The largest and most diverse collection of Forbes Travel Guide Star-Rated properties ever was announced on February 20, and the Middle East and North Africa were big reasons for the excitement. Thirty-one properties from the United Arab Emirates and another six in Morocco earned ratings in the first year that the regions were rated.
Dubai, which has glistened in the Arabian Peninsula for some time now, shines brightest with 21 properties earning distinctions this year. Two of the city’s three Five-Stars came from the Four Seasons brand: Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach and Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Financial Centre.
“It means a lot to be recognized as industry leaders by Forbes Travel Guide,” says Leonardo Baiocchi, Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach’s general manager and regional vice president. “We are so passionate about what we do and dedicate ourselves to providing the best possible experience at our properties. To be rewarded for this is a very special honor, as it’s the first time for Forbes to be in Dubai and we achieved the Five Stars with both properties in the city — a testament of our commitment to service.”
Earlier this year, Dubai International Airport was declared the world’s busiest airport for international travelers. (Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport still holds a sizeable lead for total travelers.) The 88.2 million visitors who passed through Dubai’s terminals in 2017 were up from 83.6 million the year before. Experts expect the number to tip over 90 million by 2018’s conclusion. Needless to say, any whispers of international jetsetters growing weary of the Burj Khalifa, the massive Dubai Mall and the city’s other toys have been greatly exaggerated. Dubai is here to stay and its upscale hotels seem ready for the long, luxurious haul.
“Dubai is well known for very high-end hospitality,” says Jean-Francois Laurent, general manager of just-crowned Four-Star Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort. “There are 586-plus hotels in Dubai. We live in an amazing city and an amazing country where everything is moving fast. There are a lot of challenges and we have to reinvent ourselves all of the time.”
Dubai and its neighbor to the south, Abu Dhabi, will reportedly connect via the world’s first operational Hyperloop system in the next five years. Until that 12-minute trip becomes a reality, a 1.5-hour car ride will separate the two. That’s a fair trade-off when you consider the exquisite hotels (including the Five-Star icon Emirates Palace), elegant restaurants and newly opened art attractions awaiting you in Abu Dhabi.
“Recently, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened, and it is an amazing place,” Laurent says. “There is also Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi; it is a masterpiece of architecture. But that’s not all. There is also the [UAE’s] wildlife. There are camel rides in the desert. We recently opened the world’s largest zip-line in Ras Al Khaimah. There’s skydiving. Dubai has horse racing. Abu Dhabi has Formula One racing. There is something to do for everyone.”
While horseback riding is a popular pastime in Morocco, it wasn’t a motivating factor in Forbes Travel Guide inspectors choosing the country for the company’s first foray into Africa. A destination long endeared for its natural splendor, timeless buildings and sensational cuisine, capital city Marrakech commands respect for its exceptional roster of hotels, too.
With two Five-Stars (Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech and Royal Mansour Marrakech), a set of Four-Stars (Four Seasons Resort Marrakech) and La Mamounia) and a couple of Recommended retreats (Amanjena and Selman Marrakech), the city should earn a spot next to the likes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in any discussion about high-end international markets.
All three cities have established themselves as hubs for travel and tourism — with Dubai leading the way.
“In the past five years,” Baiocchi says, “Dubai has positioned itself amongst the leaders like Paris, London, New York as a multifaceted destination for global travelers. What makes the city so unique is that it receives nearly five times as many tourists as its population. It is very exciting to see how it will continue to develop and grow.”
If this first year of ratings is of any indication, the future could be exciting for many more parts of the Middle East and Africa.