The Four Seasons hotel planned for Sowwah Island in Abu Dhabi is likely to be the luxury chain's first hotel in the UAE, although plans were announced six years ago to build a property in Dubai. Jim FitzGibbon, the president of worldwide hotel operations for Four Seasons, said yesterday "nothing was imminent" in Dubai, although the luxury hotel company was still considering having a presence in the emirate.
On Monday, Four Seasons announced plans to open a 200-room hotel in Abu Dhabi to be developed by Mubadala Development, the strategic investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, on Sowwah Island, which is planned to be the capital's new business district. The property will also have 125 apartments. The hotel is expected to open in 2013. "Abu Dhabi is particularly interesting," Mr FitzGibbon said. "The approach that Abu Dhabi is taking seems to be very fascinating, in their culture approach, their quality approach. It really fits very well with Four Seasons."
Four Seasons and Al Futtaim announced plans in 2004 to build the Four Seasons Hotel Dubai at Festival City, which was supposed to accompany Al Badia golf course. The golf course opened under the management of Four Seasons but the hotel was never built. The InterContinental Hotels Group took over management of the golf club last July. "We'll be in Dubai," Mr FitzGibbon said. "It'll just be at the opportune time. We had a mutual agreement that it wasn't practical at this time and we decided that we'll stay in contact, but we'll pursue other things. We don't have a signed agreement in Dubai.
"We have a signed agreement in Abu Dhabi, and we'll focus on getting Abu Dhabi built, but Dubai is an opportunity." The Sowwah Island hotel "will move again aggressively and we'll open in 2013", Mr FitzGibbon said. "You never know what happens, but anything in Dubai would probably be after that date." The design work on the Abu Dhabi hotel had been completed, Mr FitzGibbon said. When it opened, it would be priced at the top of the market.
"Relative to an area like that I don't think the development as we see it is too aggressive," he said. "I think it's catching up a little bit, to be frank. This is going to be a significant destination long term." Four Seasons, which operates properties in Doha and Riyadh, has hotels planned for Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. The company is also seeking opportunities in Jeddah. "There's a maturity happening in this part of the world that wasn't there 10 or 15 years ago, and it's becoming a natural access of the world for trade, travel and leisure, so you have an interesting shift," Mr FitzGibbon said.
"It's quite natural for us to be trying to expand in areas like this." Four Seasons is owned by Kingdom Holding, which is owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and by Cascade, the investment company of the Gates Foundation. The global hotel market was recovering from the economic downturn, Mr FitzGibbon said. "There's no question that we've gone through a difficult time. The market around the world has been particularly difficult.
"The development process slowed down a bit but now it has picked back up again. Occupancy is coming back fairly aggressively in most markets of the world, with Asia being the leader. I think it'll take us another two years to get back to the peaks of ." According to data from the Dubai-based research company Proleads, 48 hotels with a total of 14,178 rooms are likely to open in the GCC this year, at an estimated cost of US$7.3 billion (Dh26.81bn).