x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pioneering Madinat Jumeirah turns a grand old 10

The resort – comprising two hotels, villas, dozens of restaurants, shops, a theatre and its own stretch of private beach – is one of the emirate’s most visited tourist destinations.

The waterways have been a drawcard for tourists for 10 years at the Mina A’Salam hotel, Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. Courtesy Jumeirah
The waterways have been a drawcard for tourists for 10 years at the Mina A’Salam hotel, Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. Courtesy Jumeirah

DUBAI // For 10 years, Madinat Jumeirah’s picturesque waterways, narrow corridors, souqs and wind towers have been a drawcard for tourists – and a haven for stars such as Tom Cruise and Roger Federer.

On opening it was one of only a handful of resorts; a pioneer of the booming Dubai tourism industry.

With two hotels, dozens of restaurants, shops, a theatre and a private beach, it is the biggest in an emirate that deals in big, and one of its most visited.

Also celebrating a 10th anniversary is abra captain Nambu Rajan, who has been ferrying guests around Madinat Jumeirah’s 3 kilometres of waterways since the resort opened.

The Indian boatman’s passengers in that time include Cruise and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

“I am so lucky to meet these people,” said Mr Rajan, 42. “There have been many sportsmen too. Federer, [Fernando] Torres, Wayne Rooney – he was very different in person and very humble. The celebrities feel they are very safe here and they have their privacy in the resort.”

Covering 32 hectares of land and with 2km of beach, the resort is operated by the Jumeirah Group and attracts about 3,000 hotel guests during the tourist season.

There are also the thousands who come to wander around its wooden framed streets.

About 3,500 serving staff work at the Madinat.

Guests can stay at the five-star Al Qasr and Mina A’Salam hotels, and at the Arabian-style Dar Al Masyaf villas.

Madinat Jumeirah is also home to a turtle rehabilitation centre and a sanctuary, where animals are cared for before being released back into the wild.

Andy Cuthbert, general manager of Madinat Jumeirah conferences and events, and Jumeirah Hospitality, said the resort had helped to put Dubai on the international tourist map.

“The Burj Al Arab had brought the high-profile media focus, but the Madinat supported the growth of the tourism sector to reach out not only to the luxury sector, but beyond that.

“Things were starting to open and we began to see a boom in the beachfront so we were lucky to have such a beautiful location with views across to the Burj, giving it a unique feel.

“The design was really representative of Dubai – the architecture, the names, they were all connected to Dubai and the UAE. The resort just complemented what the city was doing for tourism but in a one-stop destination.”

The Madinat now hosts major events, from film festivals to fashion and art events, establishing itself as a centre for culture in the emirate.

“It goes hand in glove with tourism,” said Mr Cuthbert.

About half of the guests at the resort return at least once. Many, such as Nouf Al Noiser, come back year after year.

Ms Al Noiser first visited Dubai in 2003, booking a room at the luxurious Burj Al Arab. Since then the interiors and jewellery designer has been staying at the Madinat.

“The pace of development is surreal,” she said. “It is now more modern and futuristic than 10 years ago.”

Staff have also witnessed rapid change, not only at the resort but in the city as a whole.

Danilo Carino, 41, started work as a team leader for the abra drivers in 2004.

“There’s been so much change since I came here,” Mr Carino said. “At the time the Trade Centre was the biggest building along the whole of Sheikh Zayed Road.

“There was hardly anything else here. The population grew a lot since then.”

He remembers taking Orlando Bloom to the souq, where the Hollywood star was mobbed by fans.

“The next day, he shaved his head so nobody recognised him,” Mr Carino recalls with a smile.

mswan@thenational.ae