by Hunter R. Slaton | April 01, 2008

The Abu Dhabi Corniche

The Abu Dhabi Corniche,
a waterfront park
in the booming emirate,
anchors some impressive
new hotel projects.

Over the past five years, a number of Middle Eastern countries -- chiefly those of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC -- have been engaged in an over-the-top building boom that outdoes even hyper-renovating Las Vegas. News of developments in the region top one another in their grandness almost daily: Hilton will open 15 new properties over the next three years; InterContinental Hotels Group has 37 projects in its pipeline; Dubai’s Bawadi development will have 51 hotels for a total of 60,000 rooms... The list is nearly endless and seemingly ever-replenishing.

The countries that make up the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia, the council’s de facto leader, occupies the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, on which these nations sit and under which vast (but finite) reserves of oil and gas are found. These valuable natural resources, and the specter of their eventual exhaustion, are what has both permitted and prompted these countries to make such an audacious push forward in the development of their tourism infrastructure.

Dubai is leading this construction derby, according to John Podaras, operations manager for Dubai-based TRI Hospitality Consulting. The reason for this, Podaras says, is the city-state “realized as far back as the 1970s that there was a need to diversify its economy away from oil.” The other countries of the GCC are following Dubai’s prescient lead.

The Hilton Olympia Kuwait
In the works:
The Hilton
Olympia Kuwait

Coming soon

Following is a look inside the Gulf’s incredibly crowded hotel pipeline.

Hilton Hotels Corp. In addition to the two properties the company already has in Dubai, the 389-room Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort and 154-room Hilton Dubai Creek, Hilton will open two more hotels there by the end of 2010. These are the 500-room Conrad Dubai and the 371-room Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Beach Residence, both of which will have meeting space (specifics of which are yet to be determined).

Also by the end of 2010, Hilton will have opened new properties in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, as well as in Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Qatar.

Hilton’s broader plan for the region ultimately calls for 60 properties -- and, according to Jean-Paul Herzog, president of Hilton Hotels, Middle East and Africa, “We are constantly having discussions for more hotels.”

InterContinental Hotels Group. The largest lodging company in the world
in terms of number of rooms (more than a half-million, at last tally), IHG is not resting on its building laurels either: The company’s busy InterContinental brand debuted its 150th hotel worldwide last year with the 500-room InterContinental Dubai Festival City, and the 316-room Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City was poised to open at press time. The two share an events center comprising approximately 40,300 square feet, set between the properties.

In more recent development news, at the end of January, IHG signed an agreement to build the 60-story, 540-room InterContinental Doha West Bay in Qatar (Doha is Qatar’s capital), with an undetermined amount of meeting space. John Bamsey, IHG’s chief operating officer for the Middle East and Africa, believes these openings, along with other projects across IHG’s many brands, “clearly demonstrate our commitment to the Middle EastÉas a key growth market for the foreseeable future.”

Other brands. Many hotel companies are eager for a piece of the Mideast pie. Among properties opening within the next few years:

* Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts’ 167-room Park Plaza Doha, in Qatar;

* A five-star, 282-room Rocco Forte Collection hotel (that company’s first in the region) in Abu Dhabi;

* Dubai Holding member company Tatweer’s 6,500-room, four- and five-star Asia-Asia Hotel & Resort, part of the emirate’s immense $55 billion Bawadi development.

* A 41-room Swiss-Belhotel International beach resort in Sohar, Oman (marking that company’s sixth area opening in just 14 months); and

* The $545 million Salam Beach Resort and Spa, in Manama, Bahrain.