When one region turns out over-the-top Five-Star hotels like Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Jumeirah (where a stay in a marble-filled duplex suite comes with amenities like a 24-karat-gold iPad along with access to one of the world’s largest fleets of chauffeured Rolls-Royces) and Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace (a dazzling $3 billion palace covered in gold leaf — even the camel burgers are topped with the shimmering, edible metal), you know that more big things await.
The region’s shining cluster of Star-Rated properties continues to grow, both in well-established luxury destinations like Dubai and in newly awarded cities across the peninsula.
The 61st annual collection of top-rated hotels featured a host of new additions to the region, including one brand-new Five-Star property, Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island, just outside the UAE’s capital that wows with its 2,000-piece art collection, sensational 21,500-square-foot spa and sterling service.
Other top Middle East destinations also added to their roster of sumptuous stays with a host of newly awarded Forbes Travel Guide Recommended properties. One standout in Dubai’s already stellar scene is Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai, which impressed with its 54th-floor poolside bar and array of international eateries (don’t miss Miss Lily’s Jamaican brunch on Fridays).
Across the gulf in Qatar, Doha added four new Recommended retreats to its lineup: the tropical, Maldives-style Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara, with its overwater villas; the arabesque, private-island escape of Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl-Doha and its Illusion nightclub and Spa by Clarins; the foodie-focused Shangri-La Hotel, Doha, with its Argentine steakhouse and Chinese dim sum dining room; and the beachfront Sharq Village & Spa’s sumptuous low-rise villas, serenely tucked just outside the bustling city.
This year, a few new Middle Eastern countries also earned their first stars.
Bahrain debuted with two Four-Star properties: The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, with its white-sand beach and newly awarded Four-Star spa; Manama’s The Domain Hotel and Spa nabbed a Forbes Travel Guide Recommended rating, highlighted by its art-deco design and trendy Txoko lounge.
Not to be outdone, Muscat, Oman, had a sparkling ratings debut. Among the Four-Star hotels, Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort lets you paraglide from a cliff for a high-flying arrival to the property, while The Chedi Muscat sports Zen East-meets-West design and one of the country’s largest spas (boasting 13 spa suites). Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa showcases a stunning example of Arabian-influenced romance and remarkable views from its private bay.
Tel Aviv, Israel, made its inaugural launch with two Forbes Travel Guide Recommended winners: boutique The Normal Tel Aviv housed in a 1920s-era mansion complete with a rooftop infinity pool and scads of art (the art concierge can help you navigate the collection) and The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya, which tempts with its waterfront location (every room has a balcony facing the Mediterranean) and high-end kosher cuisine.
Bahrain and Tel Aviv are experiencing a tourism boom, with the former welcoming 10.3 million visitors in 2018 (up 6 percent from 2017) and the latter hosting a record-breaking 4.1 million tourists, a 14 percent year-over-year increase. And it’s no wonder — even though they’re situated on opposite sides of the Arabian Peninsula, both spots provide a beachy location, a trendy urban center and tons of history to explore.
Oman’s tourism dipped by 2.8 percent in 2018, but unlike Bahrain and Tel Aviv, the country still flies low under travel radar. That’s precisely why we put it on our list of places to visit in 2019 — it’s a stunning destination waiting to be discovered.
With a grand total of 48 Star-Rated properties, the Middle East hotel scene keeps getting bigger and more luxurious. 2019 already has seen the February grand opening of the beachfront Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai, and another Mandarin Oriental is set to open in Doha in March. And there’s much more on tap later this year launching throughout the region, including Fairmont Abu Dhabi Marina Resort; Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre; The St Regis Dubai, The Palm; and The Royal Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai.
As these debuts and the proliferation of new destinations show, the Middle East will only continue to be a magnet for high-end holidays.
We revealed our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards on February 20. Click here to see the complete list of winners.