Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

'Kim Kardashian requested a camel ride on the beach': meet the man who ensures the rich and famous enjoy their holidays in Dubai

Kais Lahiani manages a team of 20 butlers-to-the-stars at Atlantis, The Palm

Atlantis, The Palm has welcomed many celebrity guests over the years, including, clockwise from left: Amitabh Bachchan; Kim Kardashian West; Rita Ora; Khloe Kardashian; Shilpa Shetty; Jourdan Dunn
Atlantis, The Palm has welcomed many celebrity guests over the years, including, clockwise from left: Amitabh Bachchan; Kim Kardashian West; Rita Ora; Khloe Kardashian; Shilpa Shetty; Jourdan Dunn

The news has broken: an A-list celebrity is planning a trip to the UAE and one man in particular has no time to lose. He immediately fires up his laptop to commence rigorous background research, before taking to the star’s Instagram and Facebook pages, leaving no stone unturned. Lastly, he looks up flight details and makes arrangements to meet the celebrity face-to-face as soon as they touch down in Dubai.

Alarm bells may be ringing, but this is no superfan and the arriving VIP has nothing to fear. On the contrary, our single-minded sleuth has their best interests firmly at heart – and will dedicate his every waking (and possibly sleeping) hour to making each moment of their trip unforgettable.

The man in question is Kais Lahiani, resort manager and head of VIP services at Atlantis, The Palm. Under his watch, world-renowned celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Jackie Chan, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Guetta, have had the red carpet rolled out for them at the luxurious Dubai hotel. And no request is too much, he says.

Lahiani, 42, who has dedicated 10 years of his life to ensuring the whims of the rich and famous are met, is head of a fleet of 20 butlers, who spend up to a month at a time on duty.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, left, with footballer Christiano Ronaldo who's visited Dubai many times. Instagram
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, left, with footballer Christiano Ronaldo who's visited Dubai many times. Instagram

“At Atlantis, we have seven super suites that automatically come with a butler serving them 24 hours a day from the check-in point until departure,” Lahiani tells The National proudly. “The butler’s work begins even long before the guest arrives. If we have a high-profile guest arriving, the butler will research the guest’s likes and dislikes so they can prepare for arrival, including everything down to the snacks they like.

We’ve had Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and also Ronaldo, who loved the water park. He stayed only one time in The Presidential Suite but he came many times for dinners

Kais Lahiani, resort manager and head of VIP services at Atlantis, The Palm

“We have a file for each and every guest about preferences, so we are ready to anticipate any kind of request. The butler will either contact the guest directly or speak to an agent to get their full itinerary, to find out if there is anything they want to do or anything in particular we can offer them. Planning for every eventuality is essential.”

Often, butlers will sleep on-site at the hotel in case their guest requires anything in the middle of the night, Lahiani explains. “It’s very important they are on-demand and they have to respond immediately.”

Sometimes, they have to be pretty inventive to keep the UAE’s celebrity visitors satisfied. “Kim Kardashian West was very happy with the butler service and asked for her specific butler for her following two visits,” Lahiani says with a smile. “She requested a camel ride on the beach, so we organised for a camel to be driven 45 minutes from the desert.”

That was in 2011, but the reality star later came back in 2017 with mum Kris Jenner, sister Khloe and former brother-in-law Scott Disick. They were filming for Keeping Up with the Kardashians and she stayed in the Royal Bridge Suite. This is the hotel’s most luxurious pad, costing upward of Dhs100,000 a night, covering 924 square metres and spanning the entire distance between the resort’s two towers.

The Royal Bridge Suite is Atlantis, The Palm's most lavish pad. Courtesy Atlantis, The Palm
The Royal Bridge Suite is Atlantis, The Palm's most lavish pad. Courtesy Atlantis, The Palm

Throughout that three-day stay, the Kardashian’s butler waited on them hand and foot, as they enjoyed the 22-carat gold-adorned bathrooms, hand-painted ceilings, intricate sculptures and chandeliers, a private lift and views across The Palm Jumeirah and the Arabian Gulf.

Dannii and Kylie Minogue stayed in the same suite when they used the hotel as one of the “judge’s houses” during an episode of The X Factor in 2009. One of its other more recent star guests was Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.

Manny Pacquiao on a trip to Dubai. Instagram
Manny Pacquiao on a trip to Dubai. Instagram

Despite the lavish treatment and surroundings, Lahiani, who is originally from Tunisia, insists that the majority of VIP guests are “just normal people”.

“We had Jackie Chan visit. I met him personally and he was a very nice man. He was very humble and down-to-earth and chatted with me and the rest of the staff.

He stayed with us for two weeks while he made a movie in Atlantis – Kung Fu Yoga. He was extremely happy with our service and whenever he ate he invited the butler to eat with him at his table. A lot of people think celebrities are rude or arrogant but the majority are really nice.”

Kais Lahiani, resort manager and head of VIP services at Atlantis, The Palm.
Kais Lahiani, resort manager and head of VIP services at Atlantis, The Palm.

It’s not just Hollywood stars who stay here, either, as Atlantis is also a favourite among the world’s top sporting names. That includes Pacquiao, who stayed there for four nights in September. “He loved it and told me he’ll be back to stay with us again soon,” says Lahiani.

“We have a lot of football players visit,” he adds. “We’ve had Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and also Ronaldo, who loved the water park. He stayed only one time in The Presidential Suite but he came many times for dinners.”

Ronaldo’s suite, though not quite as lavish as the Kardashians’, still costs a minimum of Dhs15,000 a night. It spans 220 square metres and features a dining table for 10, a private kitchen and a bespoke chandelier.

The Presidential Suite in Atlantis, The Palm is where Cristiano Ronaldo stayed. Courtesy Atlantis, The Palm
The Presidential Suite in Atlantis, The Palm is where Cristiano Ronaldo stayed. Courtesy Atlantis, The Palm

Two other rooms popular among the rich and famous are the twin Underwater Suites, which, as the name suggests, give floor-to-ceiling views from the master bedrooms into The Ambassador Lagoon and the 65,000 fish that call it their home. Fans of this suite include model and socialite Khloe Kardashian, straight-talking chef Gordon Ramsay and DJ Steve Aoki.

The last of the rooms to come with butler service are the two Grand Atlantis Suites, which cost upward of Dhs45,000 per night and cover 425 square metres, complete with a fountain.

Within the past 10 years, Lahiani has seen countless famous faces come and go from the hotel. Others include basketball ace Michael Jordan, Hollywood actors Gerard Butler and Charlize Theron and Bollywood favourite Priyanka Chopra, who all stayed at the hotel during the launch event in 2008, setting a precedent for the clientele to come.

Surprisingly, however, some of the most extravagant requests have come from non-celebrity guests staying in the butler suites, admits Lahiani. “One guest asked to go shopping at three in the morning in The Dubai Mall, which was impossible at the time,” he explains, with regret in his voice. “This was in the days before the mall was open 24 hours, so there wasn’t a lot we could do on that occasion. She wanted the mall to be opened especially for her.”

Another odd request came during Christmas one year. “A guest wanted to surprise his wife and organised skydivers to land with a present while they were having dinner on the beach.

“It was amazing. The dinner was very romantic at the water’s edge at the bottom of a red carpet. While they were eating, the skydivers landed on the beach just a couple of metres away. They came to the lady and brought her the gift from her husband. I think it was jewellery.”

Atlantis, The Palm is a popular haunt among the world's rich and famous. Courtesy Atlantis 
Atlantis, The Palm is a popular haunt among the world's rich and famous. Courtesy Atlantis 

One visit really saw the butler’s work really cut out for them, when a couple’s request took over half of the hotel. Not only did they book out 700 rooms, including 80 suites with butlers, taking up an entire Atlantis tower, they also reserved Aquaventure water park, The Avenues and The Lost Chambers Aquarium for exclusive use. Restaurants Nobu, Ossiano, Bread Street Kitchen and Seafire were also closed to everyone apart from the couple’s guests.

“Atlantis is unique, the experience is unique, the hotel is unique, the decoration, our location, the service,” Lahiani says, a sense of pride punctuating his every syllable. “Atlantis is different to hospitality in any other country. “Whatever you request, we do it for you. This is what makes us different, and the reason we’ve had guests repeat visit more than 155 times. Nothing is too much.”

Updated: November 14, 2019 04:20 PM

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