Value for money in Dubai

Guy Wilkinson on the real value behind summer packages

Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, part of Starwood?s Luxury Collection, which has been all-inclusive since 1999.
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, part of Starwood?s Luxury Collection, which has been all-inclusive since 1999.

 Viability director Guy Wilkinson weighs up the worth of summer packages, from bargain deals to high-end offers and comes to the conclusion that it’s best to judge their value upon check out

In these sweltering summer days when occupancy has to be bought through discounts or freebies, it is interesting to think for a moment about the true meaning of the word ‘value.’

According to www.oxfordictionaries.com, the word can mean various things, including ‘the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something; the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.’

Let’s take some examples. The easyHotel Dubai is still offering its original AED 99 (US $27) per night deal, while the nearby Ibis Al Barsha is charging AED 123 ($33).

If you are a guest, how do you compare the value you would get for your money at each property? It’s not easy to tell from the websites.

In reality, the answer at one level at least is that the easyHotel is able to offer the lower price because it is a rooms-only operation with no F&B or any other facilities, while all in-room services are charged extra, including the TV! By contrast, the Ibis provides a restaurant, two bars and a gym, among other relative luxuries — and watching TV is free.

The bottom line is that the easyHotel is the better option for guests who simply want to spend less per night, by living like Spartans, buying their dinner from the local gas station and washing their clothes when they get home.

By contrast, the Ibis offers a very affordable room in a hotel with some creature comforts included in the price, as well as various public area amenities on hand for guests with a little extra in their pockets in terms of discretionary spending power.

At the luxury end of the market, interestingly also in Jebel Ali (apparently the hub of innovation in this respect), the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel Dubai, managed by Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, has launched Dubai’s first ever ‘all-inclusive’ package in a luxury hotel.

The deal gives guests the option to pay a $68 supplement per person per night, which reportedly buys them access to normal restaurant menus (not the horrid buffets typical of all-inclusive resorts) in any of the hotel’s seven outlets, including the possibility of a ‘progressive dinner’ with different courses at different outlets.

Here is another example of added value, essentially representing the latest progression in the multitude of measures taken by all Dubai’s hotels since the recession really started to bite in 2009, including everything from complimentary airport pickups, to bed and breakfast deals and room upgrades.
Does it represent the beginning of the slippery slope into mass tourism, Red Sea-style, for Dubai? I doubt it, but the trend may well prove successful and therefore outlast the current summer season that has inspired its introduction.

Rare exception
The reason we have not seen all-inclusive packages here before is that there is of course always more money to be made from charging separately for rooms, F&B and other services.

However, a rare exception to this rule is Emirates’ Al Maha Desert Resort, now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, which has been exclusively selling all-inclusive packages since it opened in 1999, including not just three meals a day, but also two activities per day, such as camel riding, 4WD safaris, dune bashing and falconry.

Not to mention that guests get to luxuriate in a sumptuous tent-like suite with its own infinity pool and such essential details as a pair of binoculars to watch the oryx frolicking in the desert, and complimentary espresso and sherry.

This combined with the magical setting of the super-exclusive 42-suite resort in a 225 square kilometer game reserve explains why internet rates currently start at AED2,400 ($652) per night and the hotel’s ARRs have historically been among the highest in the world.

This is a very different kind of value proposition to that of discounting or adding extras. At the super-luxury end of the market, value can often lie, not in the urban hotel’s virtues of grandiose suites with marble floors and over-dressed flunkies, but in rustic charm and the chance to escape to a truly peaceful and private place.

‘Bare foot luxury’, whether found in a desert tented suite or a palm-roofed beach palapa, is an increasingly rare commodity these days, and there are no hard and fast rules — or indeed limits — as to how much it is worth. The real test of value is that there’s no pain when you check out, because you’ve had a wonderful time and couldn’t imagine spending your money better.

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