ABU DHABI // The fierce summer heat is limiting bathers to only a couple of hours on the beach, but the price of getting on to the sand can still reach up to Dh250 (US$68), and shows little sign of declining. With a limited number of serviced public beaches in Abu Dhabi, hotels and clubs are charging between Dh70 and Dh250 per person per day. Some hotels in the capital even refuse entry to day guests and non-residents on weekends or limit the number of facilities a day guest can use, while annual memberships cost from Dh2,500 at The Club at Meena Saadiyat, to Dh50,000 at the Emirates Palace hotel.
Despite the onset of summer and competition between an increasing number of beach clubs, hotels and clubs are reporting high demand for membership. However, several residents said the price of spending a day at the beach had forced them to consider alternative summertime activities. "It's all far too expensive," said Alan Ronald, who was shopping at Marina Mall with his wife, Margaret. "On your day off, you get up and get ready late. You're in the car by 11 and at the beach club by 12 and off the beach by five.
"Because of the heat, you can only stand that length of time. That's just an afternoon. "I don't mind paying money, but once you get there, a drink is extra and a meal is extra. Before you know it, for a family of four, you've spent £200 (Dh1,150) for the day. "I'm reasonably well off and even I can't afford it." Most hotels and clubs do not permit beachgoers to bring their own food and drinks on to the premises.
As an alternative to lying on the sand, Mr Ronald and his wife, who come from Scotland and moved to the capital last year, joined Abu Dhabi Golf Club, adding that a game of golf was more sociable. If they do hanker for a saltwater swim, they will now go to the recently opened public beach on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, which charges Dh5 a head, although it lacks a pool, lounge chairs and drinks service.
Mark MacLean, a Canadian on his second visit to Abu Dhabi, said he once made regular visits to The Club, but now goes to public beaches to save money, even though there are fewer services. Meanwhile, Mark Dewar, a Scot who was visiting his parents in the capital during a break at university, said: "My parents used to pay a fortune (on beach clubs) as there were five of us in the family. "We used to go down to The Club every day just to get our money's worth. We went in the afternoons for five years and then stopped because they just kept on putting the prices up," he said.
For annual membership, clubs often charge widely varying rates for male and female singles. Couples often get a discount. Hotels and clubs will often consider income and place of employment when choosing members. The Emirates Palace beach club denies access to its beaches and gyms to everyone except hotel guests and members. For Dh50,000 per year for a couple, or Dh40,000 for a single man or woman, members have access to a 1.3km private beach, a gym and two swimming pools. A can of cola costs Dh25.
The hotel said it was not short of applicants. A representative from the club said it was no longer granting new memberships as it had reached its limit of 92 members. At the Beach Rotana Hotel and Towers, the annual fee for a single man is Dh11,500 and Dh7,600 for a woman. On a weekday, someone who is not staying at the hotel can expect to be charged Dh150 for the day, but day guests are not permitted on weekends.
Weekday rates are slightly cheaper at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi. On weekdays the admission fee is Dh125 and Dh175 on weekends. However, day guests are restricted to either the pool or the beach and they cannot use the gym. A can of cola is about Dh14. The Hilton Abu Dhabi also bars non-members from the beach and pool areas on weekends. On weekdays, it costs Dh125 per person. The cheapest day at the beach can be found at The Club, which charges a weekday rate of Dh70 and a weekend rate of Dh140.
For those on a truly shoestring budget, the free beaches behind the Emirates Palace on Ras al Akhdar are popular, although they provide no toilets or changing facilities. firstname.lastname@example.org