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Kerzner’s global portfolio of five-star hotels might have been built for leisure, but it’s becoming a popular choice with MICE bookers. We hop to some of its key destinations to find out why.
Built in 2008 at the very top of Dubai’s Palm island, there’s nothing understated about the monumental Arabesque façade of the vast Atlantis The Palm – which is visible for miles around – or its Lost City-themed interior. The facilities across the 46-hectare site are seemingly endless, from the wildly popular Aquaventure waterpark at one end of the resort to the 1.4km-long stretch of beach, Dolphin Bay education centre, 20 bars and restaurants run by some of the world’s top chefs, expansive pools and terraces and 1,539 bedrooms. Oh, and a 10m-deep aquarium that holds 1,500 fish and 11 million litres of water. Naturally.
So far, so fun, but The Atlantis does have a more serious side. And when this place does conferencing, it applies just the same level of commitment. In the quieter West End of the hotel, you’ll find Dubai’s largest ballroom – quite a feat in a city of superlatives – which holds 2,500 theatre style, and myriad event spaces with swathes of break-out space and a vast sweep of terrace for cocktail receptions and coffees. Forget the basement facilities of London hotels, the conference centre here is all high ceilings and airy break-outs, with a back-of-house operation to match the scale and efficiency out front.
As you’d expect, what The Atlantis excels at is on-site activities, and the events team here is just as dynamic as the facilities. Programmes might build in cookery demos and classes at one of the restaurants – Nobu and Ronda Locatelli are particularly popular – or at cooking stations on the lawns. There are behind-the-scenes tours of the Aquarium, or, for PADI-certified groups of four, a chance to dive during feeding time. Larger groups can dive with the dolphins at Dolphin Bay, with marine awareness talks to give the activity a sustainable focus.
Come evening, the resort takes on a quieter, more sophisticated tone, as guests scatter among the on-site dining and drinking options. Our favourites are Nasimi Beach, an upmarket beach bar for sundowners and shisha – groups can book an area – and the Zen-like garden at Nobu, a favourite for private dining or drinks for 40. Conference groups often head to the beach for a welcome barbecue or buffet and cocktails; alternatively, there’s the option of a more formal set-up at Asateer, a blank-canvas 1,800-capacity structure on the waterfront.
It’s impossible for groups not to feel well catered for here. After all, even the rays in the aquarium are served restaurant-quality food, and there’s a gold set of cutlery kept aside for visiting
sheikhs. It’s just that kind
A sense of place is one of the pillars of the One&Only design philosophy, executed to stylish effect at the Arabian Court, one of the trio of properties that makes up the O&O Royal Mirage. Next door on the kilometre-long strip of private beach, the Residence & Spa is a high-end leisure destination, while The Palace makes a more classic, conference-friendly and slightly larger option. To varying degrees, the Arabian style runs throughout the properties, right through to the conferencing: arabesque chandeliers in the ballrooms, for example, or pretty beaded cloths for banqueting tables.
With 65 acres to play with, there’s not only plenty of space for groups at the Royal Mirage but also a profound sense of peacefulness – even at full capacity, the resort only ever feels busy at breakfast. Leisure and corporate business intertwine seamlessly here: there’s a total of 10 on-site restaurants – the cuisine skips from Asia to Europe – with event spaces tucked away in private corners. ‘Many delegates attach a holiday, so they take advantage of the group rates and bring a partner or family,’ says Heiko Helder, group and special events sales manager. ‘Then they can enjoy both sides of the resort.’
While it ticks the conferencing boxes in some style (max capacity for meetings is 200), the Arabian Court particularly lends itself to social events outside the meetings programme. Highlights include the alfresco beach deck at Eau Zone, which is popular for fire-lit welcome dinners (the hotel can set up a shisha tent and firepit on the beach), and the secluded Peregrine courtyard, where up to 100 guests are met with twinkling tealights, palm trees, bubbling water features and tables decked in beaded Arabic overlays. Christian Louboutin is a fan of the atmospheric 15-capacity Al Koufa Fort space for cocktail receptions, while the next-door amphitheatre can take on a car launch just as readily as a concert for 500.
For a traditional conference set-up, The Palace has ample meeting space – the impressive 300-capacity Royal Ballroom is the centrepiece of the self-contained conferencing suite, underpinned by a total of 246 bedrooms. For group dining, we love the swish PDR in the newly renovated Celebrities restaurant, where up to 24 diners can sit on leather thrones, and the lovely, semi-private deck on the terrace of the Beach Bar & Grill – perfect for a relaxed dinner. For sundowners on the beach, The Jetty bar has a cool Ibiza feel and space for up to 100.
One&Only Royal Mirage, Jumeirah Beach; tel 00 971 4 399 99 99
Opened in 2010, the newest addition to the One&Only line-up in Dubai sits on the ‘crescent’ breakwater surrounding The Palm island. Swathed in a scheme of luxe neutrals and with a strong spa focus, it’s clear that this elegant five-star property has been built very much with jet-set holidaymakers in mind (the smallest rooms are 65sq m). Still, there’s plenty to offer high-end boardroom retreats and incentive groups. We love the beachfront mansions – a series of 8-10 self-contained suites and rooms under the same roof – and the more intimate three-bedroom villas, with breezy interiors and views of the immaculate palm-fringed beach across the terrace and private pool. And small groups (up to four) can’t stay without booking one of the butler-serviced poolside cabanas for downtime lounging or the ultimate in laidback meetings.
While One&Only The Palm doesn’t match its sister properties for event facilities, the 90-capacity reception hall makes a swish backdrop for dining, and the Spa Courtyard comes alive on the warm evenings, when it’s decked with twinkling candles and fairy lights for receptions. However, as you’d expect at such an intimate hotel, private dining is more of a mainstay. Each of the restaurants, from the alfresco 101 – the most popular with locals and Royal Mirage residents, who can arrive by boat – to Yannick Alleno’s swanky Stay and the more casual Zest, has group dining space.
One&Only The Palm, West Crescent, Palm Jumeirah; tel: 00 971 4 440 10 10
Sun, sand and sparkling facilities, Dubai is custom-built for business and leisure. It’s this seamless combination, as well as direct access from across the globe, that makes it a hit with international bookers.
GO in May and September – you’ll catch the competitive rates and comfortable temperatures at the same time. March, April, October and November are
most popular for leisure guests, with prices to match.
FLY in seven hours from London, from which there are more than 10 flights a day. Emirates now operates direct flights from over 100 destinations.
TAKE a light maxi dress or chinos so you can cover up and keep cool.
DON’T under-dress for a conference – this is an air-con state.
Large resort hotels are often designed to a box-ticking formula that places comfort above personality. No matter how exotic their location, you could be anywhere in the world once you pass through those gates. Not so at Mazagan. The architects behind the Kerzner group’s Moroccan outpost couldn’t have given the place more local flavour if they tried. Everywhere you look are Moorish details – a lantern here, a cushion there, mosaics everywhere – and that’s before you notice that the entire resort has been designed in the style of a riad, with large open-air courtyards at the centre of each building. Or that a traditional Berber farm (a great spot for teambuilding) has been tucked away in the grounds.
Sure, there’s a degree of functionality. You can’t fit 500 bedrooms, an 18-hole golf course, a 24-hour casino, six restaurants and the largest spa in Morocco into a resort without thinking about practicalities, but aesthetics are clearly important – and that goes for events, too.
Groups not only have the run of the conference centre, where the main 1,300-seater function suite is complemented by indoor and outdoor break-out space, as well as a new, semi-permanent event structure with space for 2,000 guests, they’re actively encouraged to use the rest of the hotel too. No space, apart from the casino, is off limits, and the events team takes the notion of a ‘can do’ attitude to new heights. Neither the UEFA-size football pitch, nor the helipad, were part of the original resort plans. They were added to accommodate specific events.
With so much space to play with, organisers can ensure their group has a different experience every day – however long they stay. A formal gala dinner on the first night can be followed by a stand-up reception (couscous and tagine make great bowl food) in the nightclub the next. Again, that sense of place is everywhere. In the day, ‘office olympics’ includes events such as running in giant Moroccan slippers, while 1001 Nights-themed dinners by the beach are unsurprisingly popular. Seated on rugs, surrounded by traditional tents, guests feel as if they’re miles from their hotel – in reality their beds are a five-minute stroll away. It’s far nicer than being bussed out to a tented camp.
For a small, confidential gathering, you could use the self-contained Azemmour boardroom, which seats 16 and comes with its own private garden, but there’s also a great choice of suites. Dinner or meetings for eight can easily be accommodated in one of the Ambassador Suites, which come with butler’s kitchens and guest loos. The social space is even more generous in the pair of Royal Suites, where it’s possible to host drinks for up to 70. All suites have balconies with ocean views and if you look down to the beach from here, you’re likely to spot either horses or quad bikes – riding is another popular teambuilding activity.
At the end of the day, the fourth-floor Sunset Lounge, in the same building as the suites, comes into its own. With balconies at either end, the 100-capacity space offers views of the beach and the resort’s central pool – lovely for lounging with sundowners.
For dinner, both the high-end Sel the Mer seafood restaurant and the Moroccan-style Morjana can be hired exclusively, but our pick for groups is Market Place, the largest of the hotel’s two buffets. Trust us on this one – we’re not usually fans of the dreaded b-word, but this isn’t your usual all-inclusive scrum. For a start, it’s a beautiful room – gorgeous tiles galore – and it’s full of interactive cooking stations, all stocked with quality produce. There’s Lebanese, Italian, Asian, Japanese and French, not to mention local specialities such as tagine and couscous, plus an ice-cream bar for afters. With 400 seats in total, groups can take over the whole place or reserve a semi-private area.
No large event is complete without a poolside dinner in the central courtyard. Dotted with orange trees and date palms and framed by stunning Moorish architecture, this space is Mazagan in a nutshell: a riad on the grandest of scales.
Mazagan Beach Resort, El Jadida, nr Casablanca; tel: 00 212 5 2338 8000
Infinitely exotic, Morocco is as foreign as you’re going to get on a four-hour flight from the UK, yet the French influences make the place feel familiar. The big resorts tend to be beautifully designed and groups are well catered for.
GO in February/March, when the weather is perfect for golf and teambuilding but not quite hot enough for charter tourists.
FLY from London Heathrow, where Royal Air Maroc has daily departures to Casablanca (for Mazagan) and a choice of airlines cover Marrakech.
TAKE the train from Casablanca to Marrakech if you’re combining the two – it’s a beautiful ride.
DON’T forget to cover up, ladies. Away from the pool, you’ll feel uncomfortable wearing skimpy clothes.
There is something quite spectacular about looking up at the wide expanse of Table Mountain framed against a bright blue sky. No matter how many times you’ve seen the iconic landmark – recently named one of the Seven New Wonders of Nature – you never get over its beauty. And the One&Only Cape Town certainly provides one of the best vantage points in the city. Set within the cosmopolitan V&A Waterfront, the entire hotel seems to have been built with a single purpose in mind: to encourage you to gaze up at one of the most compelling sights in all of Africa.
From the outside, the unassuming crescent-shaped exterior gives nothing away. But once you’re inside the lobby, the whole world opens up. A panoramic three-storey wall of windows frames the picture-perfect mountain, demanding your attention. Decor is crisp and contemporary – keeping the focus on the view beyond – but dark African wood, colourful artwork, leopard-print water glasses and beaded vases filled with proteas (the national flower) remind you exactly which continent you’re in.
The Vista Lounge, set in the centre of this atrium-like space, features clusters of well thought-out seating areas where groups can congregate while they’re being checked in. This is where afternoon tea is served during the day, and at night the space transforms into a vibey bar, serving up sophisticated cocktails and live jazz music. There’s also the Vista Deck (which holds 80 guests) that extends outside to the virtual foot of the mountain that’s fantastic for lunchtime events. Traditional singers, marimba dancers and African street performers can be booked to create a festive, welcoming atmosphere.
The hotel is also kitted out for more serious events. But the 12-capacity boardroom – featuring plush leather seating, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and views of that ever-present mountain – is a whole lot more than your average meeting space. With vistas like that just outside the window, it’s hard not to be inspired.
The dedicated events team can help organise everything from laid-back seafood braais to technically sophisticated conferences. An in-house florist and bakery (personalised cupcakes, anyone?) are at your disposal, while furniture and decor can be moved around from room to room. Want to create a moody, low-lit lounge in the casual poolside dining restaurant, at 80-capacity Isola? No problem. How about tango dancing lessons in the ballroom? Ditto. The emphasis is on catering to your every need – if something isn’t provided in-house, they’ll bring it in.
One of the hotel’s most versatile venues is The Ballroom which holds 120 guests for dinner or 250 for a cocktail reception. It features ornate crystal chandeliers, double-height ceilings and huge windows letting in natural light. Past events have seen it transformed into a conference space, exhibition hall, wedding reception – even a fashion runway. Its adjoining foyer – already kitted out with registration desk – spills out onto a beautiful terrace where Champagne and canapés can be served at the end of the day. There’s also the 40-seater Marina Room, which is available as an overflow space, extra boardroom or refreshment area.
From here, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the hotel’s private marina where the Sherilyn awaits – a 72-foot Italian yacht that can take up to 20 guests along with a personal chef and butler. On calm evenings, you can cruise around Robben Island with the dolphins, dock in the exclusive inlet of Clifton as the sun sets over the ocean, then head back to the hotel as the lights start to twinkle in the city bowl.
For dinner, take your pick from the only African outpost of Nobu which can be hired exclusively for 120 diners. Slick, dark interiors and trademark Japanese-meets-South American fusion cuisine are given a South African twist with locally caught fish. Groups can try their hand at sushi-making classes and enjoy live demonstrations in the open kitchen, or alternatively you can book out the Nobu Lounge for sushi-and-sake tastings or a swish cocktail event.
Reuben’s, which also seats 120 guests, is a proudly South African affair, known for its simple bistro fare and a spectacular three-storey steel-and-glass wine loft containing 5,000 bottles of prestigious vintages and up-and-coming boutique wines. Perched on the mezzanine level is a 12-capacity Tasting Table where groups can enjoy intimate dinners presided over by the eponymous Reuben Riffel and Luvo Ntezo, the country’s first black sommelier. For larger events, there’s a 40-seat semi-private dining space, with a screen.
Teambuilding activities and incentives are particularly exciting in such an active, outdoor city such as Cape Town. From Harley Davidson adventures to Cape Point, to abseiling down Table Mountain or great white shark cage diving, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-track adventures to get your heart racing. Afterwards, chill out in the relaxing ambience of the spa, where water features and lush vegetation create a secluded haven within the resort.
The 131 rooms and eight suites are incredibly spacious (starting at 63 square metres, the size of a small apartment) and located either in the main building or across the waterway on two lushly landscaped islands. Stand-out features include a Nespresso machine, iPod docking station, king-size bed, enormous bathtub and a private balcony.
At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a glass of wine on the terrace as you smell the salty tang in the air, listen to the occasional squawk of a seagull and gaze up at the uninhibited views of South Africa’s most famous mountain.
One&Only Cape Town, Dock Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront; tel: 00 27 21 431 5888
Wine, wildlife and views – all without jetlag (the minimal time difference makes up for the 12-hour flight).
GO in spring or autumn to avoid the November-January peak season. Winters (June-August) can be cold and rainy.
FLY with Virgin Atlantic, British Airways or South African Airways, who all have frequent departures from London.
TAKE layers. Days are generally dry and sunny but Cape Town is tempered by the infamous ’South Easter’ and temperatures drop once the sun goes down.
DON’T forget sunscreen. The sun here is notoriously vicious.
This article was first printed in Square Meal Venues & Events, Spring 2013.