QE2 expected to attract millions of visitors

The new owners of the Queen Elizabeth 2 are hoping to attract five million guests a year.

Austrian Manfred Ursprunger, CEO of QE2 Enterprises, Nakheel Hotels
Carloa Cazalis for The National
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The new owners of the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) hope to attract twice as many guests as the majestic cruise liner did when she sailed the world's oceans, after she is transformed by the UAE developer Nakheel into a luxury floating hotel and museum. "In 40 years, the ship has had about 2.5 million guests on board, but when we are done with transforming her we expect to see more than double that number in the same period," said Manfred Ursprunger, the chief executive of QE2 Enterprises at Nakheel Hotels, which is taking charge of the project. Istithmar, the investment arm of the state-owned Dubai World development company, bought the ship last year from Britain's Cunard Line for US$100 million (Dh367.3m). "Nakheel Hotels, as a subsidiary arm of Dubai World, will now take charge of the refurbishments, which we expect to complete in two to three years time," said Mr Ursprunger, who declined to comment on the cost of the transformation. Building the ship in the mid-1960s cost Cunard £29m. Since then, about 15 times that amount had been spent on the ship's refurbishments, said Mr Ursprunger. "We have respected the fact that Cunard has hold of the ship, so our engineers have not been on board and estimated the costs needed, but ultra luxury is the direction we aim to go." With an ambitious tourism target of attracting 15 million visitors by 2015, Dubai is constantly faced with the challenge of reinventing itself and introducing new attractions. "This project is very much in line with the overall tourism strategy, and I think the outcome will attract millions of visitors not only from Europe, but also from within the region," said Mr Ursprunger. The hotel will have 200 rooms, which the company estimates will be about 50 square metres each, and 130 apartments that rage from one to three bedrooms starting from 80 to 120 sq metres. "The apartments will be up for sale under a fractional ownership contact, and we still haven't set the prices for the property," said Mr Ursprunger. Under the current design, the ship has 900 cabins, which in many cases are smaller than 30 sq metres. "Being a luxury hotel, we wanted the rooms to be very spacious - that's why we went for a smaller number of rooms." The refurbishment will take place at the Dubai Drydocks area, which is a sister company of Nakheel, located near Port Rashid, where the ship arrived yesterday. "Once the transformation is complete, the ship will be towed to its final destination on the north-east end of the Palm Jumeirah," said Mr Ursprunger. In an effort to lure more tourists to the hotel, day visitors will be allowed on board for the first time in the cruise liner's history. Day guests and other visitors will be able to take organised tours of the ship or use the facilities, which will include a 5,000 sq metre spa and wellness centre, six continental restaurants and a 500-seat theatre, which will replace the boat's engine. In terms of running the hotel, the company plans to sign more than one management contract with operators in the next two years. "Because we have more than one component to the project, we are planning to sign a contract with a luxury hotel operator, a spa operator and a theatre production operator," said Mr Ursprunger, adding that the theatre performances held on board were expected to compete with international shows such as those on New York's Broadway. Projects around the QE2 are already under way. "There will be a residential area, a retail area and a maritime museum, which will all be completed in two to three years time," said Mr Ursprunger. "Make no mistake, at the end of the day this is a business and our aim is to generate profits. Given such a popular brand like QE2, I think we already managed to attract a lot of attention." abakr@thenational.ae