The developers of a $5 billion (Dh18.4bn) luxury project on Dubai’s World Islands said the first phase of the project is on course to be open to the public in time for Expo 2020.
The Kleindienst Group, which is behind The Heart of Europe, said the first phase of the project on the artificial islands would open towards the end of the year.
The project, which has been much delayed, not least because of the pandemic, is expected to be finally completed by 2022 and 2023, according to the group’s chairman Josef Kleindienst.
The development includes 10 “palaces” with private beaches, hundreds of smaller villas and apartments, hotels, plus floating “seahorse” villas.
The latest attraction was revealed last week. Known as Rainbow Beach, it adds 800 metres of shoreline to The Heart of Europe's existing 3,580m of white, sandy beaches, according to the developer.
Mr Kleindienst added that the unique nature of the project meant it was in a position to thrive in a post-pandemic world, saying that people will be looking for a sense of escapism following the travel restrictions brought about by Covid-19.
"Keeping firmly in mind the pandemic situation and relevant authority recommendations concerning tourism activities, we plan to open initial parts of The Heart Of Europe to the public around Expo 2020 commencing this October, a point when we believe tourists will flock back to Dubai with Covid hopefully behind us," Mr Kleindienst said.
“From a physical resort perspective, we are ready, and have been to some extent since 2020. But from a lifestyle perspective, many would agree right now is not the right time.”
Two of the more noteworthy constructions on the six-island cluster, situated 4 kilometres off the Dubai coast, are a beach palace known as Sweden Island, which was sold pre-pandemic for Dh100 million, and the floating villas, known as seahorses, which have been bought for prices up to Dh20m.
Last year, Mr Kleindienst told The National that he guaranteed people would move into the villas, floating villas and hotels by the end of 2020. However, like so many projects around the globe, the pandemic caused significant delays.
Development on the World Islands project has encountered delays since it was first announced in 2003, with handover to developers taking place in 2008.
In 2018, it was reported that one of the floating villas had sunk near the Burj Al Arab but Mr Kleindienst insisted it was an events platform that had fallen into the sea.
In the same year, American actress Lindsay Lohan announced plans to build her themed resort, Lindsayland, on the World Islands.
She unveiled her plan on Instagram, receiving more than 20,000 likes before deleting the post.
Mr Kleindienst, a former Austrian police officer, has maintained throughout that he would prove critics of the project wrong.
He said The Heart of Europe was aimed at those looking for second homes for staycations, weekend breaks and longer holidays.
“We sent completion notices to hundreds of owners and have agreed with them to open up the islands when the pandemic situation allows,” he said.
“This way, they can arrive in The Heart of Europe to the second home lifestyle they bought into, at a time when they can enjoy their properties with their families safely and our amenities will be ready to fully receive guests.”
Mr Kleindienst is adamant the project remains on track despite the pandemic.
“We sold out all of what we released under phase 1 and phase 2,” he said.
“We will also release new units and launch new projects during Expo 2020.
“We aim to conclude the sale of all additional release lists comprising of hotel suites and villas by the end of this year, and complete the entire $5 billion project through 2022 and 2023.”
Mr Kleindienst is buoyant about the future of the project, saying its uniqueness would be a huge selling point with visitors from the UAE looking for staycations, as well as international tourists.
“Lockdowns and restricted movements in many countries will drive many discerning tourists to seek a true sense of escapism in a safe destination where they can chill and thrill,” he said.
“In the long-term, investors will increasingly choose to commit their second home budget with us and word-of-mouth recommendations will encourage more guests to book their vacation time with us.”