirate. The hotels have that covered too, offering residences with 24-hour security for those who love their living spaces. At Atlantis The Royal, the apartments feature “lofty gardens and towering infinity pools”. A three-storey penthouse with two private pools recently sold for $44 million (£36,410,000).
The ultimate staycation
Thanks to zero income tax, secure connections (some on their own islands), and a favorable Golden Visa program, 20 billionaires will emigrate to the emirate by 2021, according to Forbes estimates, while about 70,000 millionaires will live in the ever-growing number of mansions and glitzy apartments. For them, nightly rates for rooms like Atlantis The Royal’s £80,000-plus Royal Mansion (where Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed on opening weekend) are just drops in the ocean.
At this duplex penthouse, the entrance is framed by ancient olive trees, the bath products are exclusively designed by Hermès and the infinity pool overlooks the glittering Dubai skyline. In a sea of gilded hotels, it manages to be opulent and surprisingly tasteful.
It is clear that the guests checking in have standards. For example, the restaurants at Atlantis The Royal are a who’s who of the world’s best chefs, from Heston Blumenthal to Nobu Matsuhisa, while more expensive rooms come with 24/7 butler service.
Big-name restaurants and big-brand booze are also attracting an increasing number of “bleisure” travelers, many of whom frequent Dubai’s superclubs, where the DJs are world-renowned and the patrons are beautiful supermodels, hoping it’s their business. will help give an extra layer of shine. All of this goes some way to explaining why hotel rooms in Dubai are the second most profitable in the world after Miami, according to research by hospitality data company STR.
Not every guest is an oligarch or billionaire-in-residence, of course. Others literally live the dream, hoping that a little bit of gold dust will rub off. For them, a large number of the best hotels have set up fake offers.
For example, if you are checking in at the Burj Al Arab, why not hire a Rolls Royce Phantom to transport you from the airport? Want to stay at FIVE Palm Jumeirah? Head to the Bohemia beach party hoping to mingle with British influencers or even Cristiano Ronaldo (Gold Visa holder and previously spotted in one of the restaurants). AND when you relax at Atlantis The Palm, you can even charter a helicopter to show you around the city. After all, you have to fake it to make it.
Dubai’s most bizarre hotel rooms
Kempsinki ski chalets
Skiers enjoying the world’s largest indoor slope at Ski Dubai can complete their alpine holiday by checking into one of these chalet-style duplex rooms with views over the slopes. Adorned with antler-style chandeliers and stone fireplaces, it’s almost like being in the Alps (or Aspen, after which they’re named).
Duplex Imperial Suite, Palazzo Versace
Donatella herself has refurbished the hotel to look like a 16th century palazzo. Hosted by J.Lo, this sprawling duplex comes with bedrooms where the curtains, throws, and chairs are all adorned with matching patterned pastel fabrics, while in a living room, the pool table’s surface is a vibrant purple. For this reason, hangovers are best spent by the shaded private rooftop pool, where the sun loungers are a soothing cream.
Royal Suite, Burj Al Arab
There’s glitzy and then there’s this Royal Suite, with a revolving bed and a gold-plated iPad on which guests can express their wishes to their hotel butlers. Jacquard curtains, pillared bathtubs, and the odd hint of leopard print don’t make this a particularly restful space — but boy, is it a lavish space. Nelson Mandela, Justin Bieber, and some of the Kardashians have all stayed.
Panoramic Suite, Address Skyview
Scenes for Dubai Bling, a reality show about the lives of the Emirati’s rich and famous, were shot at this favorite downtown influencer. The panoramic suites offer Instagrammable views of mirrored towers through the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as a large balcony.