Dubai’s Seven-Star Hotel More Gimmick Than Substance


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.

  • Jansen

    Having worked in the travel industry a long time ago, I’ve seen the list of requirements which determines a hotel ratings. Key to a five star hotel is personalized service. Six star was later created to reflect hotels with unique locale or history.
    I strongly suspect that the seven star rating is pure gimmick and not a true rating. I’ve been to bars and restaurants of several five star hotels though Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. If any of them were to have only one point of your concerns then the managers head and the hotels rating would be axed.
    Small travel tip. Never rely on hotel review by ‘travel journalist’. They are almost always biased.
    Excellent blog, I enjoy it :)

  • Great hotels are like great humans, a great person is just not his ‘corporal composition’ alone it is the mind-set, and sense of awareness that adds up to a lethal class act. A great edifice without traditions is akin to an individual devoid of essence.

    In modern world ‘Seven stars’ is rarely about how affectionately one is ‘unnaturally welcomed’ with an ‘air hostess kind of synthetic politeness.’ The Dubai Burj is self rated ‘Seven Stars.’

    A country needs to have some history of traditions and a rich past before it can engineer a great hotel. Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris, one of the Dorchester Collection, is a truly Parisian hotel near famous Eiffel- is a class act that comes with habit, enriched by customs and traditions. I propose Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, for Lunch – Le Relais Plaza or for the gentle harp music, delicious tea and chocolate throughout the day ‘ La Galerie des Gobelins’ or a great cocktail at ‘ Le Bar du Plaza Athénée.’

  • Peter

    The 7 star rating system is around since quite some time. Heard from Burj staff that the management is afraid of an official rating. Reading this, it makes sense.

  • To be truly termed 7 star, a hotel has to have luxurious facilities like designer duplex rooms, luxurious amenities like in-room spa, celebrity chef cooking, signature restaurants, and your own personal butler. In fact, service has to go beyond the ordinary & hum drum, and stretch into proactive, and personalised. Calling guests by their first name, designer chocolates, towel decoration and flower bouquets in your room, along with room service twice a day, all go in to add that special personal touch. Service and facilities fit for a King!

    Shabbir Kagalwala

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  • Of course 7 star hotels are more luxurious with different function rooms as needed.