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Raffles the Palm could just be peak Dubai bling

Global billionaires keep demanding more ways to splash their cash in the emirate

Raffles the Palm Dubai Raffles
The palace-style development capitalises on demand for uber-luxury living, offering hotel, residences and beach with sand imported from the Maldives

It’s not every day you get to dine in a $40 million apartment, with an option to buy. The apartment, that is, not dinner.

But that’s what happened to me a couple of days ago when I accepted an invitation to look around the hotel now branded as Raffles the Palm Dubai.

Set on the outer ring of the Palm development, the 387-room hotel has decided to capitalise on a seemingly unquenchable demand for uber-luxury living in the emirate.

It’s offering to sell 30 apartments and three villas in the hotel’s manicured grounds beside a beach with sand imported from the Maldives. Yes, sand from the Maldives.

Prices range from AED15 million for a “modest” two-bedroom apartment, around AED60 million for a villa, to AED153 million for the six-bedroom penthouse apartment complex spread over three floors.

The latter is an agoraphobia-inducing 25,000 sq ft of unashamed, in-your-face opulence, with its own entrance and internal connecting elevators.

Dubai first introduced the world to the concept of “seven-star” luxury with the iconic Burj Al Arab more than two decades ago.

In the past few months it has rolled out the Beyoncé-inspired opening of Royal Atlantis, followed by the surreal architecture of the Bugatti Residences. There will be more, of that you can be sure.

But you get the feeling that Raffles is a quantum leap in the grand luxe stakes, and have to ask the question: will it mark the saturation point for Dubai bling?

Vadym Gubskyy, the Ukrainian-born project manager of Emerald Palace Group, which owns the hotel, certainly does not think so as he shows you around the spectacular entrance lobby.

He invites you to stand centre stage in the middle of the cavernous room and look straight up. He should have advised donning sunglasses too.

You are bedazzled by thousands of Swarovski crystals in a gigantic chandelier surrounded by embossed gold leaf rosettes.

“More gold leaf than the Burj Al Arab,” Vadym says proudly, before pointing out the gold inlay in the Louis XIV grand piano by Bluthner and the 500 million-year-old rosa portugallo marble columns.

It is a classic palace-style hotel, he says, and as such is in contrast to much of the new luxury building in Dubai of the past few years.

The old faux-Arab extravagance of Madinat Al Qasr, for example, has been overtaken by what I call “Emaar chic” – all glass, steel and minimalism.

Not that it matters for would-be purchasers of the apartments and villas. They can choose from a selection of styles offered by Raffles, or improvise between them. I think most will go for the classic style, as do I.

Who is going to shell out millions of dollars on such extravagance? In addition to wealthy customers from India, Vadym specifically names Russians and Ukrainians. Obviously geopolitical tensions reduce the further you go up the billionaire lists.

Later, over an appropriately lavish dinner in a restaurant shaped like an egg at the top of the penthouse, the cosmopolitan backstory of the hotel unfolds.

It was developed by an Armenian-Ukrainian developer, Nver Mkhitaryan, who early identified Dubai as the coming thing after meeting Emirati real estate people in Kyiv.

He spent $700 million building a hotel and beach resort then marked for the Kempinski brand.

It opened in 2018, but the coronavirus pandemic prompted second thoughts all round.

Mkhitaryan nimbly lined up French group Accor, owner of Singapore-founded Raffles, as a replacement management group, and opened Raffles’ first resort in the Middle East in 2021.

Even after taking out 108 rooms to create the apartments, Raffles the Palm Dubai will still be the one of the biggest Raffles hotels in the world.

So far, eight of the 30 apartments have been sold, and Vadym said there is “strong interest” in the remaining three villas.

If the whole residential lot is sold, it could pull in something like $450 million.

But two big questions remain. First, does Raffles represent the high-water mark for bling living in Dubai? Surely there is only a finite appetite, even among global billionaires, for conspicuous, Swarovski-encrusted consumption.

That must ultimately be true, but, with regional economies booming and Dubai in particular cementing its reputation as a safe haven for swashbuckling entrepreneurs looking for a place to spend more time alone with their money, I don’t think we have got there just yet.

Second, will I buy the $40 million penthouse triplex that Vadym marketed so enthusiastically?

I’m still undecided, but have instructed my man at HSBC to look into the possibility of a mortgage.

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