Breaking Travel News interview: Ali Rashid Lootah, chairman, Nakheel

Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah has grown to become a true icon of tourism in the Middle East.

Here Breaking Travel News editor, Chris O’Toole, chats with Ali Rashid Lootah, chairman of master developer Nakheel about the project, how it came about, and how it helps Dubai fulfil its ambitions as a world-beating tourism destination.

Breaking Travel News: The Palm Jumeirah has been one of the true success stories in Middle Eastern tourism over the past two decades. What does it now bring to the thriving hospitality market in Dubai?

Ali Rashid Lootah: Palm Jumeirah is a world-famous destination for living, tourism, retail and leisure.

Recognised across the globe as a symbol of Dubai’s energy, growth and ambition, the island is currently home to 18 hotels and resorts from world-famous brands including Atlantis, Jumeirah, One & Only, Rixos, Anantara, Sofitel, Fairmont, Wardorf Astoria and Kempinski, with another 17 under development. 

Hotels on the way include the St. Regis Dubai – the Palm, which will take up the first 18 floors of the Palm Tower and Raffles, the chosen partner for the PALM360 hotel and branded residences complex. 

Palm Jumeirah also offers a host of retail, leisure and recreation attractions including the Pointe, which opened in December 2018 with a live concert on the water by pop icon Enrique Iglesias, and the 1.1 million square foot Al Ittihad Park, which boasts 60 types of trees and plants indigenous to the UAE. 

Featuring a 3.2-kilometre jogging track around its perimeter, the park, whose name means ‘union’, opened on United Arab Emirates National Day 2012 and quickly became a much-loved venue among Dubai’s residents and tourists. 

Nakheel Mall, also under construction at the centre of the island, is due to open later this year. 

Directly connected to the Palm Tower, the mall has 350 shops, restaurants and attractions, and its own Palm Monorail station.

BTN: The Pointe recently begun welcoming new food, beverage and entertainment destinations to the tip of the Palm Jumeirah, opposite Atlantis, the Palm. Where did the motivation for this development come from?

ARL: Palm Jumeirah continues to evolve as one of the world’s top destinations, with an ever-growing list of attractions, facilities and features to enhance its appeal.

The Pointe is a stunning, waterfront venue at the tip of Palm Jumeirah, with a large and diverse selection of array of restaurants, shops and leisure facilities. 

The destination opened in December 2018 and, six months on, is a magnet for the island’s residents, the wider population of Dubai and tourists.

Nakheel wanted to create a destination on The Palm that was accessible to everyone, with something to offer all tastes and budgets. 

When it comes to food and beverage, the Pointe has dozens of eateries offering everything from fine dining to fast food, with cuisine from across the world. 

Complementing the wide range of restaurants at the Pointe is a host of other amenities including Guy Fieri’s dine-in cinema complex from Reel Cinemas, a children’s play area, gyms and beauty salons. 

The destination has its own beach and a 1.5-kilometre promenade stretching the entire length of the project.

Since its opening, the Pointe has played host to several live concerts, a Dragon Boat race and an array of sports and fitness events, with many more events planned for rest of 2019 and beyond.

Work is also under way on the centrepiece of the Pointe: a spectacular dancing fountain, covering a 12,000 square metre area of water, offering stunning daily shows.

BTN: The hospitality offering on the Palm Jumeirah continues to develop, not least with the recent opening of Kempinski Emerald Palace. How does the destination compare to the rest of Dubai in this respect and when do see the development being finally complete?

ARL: Palm Jumeirah is not just unique to Dubai; it is unique to the world.

Its creation, which began in 2001, doubled the original coastline of Dubai by adding 78 kilometres of beachfront real estate for development. 

The idea was to create a highly sought-after destination for living, tourism and leisure, with luxury villas, high-end apartments, world-famous resorts and topflight retail and recreational facilities.

Fast forward to 2019 and the island is a thriving community with 78,000 residents, 18 world-class hotels in operation and another 17 on the way, and an array of other attractions that draw millions of visitors each year. 

All of the originally available land on Palm Jumeirah is either developed or under development, proving its unrivalled popularity among investors. 

Nakheel itself has several Palm projects under way, including Palm West Beach, a family-orientated seafront destination with an infinity pool, water features, fitness facilities and restaurants, stretching 1.5 kilometres along the island’s western trunk, as well as the Palm Tower and Nakheel Mall, which are nearing completion at the heart of the island.

Palm Jumeirah is also unique in that it has its own Monorail, connected to Dubai’s metro and tram systems, which carries more than a million passengers a year.

Currently, the Palm Monorail stops at Al Ittihad Park and Atlantis the Palm, with stations on the way at the Palm Tower/Nakheel Mall and the Pointe.

BTN: The Palm Tower will soon welcome the return of the St. Regis brand to Dubai – what timeframe are we looking at for the completion of that project?

ARL: The Palm Tower is a 240-metre landmark, mixed-use project at the heart of the island.

It comprises the 289-room St. Regis Dubai – the Palm, occupying the first 18 floors, with 432 luxury residents above. 

Its star attraction is its rooftop leisure complex, featuring a 50th floor rooftop infinity pool bordering all four sides of the building.

Above the pool is a podium with a 51st level restaurant and, on floor 52, is a public viewing deck offering stunning views across the Palm, the Arabian Gulf and the Dubai skyline. 

The viewing deck will be accessible from Nakheel Mall.

In terms of construction, work is under way on the roof top pool/restaurant and viewing deck complex, with fit out of the hotel and residences ongoing.
Construction completion is expected at the end of this year. 

Nakheel Mall is due to open in quarter four of 2019. 

BTN: Palm Jumeirah was at one stage one of many developments off the coast of Dubai in the Arabian Gulf – but some have since been side-lined. However, the World is now back in development. What can you tell us about work there?

ARL: As master developer, Nakheel completed the World’s 300 islands and 27-kilometre breakwater in 2008, ready for development by individual investors who purchased the islands. 

Nakheel is also creating Deira Islands – a 15.3 square kilometre mixed-use waterfront development at Deira, the area known locally as ‘Old Dubai’. 

Deira Islands will be home to waterfront resorts, hotels, residences and attractions, with an expected population of 250,000 when complete. 

So far, Nakheel has invested nearly US$2.5 billion in infrastructure at Deira Islands, where projects such as the Night Market, Deira Mall, Centara Deira Islands Beach Resort and RIU Resort Deira Islands are under construction.

BTN: With Expo 2020 next year, Dubai is likely to reach its long-stated target of 20 million guests annually. Does the upward trend in local hospitality continue to benefit Nakheel and its partners?

ARL: The Dubai government announced new tourism targets in 2018: 21 to 23 million visitors a year by 2022 and 23 to 25 million by 2025.

Nakheel is developing a range of hotels, resorts and serviced apartment complexes in line with these goals, and is proud to partner with reputable, international hospitality brands to bring new concepts to the city.

Nakheel’s hospitality project profile ranges from five-star, luxury hotels to modest yet stylish establishments at several locations in Dubai, including Deira Islands, Palm Jumeirah, Ibn Battuta Mall and Dragon Mart. 

Our first two hotels – an ibis Styles at Dragon Mart and a Premier Inn at Ibn Battuta Mall – have both been a huge success, which is why we are currently building a second hotel at both malls.

Currently, our joint venture partners include two major international players in the hospitality sector: RIU Hotels & Resorts from Spain and Centara Hotels & Resorts from Thailand, with whom we are building two large beachfront resorts at Deira Islands. 

The 800-room RIU Resort Deira Islands is in the advanced stages of construction, with the 607-room Centara Deira Islands Beach Resort also under way. 

Both will bring a new style of accommodation to Dubai: four-star, family-orientated beach front accommodation that will open up the city to a wider variety of tourists.

Our upcoming hotels on Palm Jumeirah currently include the St. Regis Dubai – the Palm, which forms part of the Palm Tower, and the Raffles the Palm Dubai, which, along with Raffles Residences, make up the iconic, two-tower PALM360.

More Information

Dubai-based Nakheel is a world-leading master developer whose innovative, landmark projects form an iconic portfolio of master communities and residential, retail, hospitality and leisure developments that are pivotal to realising Dubai’s vision.

Nakheel’s waterfront projects, including the world-famous, award-winning Palm Jumeirah, have added more than 300 kilometres to Dubai’s original, 70-kilometre coastline, paving the way for the development of hundreds of seafront homes, resorts, hotels and attractions.

Find out more about Nakheel on the official website.

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