x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Surrounded by a sea of sand in the Empty Quarter's Qasr al Sarab

Traveller's world One date, many occasions competing for your attention. October 25 has been set for the opening of Abu Dhabi's most adventurous and dramatic hotel venture.

Qasr al Sarab guests can view ever-changing dunes.
Qasr al Sarab guests can view ever-changing dunes.

One date, many occasions competing for your attention. October 25 has been set for the opening of Abu Dhabi's most adventurous and dramatic hotel venture. The Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is the first hotel to be built in the Rub' al Khali, the so-called Empty Quarter that is the largest uninterrupted stretch of desert in the world. The challenges of building a luxury hotel in an area without any of the infrastructure are almost unimaginable, but the project has apparently come in comfortably on time.

The Tourism Development and Investment Committee (TDIC) confirmed the launch date to me this week ahead of what's bound to be a big promotional push for what promises to be the Emirates' most desirable tourism destination. Nowhere else can offer the same combination of heritage, spectacular scenery and luxury - and all within 90 minutes of the capital. Anantara is promising five-star service in the desert and I have yet to see anything more than pictures but, frankly, even if it didn't fulfil expectations, it is hard to see how the project can fail.

The Liwa region is defined by both its Bedouin tradition and its its geography. In places the sand dunes are four times the height of the Tower of Pisa, and desert treks can be mixed with 21st-century comforts of private pools, a spa that offers exfoliating sand scrubs and a hammam, personal butlers and a children's club. The resort is designed to resemble an old desert fortress only the 196 rooms and villas are fitted out with the latest technology - high-speed Wi Fi, iPod docking stations and DVD players.

The manager will be Didier Tourneboeuf, the French national who was poached from Le Royal Méridien in Abu Dhabi. A double room at the resort will cost from US$537 (Dh1,972), including breakfast and taxes. There is also a promotional package being offered online: stay three nights and the fourth is complimentary.

Qasr al Sarab may be the most dramatic of the new hotels opening in the Emirates this autumn but there is a whole bunch of new places to stay coming onstream in the UAE. Also on October 25, a very different kind of hotel is due to open at Adnec in Abu Dhabi. The new, state-of-the-art outpost of the Aloft brand of Starwood Hotels will offer funky rooms and public spaces including the wxyz bar, re:fuel cafe and re:mix lobby. Hold onto your hats. In Dubai, Media One Hotel in Media City is vying to gain the status of the trendiest or funkiest - as much for its clientele as its design. The four-star hotel which takes the first 23 floors of a 43-storey tower and also opens in October, is pitching itself as business hotel and anticipates that the majority of its guests will come from the firms found in and around Media City.

The October issue of Condé Nast Traveller magazine contains the much coveted annual Readers' Awards by which the industry sets such great stock. Astonishingly, given the newfound popularity and quality of its hotels, there are only two mentions for the Middle East in the top 20 lists compiled for each category. The Emirates Palace takes 16th place in the best business hotel category and the Chedi in Muscat is ranked number five in the leisure hotels category for the Middle East, Africa and Indian Ocean region, making it the only Middle East destination mentioned in the top 100 leisure hotels worldwide.

I love the Chedi but its success in the poll shows how mercurial are the things that make for a great hotel. The Chedi is in the wrong part of town, the driveway to the hotel entrance is ugly (they cannot landscape it because they don't own the land) the beach alongside it is unimpressive and smells of the fish that is laid out to dry, the bedrooms are small and very plain as the interior designers do not allow pictures or even wall-mounted televisions. Many a guest arriving late at night and being shown their rooms have had a hissy fit only to wake up in the morning charmed by the beauty of the communal areas and the sense of being in a very special place. It is a hotel with a heart - and money and location cannot always buy that.

The Kuwait-based budget airline, Jazeera Airways, is to start twice-daily direct flights to Abu Dhabi from October 25. The airline already flies to Dubai but it says that the announcement that it is expanding its network to the capital is significant. Stefan Pichler, its chief executive, described the new route as "a key milestone" in its ambition to become the "leading regional network carrier". Aimed at both business and leisure travellers (the flights are scheduled to allow a day's work) these new flights will enable Abu Dhabi residents to connect (via Kuwait) to Jazeera's other destinations in Egypt, Iran, Syria, Turkey and the Red Sea resorts. Unlike most budget airlines it has a cabin reserved for business travellers, Jazeera Plus, on its new A320 fleet.

Meanwhile flydubai, Dubai's low-cost airline, is offering more seats to Beirut for Eid. They have scheduled additional flights on September 17, 18, 19 and 25. Named the number one place to visit in the world by The New York Times in its 2009 destination hot list, the city is becoming increasingly popular so it would not be surprising if flydubai increases availability over other holiday periods.

Etihad Airways' passengers flying into London Heathrow will no longer have to endure the cramped conditions at terminal three. The move to terminal four at the end of this month means that business and first-class travellers as well gold and silver card holders will be able to use the new premium lounge located by the gate. sryan@thenational.ae