An Arabian manna from heaven for Marbella
In hotels in Marbella, they use an almost foolproof method to ascertain where visitors from the Gulf stand in the strict social hierarchy of their own countries.
“Some clients use the title prince or princess and they book one or two rooms; others only give their name, but they arrive with an entourage and fill eight or ten rooms or even an entire floor of the hotel, so they are the important ones,” says an employee at one of the most luxurious hotels in the area, for whom the Arab market is making this the best August for years.
Every client, with or without entourage, is given exactly what they want. And they usually ask for a great deal.
The planets have aligned this year so that Marbella and the nearby area are enjoying an excellent summer with the Arab market, whose visitors stay longer and spend most. Ramadan, which in previous years has split the peak season in two, finished on 6 July this year and Arab tourists began to arrive in Marbella the following week.
Also, the Feast of the Sacrifice is celebrated in Saudi Arabia, which is the principal source market, between 11 and 18 September, so the holiday period will be extended well into next month. Hotels are expecting high occupancy levels throughout September.
The political situation has also contributed to the fact that Marbella is full of Arab tourists again this year. As well as the instability of the region - with the war in Syria and Yemen, the chaos in Libya and attacks on tourists in Tunisia and Egypt - there was the attack on the Cote d’Azur on 14 July. Nowhere do tourists from the Gulf states feel safer than on the Costa del Sol, but they are also most comfortable here. For many, Marbella is like another home.
Nearly every week the government sub-delegation office in Malaga, via the Foreign Office, and then the National Police in Marbella, are advised of the arrival of dignitaries or members of some of the extensive royal families from these countries.
Secrecy and discretion are the tools which are most used to ensure that they enjoy a peaceful holiday. It is known, however, that members of the ruling families of Qatar, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, including Faisal, one of King Salman’s sons, are currently on vacation in Marbella.
It has to be said that the town’s tourism sector is rather disappointed in Salman. He was a regular visitor when he was a prince -he has his own palace beside the Mar-Mar, the one built by King Fahd - and it was hoped that he would continue to come when he became king. However, his coronation coincided with the death of Sultana, one of his wives and the one who spent most time in Marbella. In fact, she passed away in a private hospital in the town.
The monarch’s fragile state of health, the turbulent political situation in the region and the fact that his present favourite prefers Tangiers, where she has her own palace and where one of their sons is getting married soon, has dashed hopes of a royal visit to Marbella any time soon.
Marbella therefore has to make do with princes and princesses, but that is no hardship, either. One of them may stay in a palace, but there is no room for everybody so they book dozens of rooms in the most luxurious hotels in the area, from the Marbella Club and Puente Romano to the Kempinski in Estepona. There is usually a secretary among the entourage, to organise everything with the hotel, request services and pay the hefty bills.
At the Marbella Club it costs 6,000 euros a day to rent a villa, and that amount can go up to 25,000 a day if it is the Villa del Mar. It was recently occupied by the head of state of a non-Arab country, whose identity is being kept extremely secret, but it is normally rented by tourists from the Gulf states.
When these guests eat in the hotel, it rarely costs less than 500 euros each and depending on what they order - shellfish, lamb and caviar are among their favourite dishes -the bill can be up to 1,000 euros a head.
Also, these visitors tend to stay twice as long as European clients. Figures from a report issued by the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, which insists that a direct flight between Dubai and Malaga has now become a necessity, show that the average stay for a visitor from the United Arab Emirates is 13.7 days; from Qatar it is 15.2 days; from Saudi Arabia 16.9 days and from Kuwait 25 days.
For any hotel, a stay this long by tourists with such high spending power is like manna from heaven. Nor is it unusual for a tourist from these countries to spend 15 days at the Marbella Club or Puente Romano and then complete their holiday with a stay of a similar length at the Kempinski or Villa Padierna.
Arab visitors do not only spend their money in the hotels, where they usually request extra services such as the hire of luxury cars, yachts or even helicopters and private planes. Last week a client spent 360,000 euros on watches at the Gómez y Molina jewellers in Puerto Banús and staff there say this was not exceptional.
Sometimes these visitors’ passion for shopping means it takes them longer than expected. Another Arab client was in the jewellery shop in Puerto Banús when the call to prayer sounded; the assistants had to provide him with a screen so he could fulfil his religious obligations in privacy. When prayer was over, he continued shopping.
However, not all Arab tourists show such religious devotion when they are on holiday. For many, it seems that Marbella is a good excuse to ignore the strict moral rules of their own countries.
“All that about not drinking alcohol or eating ham, that only applies when they’re at home in their own country,” says a hotel worker who has extensive experience in the tastes of these visitors. In the early hours of the morning, it appears, the corridors of some hotels look more like catwalks for fashion models.
For many of these tourists, Marbella is synoymous with non-stop fun and entertainment. People who have worked in the hotel business for a long time say there has been a cultural shift in the Arab market. The visitors who come now, especially the young ones, have been educated in schools and universities in the UK or the USA and their tastes are not very different to those of Europeans. What does appear to be different is their lack of reserve about ostentation, the absence of limits and the size of the - source surinenglish