A TOUCH OF LUXURY

Saudi Arabia 2016 | TOURISM | FOCUS: ABRAJ KUDAI

The world's largest hotel is set to open doors in 2017 in Mecca. The Saudi Ministry of Finance is funding the construction of the desert, fortress-like building, which will offer a luxury experience to the pilgrims who visit Islam's holiest city.

The city of Mecca, Islam's holiest city, is set to host the world's biggest hotel. Dubbed Abraj Kudai, it is reportedly due to open its doors in 2017, when it will become the world's largest hotel by room count. The title is currently held by the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, with 6,198 rooms, 40% less than the whopping Arab building, which will feature 10,000 rooms.

The project is a residential and commercial complex that will spread out on a total site area of approximately 60,000sqm and total built-up area of around 1.4 million sqm The hotel is modelled on a traditional desert fortress and the colossal scheme comprises 12 towers that stand on top of a 10-storey podium, which is due to accommodate several facilities such as a shopping mall, prayer halls, and a full-size convention center.
The mini-city/luxury hotel will also include 70 restaurants, food courts, an extravagant ballroom, a car park, and a bus station. Two main roads from the east and west as well as a private road from the north will provide the access to the area. In total, 10 of the 12 towers will be rated as four-star establishments and four of them will be characterized by rooftop helipads. Also, eight towers will be 30 stories tall, whereas the two others will stretch up 35 stories high. The last two towers will rise 45 stories up into the sky above the deserts of Mecca, and will support the weight of the central dome, which is the focal point of the project and expected to be one of the largest domes in the world. The two towers will provide more prestigious five-star accommodation for Abraj Kudai's guests, although an entire five floors will be strictly off limits to guests and reserved for the sole use of the Saudi royal family.

The Saudi Ministry of Finance is funding the construction of the mixed-use development, the total cost of which is approximately $3.6 billion, or SAR13.5 billion. One of the world's leading international consulting organizations, Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners), has been given the task of designing the project. The engineering and architectural global consultancy firm has consistently ranked among the world's top-10 engineering and architectural consultancies for over 25 years As for the inside, the London-based hotel design company Areen Hospitality has been hired to decorate the enormous spaces and fulfill the hotel guests' luxury expectations.

The building will rise up in the Manafia district in Mecca's central zone, only 2.2 km south of the Masjid al-aræm, Mecca's Holy Mosque. The whole city's look is experiencing a rapid restyling due to a spurt of luxury hotels. The Grand Mosque is already partially overshadowed by the Abraj al-Bait clocktower, the second tallest building in the world at 601m high, which houses luxury hotel rooms from where pilgrims can enjoy a view of the Kabaa.

Mecca is the city with the highest number of visitors in the country, contributing 96% of the total visitors to the Kingdom. More than 2 million pilgrims travel to Mecca to perform the annual Hajj and the number of visitors is expected to increase to 5 million by 2025. In order to host this impressive flow of pilgrims, the Grand Mosque is undergoing a $60 billion expansion to double the capacity of its prayer halls from 3 million worshippers to nearly 7 million by 2040.

Another 20 million people visit the city during the rest of the year, with Umrah another major draw. The Holy City of Mecca is a popular place for weddings and conferences, and it has become a lucrative location for hoteliers as tourism generates an annual revenue of around $9 billion.