Starwood Hotels and Resorts has signed an agreement with Al Habtoor Group to open three hotels in Dubai, including the emirate’s first St. Regis and W branded properties.

Located within the US $1.4 billion Habtoor Palace complex on the site of the old Metropolitan hotel - currently being demolished – on Sheikh Zayed Road, the 1 million sq ft development will include the 241-key St. Regis Dubai, the 384-key W Dubai – Sheikh Zayed Road, and a 966-key The Westin Dubai Sheikh Zayed Road - all scheduled to open in 2017.

Speaking exclusively to Hotelier Middle East on the sidelines of today’s press conference (April 26), Al Habtoor group vice chairman and CEO Mohammed Al Habtoor said the contractor Al Habtoor Leighton Group would start construction of the hotels by May 1.

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“Demolition has already started on the Metropolitan; we started at the back with the area where the Red Lion was. Construction of the new project will start next week with excavation. We have the empty land so we will start digging,” explained Al Habtoor.

He expected the three hotels to open within months of one another in 2017, starting with the St. Regis.

“We don’t want to open the first hotel while there is still construction of another. We will finish first all the dirty work, the cladding and start the interiors and and soft furnishings.

“We will then open the St. Regis first, the W hotel and then move onto the big hotel [Westin] which will take a bit more time,” he said, adding that the "plan" was yet to be finalised with the operator and contractor. 

Al Habtoor said Hilton and “a couple of other brands” had bid for the three management agreements.

“Last year we signed the three hotels with Hilton – on The Palm and two in Lebanon – but we wanted to have another partner; not work with one all of the time. Starwood as a partner is very good because they have exactly the brands I want,” he said.

Starwood SVP, regional director, Middle East Guido De Wilde told Hotelier: “There’s a lot of preparation work going on – it’s a gigantic project and takes a lot of coordination and project management.

“What is being built is a destination within the destination of Dubai and we know over the past six or seven years, Dubai has built many destinations within Dubai - be it the Burj Khalifa area or Dubai Marina. This will be a unique destination by itself."

In addition to the three hotels, the Habtoor Palace complex - which was unveiled in January - will include 1100-seat theatre, a shopping arcade, tennis and sports academy and multiple-themed restaurant.

“They’re [Al Habtoor Group] bringing in an entertainment operator which is still to be announced, but knowing the vision of this company and its focus on quality we know it’ll be one of the world’s leading entertainment companies,” said De Wilde.

Starwood currently operates 15 properties in Dubai, representing the second largest concentration of the company’s hotels in a single city outside of New York.

“The UAE is our largest market in the Middle East, which indicates how strongly we believe in the growth of Dubai,” De Wilde said during the conference.

“This [announcement] will further strengthen our long-standing position - this is the beginning of our partnership with Habtoor and we look forward to many future projects,” he added.

Starwood opened the UAE’s first St. Regis on Saadiyat Island in November 2011, with a second soon to launch on Abu Dhabi Corniche.

The Wesin Dubai – Sheikh Zayed Road will be the firm’s second in Dubai, the existing Westin Dubai property forms part of the Mina Seyahi beachfront complex. Meanwhile the first Westin in Abu Dhabi opened last November. 

Starwood’s W brand is expected to debut in the UAE in Abu Dhabi in 2015 as the group’s second W in the Middle East following the brand’s regional debut in Doha in 2009.

“I’ve been asked many times why we opened our first W in Doha and not Dubai. The reason is simple, the opportunity was there in Doha before Dubai, and it was a business decision,” De Wilde told Hotelier.

“What we said at that time was the brand would change the hospitality scene in Doha and this is exactly what has happened – W brought a completely new dynamic. And we’ve seen having W in Dubai from day one,” he added. "It’s a brand that fits Dubai and Dubai fits the brand”.

Al Habtoor said he was most excited about bringing the W brand to Dubai: “The lifestyle brand is the most important brand for me because in Dubai we don’t have a lifestyle hotel. We don’t have that young generation, they go to Miami or Vegas or W Hollywood. Maybe this hotel will give them a reason to visit Dubai.”

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