Middle East: 5 Of The Best Luxury developments

Yasmin Razak selects five initiatives that will further enhance Arabia's top-end reputation

PARK HYATT, DUBAI - Web: www.dubai.park.hyatt.com

This stylish property by the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club blends contemporary decor with classic Arabian architecture. The influence of the Levant is evident on entering the spacious lobby, with its delicate carvings and rugs. Groups can stay in one of the 225 rooms and enjoy balcony views across the creek. The hotel opened in August 2005 and has already welcomed BNP Paribas, Philips and Astrazeneca, with its dedicated conference centre proving a big draw for corporate clients. The contemporary style continues throughout this area with the 1,000-capacity ballroom appointed in muted colours, while the Khansa boardroom features minimalist leather chairs and modern art. The hotel's numerous outdoor pre-function spaces allow for al fresco cocktails, break-outs or exhibitions, while the many dining options within the hotel also offer private banqueting. Traditional flavours are on offer at the popular Cafe Arabesque, while the private dining room in the Thai Kitchen benefits from an open kitchen, so delegates can look in and pick up tips to perfect their Asian culinary skills. For the ultimate in decadence, the presidential suite can also be hired for functions such as luxury goods launches, press conferences or VIP meetings. Past clients include Philip Treacey and Fifa. Once the meeting is over, event planners should schedule in some time to overindulge at the Amara spa retreat.

The eight treatment rooms all feature individual courtyards for ultimate privacy and products are from the French beauty house, Carita and sourced from local organic suppliers.

KEMPINKSI HOTEL ISHTAR, JORDAN - Web: www.kempinski-deadsea.com

Billing itself as a contemporary Arabian bolthole, the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar is set in the Jordan Valley, 400 metres below sea level, some 35 miles south west of the capital Amman. Inspired by Babylonian traditions, the Ishtar Villas, comprising 117 rooms and suites with balconies, terraces or verandahs facing the Dead Sea, all feature local materials in their construction. Meeting facilities include function spaces for up to 120, in addition to an intimate space for boardroom meetings or private dining for groups of 15, but 2007 will see the grand ballroom open for up to 800. An auditorium for groups of around 200 and additional meeting rooms will also be available. However, incentives will be high on the agenda when the Boutique Spa opens next year. Set to be the largest spa in the region covering 10,000m2, the spa will draw heavily on the Dead Sea with local products and treatments in the 20 rooms and outdoor therapy lounges.

ETIHAD'S DIAMONDS AND PEARLS - Web: www.etihadairways.com

Positioning itself in the luxury category of the aviation industry will prove easier for Etihad with the unveiling of its Diamond (first class) and Pearl (business class) options. Passengers boarding the carrier's newly configured Airbus 340-500 on the daily Heathrow to Abu Dhabi route, can check out the new Diamond seat, which rotates through 180deg. This means guests can now hold meetings in the air, dine together, and when business is concluded, passengers can withdraw to their 'privacy shell' and wile away the hours with a 23-inch personal LCD video screen. The Diamond zone also offers an alcove lounge for further break-outs or brainstorming, after which guests can return to their seats and unwind with the built-in massage facility or recline into the flatbed position. Other amenities include the fold-and-swivel meal tables, an integrated personal mirror, pneumatic lumbar support, reading light and desk lamp.

Pearl zone passengers will also be afforded a luxurious flight with full flat beds and a wide choice of in-flight entertainment. Added comforts, such as mood lighting, ensure that corporates arrive feeling refreshed.

The new A340-500 forms part of the Abu Dhabi airline's record £4.5bn aircraft order in 2004 for 29 planes.

SHERATON ALEPPO HOTEL, SYRIA - Web: www.starwoodhotels.com

Been to Dubai one too many times and in search of somewhere different?

Then head to Aleppo in Syria, where the new Sheraton opens this autumn.

The first internationally managed hotel in Aleppo comprises 200 rooms and suites, three restaurants and - for those needing home comforts - an English pub. Event planners can make use of more than 1,000m2 of meeting space divided between two spacious and fully-equipped ballrooms and four function rooms. These are complemented by a state-of-the-art business centre, and a health club, with Turkish baths, for post-conference de-stressing. Groups with a historic bent will be delighted to wander Syria's second city, which is situated on an arid plateau 220 miles north of Damascus.

As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in history, dating back to at least 1,000 BC, Aleppo offers incentive activities in spades from admiring the striking mosques, churches, tombs and baths, to discovering the citadel, from where all of the city can be seen.

RITZ CARLTON BAHRAIN HOTEL & SPA - Web: www.ritzcarlton.com

Situated on the north coast of Bahrain, just five miles from the airport and a stone's throw from Manama city centre, this luxury retreat boasts 245 recently refurbished rooms and suites along the seafront. The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa provides event planners with easy solutions as it is conveniently located beside the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre and, last year, added 23 stylish villas to its corporate offering.

Ideal for meetings or brainstorming sessions, the villas provide an exclusive backdrop with panoramic windows, a controlled lighting system, high-speed internet access and the latest technology. These are complemented by more than 3,750m2 of function space, including a vast ballroom.

COMING SOON

MARRIOTT IN DOHA, QATAR

Marriott International is to add three hotels to its portfolio in Doha, under a management agreement reached with Al Rayan Tourism Investment Company, a subsidiary of Faisal Bin Qassim Al-Thani & Sons Holding Company.

Scheduled for opening in 2007, the new hotels will include a 250-room Renaissance property, a 200-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 120-unit Marriott Executive Apartments development.

www.marriott.com/news AL MAHA SOFITEL HOTEL DOHA

The Al Maha Sofitel will be located in West Bay Doha and will consist of twin 27-storey towers with 300 rooms and suites, restaurants, bars, banquet and meeting spaces, extensive leisure, fitness and recreational facilities. The project is due for completion by mid-2007.

www.accor.com W HOTEL DUBAI FESTIVAL CITY

W Hotels Worldwide, one of Starwood Hotels and Resorts' brands, is set to open a new property on the banks of Dubai Creek. The W Dubai Festival City will be the brand's first Middle East property and the 350-room hotel will be situated within the much-hyped 'city-within-a-city" project. With a scheduled opening date of 2008, the hotel will include luxury loft suites, numerous restaurants and a Bliss spa.

www.starwoodhotels.com

SHAZA HOTELS

Kempinski Hotels and Resorts has announced ambitious plans to develop a new hotel brand dedicated to the Middle East. Shaza Hotels will be created specifically for the region and will feature local designs and nuances in addition to traditional food and beverage options - ideal for incentive planners seeking a more authentic experience. Around 25 properties in key cities such as Dubai and Cairo are projected by 2012.

www.kempinski.com

EVASON HIDEAWAY & SIX SENSES SPA AT ZIGHY BEACH

When this hidden gem opens at the end of the year on the northern Musandam peninsula in Oman, guests will have three arrival options - a scenic ten-minute speed-boat trip, a drive down from the top of the hill overlooking the Zighy Bay or paragliding descent with the Hideaway's professional paraglider. Guests stay in one of the 85 pool villas or suites, and incentive options include beach watersports, mountain treks, wine-tastings, dining at the chef's table and of course, indulging in the opulent spa.

www.sixsenses.com

THE WAVE, MUSCAT

Oman's leading beachfront development is being developed along the Gulf of Oman near Seeb International Airport, and will include an 18-hole golf course, giving those with a good handicap another reason to venture to the Middle East for their corporate golf break. A 300-berth marina, four luxury hotels and numerous retail outlets will complete the project, set to open in 2008.

www.thewavemuscat.com

CASE STUDY: PITNEY BOWES
Company: Pitney Bowes
Event: Incentive and conference
Agency: Ambro Events
Dates: 10-15 March 2006
Group size: 250
Venue: Madinat Jumeirah Hotel, Dubai
Budget: Undisclosed

The Brief: The annual Pitney Bowes International Sales Leader Convention brings together a diverse group of international sales achievers from Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. "The aim was to recognise and draw together the top achievers in each country and business unit," explains marketing communications specialist Jackie Lehane.

Pitney Bowes turned to agency Ambro Events for inspiration and solutions for the 2006 programme.

Bettering the much-lauded China programme in 2005 was placed at the top of the agenda.

"Each year, we look to our agency to deliver this programme and, more importantly, the supporting service, to reward each qualifying employee and give them the chance to benefit from their achievements in a high quality setting, where the focus is on opportunity, variety and choice," adds Lehane.

Challenges: The choice of destination proved problematic for Pitney Bowes, whose international attendees demanded an extensive route network into the final destination and short transfer times. In addition, the venue needed to be a luxury property with extensive business facilities to match the C&I agenda. Finding a country with the sufficient pull following the successful 2005 programme was also crucial, as was eliminating any similarities with the destination, to avoid comparisons.

The short list included Cape Town, Rio de Janiero, Whistler and Dubai.

The latter's array of incentives, scenic Arabian desert, upcoming golf courses and opulent retreats made it a front-runner but a further challenge presented itself.

"As a destination, Dubai had been used by Pitney Bowes on two previous occasions in 1996 and 2000, and so the brief was for a five night programme that had to be better than before," explains Ambro Events director of travel services Sue Barber.

Solution: While ensuring that the must-have Arabian elements were included for Dubai first-timers, the programme also had to involve new thrills and experiences, such as power-boating on the gulf, and making the most of new venues such as the indoor ski academy.

As budget constraints were also a vital consideration, the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel proved to be an excellent base for the group, with accommodation across each of the three properties - Al Qasr, Mina A'Salam and Dar Al Maysaf.

Execution: Delegates were treated to a mix of business sessions and a memorable dose of activities over the five days. Arabian stalwart activities such as dune-bashing and skiing, pampering afternoons at the Six Senses Spa, tours around the forts and souks, sailing, plus a visit to the Wild Wadi Water Park were all on offer.

In the evening, the desert barbecue under the stars in a traditional Bedouin tent with camel rides, shisha pipes, belly dancing, henna ladies, fortune tellers and traditional Arabic costumes proved to be a hit with all the delegates.

However, Ambro Events was determined to inject a fresh approach to the event and used local production company 1001 Events to work alongside them for lighting entertainment and production requirements.

"We are always looking for that something outside of the norm, and 1001 Events was superb in responding and working with us as a team to achieve what was needed," says Ambro Events logistics director Carolyn Cadogan.

The result was a slick programme that includes swing jazz and rock violinists at dinner times, reserved tee times and golf lessons at The Montgomerie, exhilarating speed boat blasts on the Gulf and a session on the new indoor Ski Academy to take the edge off the intense heat.

The business session and gala dinner, hosted by Pitney Bowes international president Patrick Keddy, saw the transformation of outdoor spaces using specialist lighting, branding, theming and ice sculptures.

Verdict: Despite this being the company's third foray to the Middle East, the opulent emirate hit the mark once more. "It is vital for Pitney Bowes that qualifiers return home determined to be at the conference the following year, and that the stories they tell make their colleagues even more determined to beat them," comments Keddy.

"More people than ever expressed delight about every element of their stay in Dubai. Ambro and their ground partners delivered an outstanding convention for Pitney Bowes and the attention to detail made the trip a very special experience all round."

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