(Bloomberg) -- Hi, it’s Lisa, your Pursuits correspondent in Dubai.

A year ago, people here were looking at home prices and rents shooting up, while also reading stories about how their new neighbors who had just moved from Russia were helping boost the market. Everyone kept wondering, when is this buying spree going to end? It didn’t seem to be over earlier this year, and indeed Emaar, the city’s largest developer, said its top buyers in the first half were still Russian nationals.

But over the summer, many of the top real-estate executives in Dubai started to notice that Russians were slipping down the list of top buyers. There are a number of reasons for that, as I explored in my piece this week. But just because a group of people from one country is pulling back, doesn’t necessarily mean the market will slow.

Sure, more Russians are living in town, but they’re still just a fraction of the overall population. In fact, as my colleague Zainab Fattah wrote Wednesday, the number of transactions in 2023 so far just surpassed all of 2022. And one developer was able to sell 786 homes worth $844 million in just hours on the day sales began. 

Here’s more of what I’ve been picking up lately, but first:

Stats of Note:

A few highlights from Dubai tourism figures for 2023 through September:

  • Hotel occupancy: 75.7% (2019: 73.4%)
  • Overnight visitors from Russia: 806,000 (2019: 433,000) and China: 457,000 (2019: 729,000)

COP28 and New Year’s to Pack Dubai

New Year’s Eve in Dubai is going to be busier—and more expensive—than ever.

Hotel bookings are 27% higher compared to last year, according to real estate and data analytics firm CoStar, which ran the numbers as of Oct. 2. Packages for drinks, dining and entertainment at several establishments are costing thousands of dollars.

But it’s not just New Year’s. COP28, the global climate summit, is already packing hotel rooms. The session runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. The weekend of Dec. 2 is already a usually busy time for the United Arab Emirates, which celebrates its National Day holiday with a three-day weekend that prompts a lot of staycations and other travel. As of Oct. 30, Dubai hotels were already 44% booked for Dec. 1, compared with 31% booked last year.

“The entire hotel industry expects a huge winter boom,” says Mansour Memarian, the hotel manager of Palazzo Versace, though he said the Israel-Hamas war was creating some uncertainty. For New Year’s, the hotel throws an extravagant, themed party. This year’s is Beauty and the Beast, with sets and decor designed by Memarian himself. He says the hotel doesn’t make a profit on the entertainment, despite tickets that cost up to 18,000 dirhams ($4,900) per couple for dinner by the pool, which includes a five-course meal, house beverages and a bottle of Champagne.

In one of the biggest events of New Year’s Eve, musician Sting will perform at Atlantis the Palm, and tickets are only available to those who attend the hotel’s gala dinner. “Golden circle” tickets are available for 9,500 dirhams, but at least that comes with unlimited premium Champagne, a caviar box and a personalized truffle service, as well as prime seats. Packages start at 6,500 dirhams per adult.

Some of the hottest seats in the city ring the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the site of the city’s main fireworks display, lights show and Dubai Mall’s dancing fountains. A spot on the terrace at fast-casual restaurant Vietnamese Foodies that night will cost 1,500 dirhams, which includes unlimited food and (nonalcoholic) drinks. (Usually, a medium bowl of the restaurant’s delicious beef brisket pho costs 59 dirhams.)

Nearby, Maison De Curry, a fusion restaurant, is selling its prime seats for 7,000 dirhams per person, including a five-course set menu and champagne. Last year, the restaurant had just opened in time for New Year’s and only charged 4,500 dirhams for those seats. Reservations for the night were already 40% booked and paid for before the end of October, restaurant officials said.

The bookings should pick up pace as these events get closer—even more so than in other parts of the world. “Most of the Middle Eastern destinations do have a very last-minute booking window,” says Kostas Nikolaidis, CoStar’s account executive for Middle East and Africa. He says the city’s 147,000 hotel rooms are “going to get snapped up very, very quickly.”

New Luxury Brands Rising Out of Saudi Arabia

Red Sea Global, which is developing one of the major luxury resort areas in Saudi Arabia, will run one of those resorts under its own brand, Shebara.

The resort is one of a planned 50 hotels in the Red Sea destination, with about 8,000 rooms planned for completion by 2030. The area includes 22 islands and on-shore destinations.

The 73-room Shebara resort will be on Sheybarah Island, in the northern part of the Red Sea, and is slated to open this summer.

Last month, the group announced it would develop an island resort called Thuwal Private Retreat. Other hotel brands with projects either open or in the works include St. Regis, Ritz Carlton Reserve and Six Senses.

How to Define Fine Dining? Count the Seats

Dani García may be an acclaimed Andalusian chef, but he thinks it’s the Japanese who really do fine dining right.

The vast dining rooms that host 60 people per service have their place, but they’re not haute cuisine. Those kinds of rooms don’t allow chefs to feel close to the guests. To him, the Japanese do luxury dining the right way, with intimate restaurants that serve about a dozen people, no more.

García is about to open one larger dining room and one omakase in Dubai: an outpost of his Spanish steakhouse, Leña, as well as the 14-seat Smoked Room, which will serve a tasting menu called “Fire Omakase,” which uses smoke and fire as the main flavorings. They’re set to open the first week of December, and he’s aiming for a Michelin star or two in the intimate dining room.

He says he won’t serve pork out of respect for the local culture. There are restaurants in Dubai that have licenses to serve pork—which is forbidden in Islam—but it’s not common.

The restaurants will be his first wholly owned spaces outside of Spain. It’s unusual in the city-state, where most celebrity-chef restaurants are owned by local companies that have licensing arrangements. Two of García’s such licensed restaurants are in nearby Doha, where he says business is now very slow after last year’s World Cup.

García says he’s had various offers to open in the emirate, and he would frequently visit with his family over the Christmas holidays. But he didn’t think the time was right until now. “Dubai changed a lot in the last 10 years,” he says. “Step by step, little by little, Dubai has better and better food.”

Spanish food is doing well on the global culinary stage: Three of the top five restaurants in the closely watched World’s 50 Best list in 2023 are in Spain. Still, García laments that people often think of tapas when they think of Spanish food. He says the cuisine no longer displays the inventiveness that is showcased in restaurants like El Celler de Can Roca and the now-shuttered El Bulli. “Spain dominated in fine dining for a long time with a lot of incredible concepts, techniques.” But now, he says, “It’s a very different moment.”

So what’s going on in Spain? He says there’s a new generation of chefs who can travel around the world and are chasing all the new professional aspects to the job. “Now everybody wants to do books, to take pictures, to go on television and to be somebody more than a chef,” he says.

Other Middle East stories you should see:

  • Travel to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel is down because of the Israel-Hamas war, while cruise lines are redrawing their winter routes
  • Kelly Slater tests out the new Surf Abu Dhabi ahead of its opening
  • The CEO of Red Sea Global project in Saudi Arabia says his team has an obligation to be “the custodians of a very precious environment” and “ensure we don’t mess it up.”
  • Three new restaurants have been added to Dubai’s Time Out Market ( Time Out)
  • A 2,000-seat performance performing arts center designed by Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando is coming to Sharjah
  • Shakespeare & Co. cafe shutting all locations in the UAE ( Gulf News)

Here are some other Bloomberg stories I enjoyed and thought you should see:

  • A rare Smith and Daniels UK watch fetches a record $2.4 million
  • An Elvis renaissance is helping Graceland make up its debt payments
  • A Picasso sells for $139 million, the artist’s second highest price in history
  • Michelin names its new stars for restaurants in New York, Chicago and DC

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