x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Trips that are too exclusive to book

Visits are the ultimate in luxury - but you must be invited to go.

DUBAI // The UAE is famous for offering tourists the last word in luxury, but one range of top-end excursions is so exclusive that you cannot even book it - you have to wait to be asked.

Highlights include visits to racing stables and a camel farm owned by members of Dubai's Royal Family, which would normally be strictly off-limits.

Another popular choice for well-off visitors is a sunset trip for two to a private area deep in the desert.

Camels carry the guests to a Bedouin setting where a waiter serves a meal while a belly dancer provides entertainment.

Some guests have become so carried away by the romance of it all that they have proposed to their partner on the spot.

The Exclusive Collection is offered by Arabian Adventures, but the operation is so discreet that it is not promoted or advertised. Instead, concierges at five-star hotels keep a lookout for well-heeled guests who might be interested, and then give them details.

"Working with the concierges is very important to us because the Exclusive Collection is a very high-end experience and it needs to be explained," said Luc Delcomminette, vice-president of Arabian Adventures.

"We work with a number of concierges because the profile of their clients means they are likely to want more information about these activities. The concierges have taken training to learn more about the Exclusive Collection."

The discretion extends to the identity of exactly who owns the stables and the camel farm that guests visit, and the people who book the trips.

"These are unique products and we do not want to disclose who owns the farm and stables," added Mr Delcomminette.

"Most of the guests are dedicated travellers who go around the world. They have probably been to Dubai before and they want to discover the country a bit differently.

"The collection is a bit higher in terms of pricing so the clients are staying mostly in five-star hotels."

Each excursion is tailor-made to match the wishes of the clients, and the cost varies depending on the requested add-ons.

Other options include a hot-air balloon trip across the desert at sunrise, followed by breakfast in the dunes, which typically costs Dh20,000 for up to eight people.

A seaplane hop from Dubai to the Emirates Palace hotel in the capital for canapes costs a hefty Dh9,000 a person, while a three-hour private yacht charter is priced at Dh8,000.

The collection came about after Arabian Adventures was asked to arrange bespoke excursions for VIPs visiting Dubai, and decided to start offering a selection of them more widely.

The company is reviewing the collection and developing new excursions.

"We are looking at some of the activities and creating new ones, we have a few in the pipeline for next winter," Mr Delcomminette said.

"Horses are very important in UAE culture and we're looking at options for how guests could meet people who are breeding horses or training them."

Jon Smith, who lives in the UK and visits Dubai regularly with his wife Lynn, said he would be interested in such high-end trips, although the price of some would be prohibitive for all but the very rich.

"This sort of excursion would appeal," he added. "It's the type of top-end day out that would round off a glamorous holiday. But we're a bit flaky on heights so the balloon flight would not be top of the list.

"The prices look OK for the camel farm and the balloon."