x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Monaco's gaze falls on UAE

The European principality with a global reputation for discretion and opulence is doing a healthy business with wealthy visitors from the Emirates who prize privilege and privacy.

Small is beautiful: hotels, yachts and panoramic views are some of the factors drawing UAE tourists to visit the principality of Monaco.
Small is beautiful: hotels, yachts and panoramic views are some of the factors drawing UAE tourists to visit the principality of Monaco.

With only 33,000 inhabitants, it is really just a small town. Take away the outsiders who have settled there and it is more like a large village.

But Monaco, all 200 hectares of it, is an independent principality with a glamorous royal family and an ability to stage not only major sporting and cultural events such as Formula One races, opera and ballet, but also state coronations, weddings and funerals with striking attention to ceremony.

It is also an increasingly popular holiday destination for Emiratis. In difficult times for tourism, Monaco has this year managed to attract 6,000 visits by UAE passport holders, one for each of the indigenous Monegasque population.

Overall, visitor numbers are down by about a quarter. But this year there have been 45 per cent more visits by Emiratis compared with last year.

For July alone, the year-on-year rise was a remarkable 71 per cent. UAE nationals also spend more - €850 (Dh4,270) a day on average, compared with just €340 for visitors generally.

The growing appeal of this tiny state, with its trademark luxury and glittering image, was reflected during a recent trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai by Michel Bouquier, the president of the Monaco government's tourism and convention authority.

Mr Bouquier travelled to the Gulf as symbolic bearer of the "keys to Monaco", a catchphrase to describe the Monaco Private Label programme, which is tailor-made to cater to the needs of prosperous UAE travellers - the "achievers and opinion-leaders", as he puts it.

Fewer than 300 people worldwide qualify for membership, which is by invitation only, and as a result of Mr Bouquier's visit, including gala dinners to introduce the scheme, the UAE now accounts for 65 of the total membership.

So what is the special attraction of Monaco and its best-known district, Monte Carlo? To those engaged in persuading the wealthy and influential to go there, there is a clear connection between the expectations of guests and their actual experiences.

The privileges people enjoy come at a price. At the sumptuous Hotel de Paris, a couple occupying a double suite can expect to pay €4,400 a night in August, the height of the season. If they really wish to push the boat out, two nights in the hotel's exclusive Churchill and Garnier suites for two people in August would cost €19,900 and €12,300, respectively. Guests able to pay such rates are likely to attach high importance to privacy. So it is of little wonder that Bernard Lambert, the chief executive of Monte-Carlo SBM, which owns the hotel and other notable establishments including the Hermitage and Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, is cautious to a fault in his responses to general questions about his guests.

Mr Lambert acknowledges the importance of clientele from the UAE. But citing the high profile and preferences of many such visitors, he adds sternly: "We have a rule not to reveal the quality of our guests."

He is a little more effusive in identifying the role of Monaco's charm and the classy allure of its palatial hotels in appealing to demanding customers: "I believe security, safety, beautiful people, cleanliness, size and the magic of our roots attract our UAE clients."

So far, there appears to be no sign of Emiratis buying property in Monaco or mooring superyachts in the famed Port Hercule, where the ocean-going vessels of the seriously rich, including Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, and the Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya, are seen from time to time.

But Mr Bouquier has no doubt that the air of opulence, coupled with a sense of security and discretion, is a powerful magnet.

"I would say the exclusivity of Monaco, the fine dining, the special events that take place here add up to a very special feeling, a special experience."

Private Label members may even request places at the tables of the master chefs at the restaurants where they sample some of the world's most elegant cuisine.

At the Louis XV restaurant in the Hotel de Paris, that could mean a close encounter with Alain Ducasse, the French-born chef with Monegasque citizenship who seems to collect Michelin stars for fun. And if Monaco's allure should fade, the Alps, Cote d'Azur and Italian Riviera are short journeys away by road, sea or helicopter.

Monaco also sees 4.5 million day trippers of all nationalities each year but it is not a destination for everyone. The author W Somerset Maugham is sometimes thought to have had the principality in mind, as well as the French Riviera, when he referred to a "sunny place for shady people".

But the monarch, Prince Albert II, has continued the work of his late father, Prince Rainier III, in tackling money laundering and is keen to present a cleaned-up image of the state to the world. In any case, no one visiting from the Emirates would need the benefit of its low taxes.

What they will benefit from is the promise of attentive service.

"My name and contacts appear on the back of every Private Label lifetime membership card," says Mr Bouquier, a confirmed admirer of the "dynamism" and go-ahead spirit he finds in the UAE.

"From the moment the card changes hands, I am the holder's personal contact for anything they should need when coming or planning to come to Monaco."