I’m currently visiting Dubai, a beautiful and fascinating place. A few days ago, a group of us decided to visit the cocktail lounge in the Burj al Arab, which advertises itself as the world’s only seven-star hotel.
It is shrouded in mystique. In order to get in, you need to make reservations, adhere to a dress code, and spend at least 275 dirhams (roughly $83) per person on food and drink. The reservation receipt—also required to get in—said that photography was strictly prohibited.
With that kind of Beverly Hills exclusivity, the Burj al Arab experience must be something elusive and special, right? Not exactly. True, the hotel is gorgeous, located on its own island, with 15-foot-high fish tanks, mosaic floors, and a stunning interior. But the seven-star claim is a gimmick, and here’s why:
-Mediocre service. When our car arrived, porters opened the car doors for us, but then stood back in a cluster. Nobody greeted us, welcomed us, or opened the hotel doors for us. If the place was truly seven stars, someone would have been shining our shoes. The Lonely Planet guide claims that the porters—who are mostly immigrants—adhere strictly to their orders because breaking rules could mean getting fired. Someone showed these guys the ropes, but didn’t inform them that seven stars means adaptable, personalized service. So they open car doors, but shy away from opening hotel doors for you. It’s a part of their template.
-Dirty dishes. It’s true. Two of our dishes came with thin layers of crust on them. This is expected at a motel, but a seven-star hotel?
-The top-floor bar is something you could find in Las Vegas. And Las Vegas doesn’t have any seven-star hotels. It’s fun, and classy enough, with incredible views of the city, fabric doilies, chrome trash cans, red leather couches, and ice buckets the glowed soft blue neon. But fun features are standard at many cosmopolitan hotels. The service was good, but not excellent. The setting was crowded. The drinks were creative and tasty, but, save for the ones containing absinthe and other exotic liquors, not terribly exclusive.
That alone is enough nudge the hotel back down to six (who came up with anything more than five stars, anyway?) A seven-star hotel should have only the most exclusive treatment for people visiting any of their establishments–not just hotel guests.
The Burj al Arab, stunning though the interior and building are, is a four-star hotel masquerading as something deserving more. Its exclusive location, barriers to entry (price, reservations, dress codes, etc.), status as a Dubai landmark, and unique rating disguise the type of service and interior you could find in many other well-to-do major city. Perhaps guests have a different experience, but I feel safe concluding that its seven stars are a gimmick.