Dubai Leads Star Awards In The Middle East

The Middle East won big in the 2024 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards, with Dubai leading the pack — the city earned the highest number of new Five-Star honors worldwide.

The Star Awards, the benchmark for luxury and service excellence in the global hospitality industry, are based on a rigorous process involving anonymous inspectors assessing hundreds of exacting criteria. Garnering a Five-Star rating not only signifies an establishment’s commitment to unparalleled service and luxury but also places it among the elite in the hospitality world.

Dubai gained five new top-rated hotels — Address Beach Resort; Armani Hotel Dubai; Atlantis The Royal; The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai; and The St. Regis Dubai, The Palm — bringing its Five-Star total to 12. Atlantis The Royal just opened a year ago, with its bold building of stacked blocks and endless amenities, but it managed to win a Five-Star honor, a rare feat for a newcomer. It’s also in the running for FTG’s first reader’s choice award for Best New Hotel.

“Earning a Forbes Five-Star award for Atlantis The Royal in year one was a dream and a focus of the entire team from day one,” managing director Tom Roelens said. “When we set out to open Atlantis The Royal, we were not only looking for the very best in the business worldwide but also those who enjoy working with people for people and who have an innate sense and hunger to be of service and deliver the extraordinary.”

For Roelens, “extraordinary” means not just having unusual architecture or celebrity-chef-helmed restaurants. “It subverts the classic stereotype that Dubai plus luxury equals gold/opulence, moving the very definition to something that is hyper-personalized, something that is so special it must be experienced to be believed,” he said. “Atlantis The Royal is more than amazing suites or world-class amenities. It offers 24/7 attention to detail so that every guest has exactly what they want, when they want, how they want it, before they have even asked for it.”

Also claiming its inaugural Five-Star Award is Address Beach Resort. The luxury lifestyle hotel in the Jumeirah Beach neighborhood makes a statement in an O-shaped building and the world’s highest infinity pool on the 77th floor. “Rising over 300 meters [or 982 feet] high, the hotel boasts some of the most unique views of the Dubai skyline and the Arabian Gulf,” said a hotel spokesperson. “We have an extensive selection of dining venues that celebrate local and international cuisines, ensuring unforgettable culinary experiences for all guests.”

“From iconic architecture and world-class amenities to bespoke experiences, Address Beach Resort has everything guests need for an opulent escape and unmatched hospitality that truly reflects its status as a Five-Star hotel,” the spokesperson said.

A Surge in Tourism

The Middle East won more new Five-Star awards than any other region as it experiences a remarkable tourism resurgence. In 2023, the Middle East was the only region worldwide to surpass pre-pandemic tourist arrivals (they reached 20% above 2019 figures), according to UN Tourism. The organization credited the travel boom to easier visa processes, new destinations, new tourism-related projects and the major events like the FIFA World Cup the region has been hosting. The trend likely will continue with massive efforts like Saudi Arabia’s 50-hotel Red Sea development.

Dubai has been at the forefront of this regional swell in tourism with a record-breaking 2023. It welcomed 17.15 million international tourists, the most in its history (and a 19.4% increase from 2022), according to the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.

“I think that 2024 heralds a transformative phase for Dubai’s hospitality industry,” said Timothy Kelly, president of Atlantis Global, which encompasses The Royal, its neighbor Atlantis, The Palm and Atlantis Sanya in China. “I believe a steadfast commitment to sustainability in resorts across the region will be a huge focus, something we will really drive from our side with our Atlantis Atlas Project.” The latter is a wide-ranging sustainability initiative that’s reduced buffet waste by 40%, introduced an onsite water filtration and bottling plant and more. “I also think that technology will take center stage both in terms of enhancing the guest experience and providing advanced solutions across the hospitality sector.”

Kelly pointed to Atlantis’ new experience with Louis Vuitton, which will be announced this week for the hotel’s first anniversary. It will feature LV’s flower-like Vivienne mascot taking the form of six larger-than-life statues positioned around the property. “We have merged the physical with the digital to allow our guests to choose how they experience the installations,” he said. “The utilization of technology puts the experience into the hands of the guest and provides an experience that transcends the ordinary.”

Other Destinations to Watch

Another Middle Eastern destination seeing major gains is Kuwait. “The hospitality scene in Kuwait is undergoing a significant transformation,” said Kemal Sirtikirmizi, general manager of Waldorf Astoria Kuwait. “The country is steadfast in its commitment to enhancing tourism, evident through ambitious plans such as the expansion of Kuwait International Airport.” A new airport terminal will have the capacity for 25 million passengers annually by 2025.

Sirtikirmizi and his team at the Waldorf Astoria have quickly made a mark, earning two Five-Star awards for both the hotel and spa in their first year of operation. He highlighted the hotel’s standout features, including the largest entry-level rooms among luxury hotels in Kuwait and its Ikaros Club experience. “Our dedication to service excellence has resulted in outstanding achievements,” he said.

Kuwait is also ramping up its wellness offerings. Waldorf Astoria Kuwait Spa offers a private suite with an arrival lounge, bathroom, hammam, Jacuzzi and treatment area for two — and still more is in the works. “As wellness tourism gains momentum, we aim to unveil a selection of wellness programs, spa treatments, and fitness activities meticulously designed to foster well-being in harmony with the preferences of environmentally conscious guests,” Sirtikirmizi said.

Another new Five-Star in Kuwait, Talise Spa at Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel & Spa, provides a nearly 38,000-square-foot sanctuary with 17 treatment rooms and tailored experiences ranging from facials to hammam rituals.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup set off a tourism boom in Qatar, with Doha racing to open numerous new hotels to accommodate the attendees. The capital city added two new Five-Star hotels to its roster. Sitting on a strip of private beach, Four Seasons Hotel Doha is a longtime regional highlight with 237 accommodations, indoor and outdoor pools and popular restaurants such as Nobu Doha, Curiosa by Jean-Georges and Le Deli Robuchon. Raffles Doha opened in 2022 in the Katara Towers, whose unique crescent design is inspired by the crossed swords of Qatar’s seal. The all-suite hotel offers views of the gulf and the skyline as well as butler service.

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