The opening of the Queen Elizabeth 2 as a luxury floating hotel and museum has apparently moved a step closer.
"Coming soon," runs the tagline on a new website – qe2.com – that went live earlier this month. It ambitiously promises a "new take" on hospitality and a "royal experience" for Dubai.
There’s no official launch date yet or definite mention of a hotel on the website, but work on the famous ocean liner is at an advanced stage at Port Rashid where it has been docked since 2008.
The QE2 celebrated the 50th anniversary of its launch last September and a story by The National then revealed the former Cunard Line flagship had undergone a major facelift.
Signs stating "Queen Elizabeth 2, hotel main entrance" had been erected. An army of workers had cleaned the vessel, while the outdoor swimming pool was decked over so it could be potentially used to host events. The lifeboats were removed and placed around the complex as a type of advertising.
The work has continued since then. Staff are now being recruited, cruise terminal 1 has been turned into a maritime museum featuring old artworks from the ship, while a new gangway to access the vessel has been constructed. It's thought guests will first visit the museum before heading across to the ship.
Rob Lightbody runs The QE2 Story website, which looks to preserve memories of the ship.
"With the decks fully lit at night, the new website appearing last week, and new signage at the ship, it does look like there might finally be an end in sight to our long 10-year wait for QE2 to open," he told The National via email.
“However, we will wait for her to actually open before we believe it.”
It is still unclear how much a night will cost. But an announcement is expected in the next few months. According to the new website, the ship is the responsibility of the Port, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, which is a Government of Dubai entity. Port Rashid is operated by DP World and a transformation of the port complex with a new marina, shops, restaurants and the cruise terminals is under way. It's expected that the QE2 will be the centrepiece of this development.
Dubai is a city renowned for its luxury hotel offerings, so what will the QE2 bring? As an ocean liner, it was the epitome of class – its name conjures up images of a golden era of travel. Built in the shipyards of John Brown in Clydebank, Scotland, it was launched on September 20, 1967, by Queen Elizabeth II. It completed more than 800 Atlantic crossings and had carried 2.5 million passengers when it was sold to Dubai in 2007. The recession scuppered plans at that time to turn her into a hotel on Palm Jumeirah.
Onboard facilities included five restaurants, three swimming pools and a 481-seat cinema. The QE2 is arguably only eclipsed in fame by the Titanic and it attracted celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Buzz Aldrin.
John Podaras, a hospitality expert in Dubai, believes a QE2 hotel can offer a different experience, but there are many challenges.
"It's not enough to anchor a ship and turn it into a hotel. It needs something that is a great deal more compelling," he said.
"The obvious value of the QE2 has to be its real estate value – selling off units that can then either be used as second homes, or put back into a leasing pool acting as a hotel (sale and leaseback)," said Mr Podaras, who is partner at Hotel Development Resources in Dubai.
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“It cost a lot of money to buy and cost a lot of money to refurbish. Selling off real estate may achieve better returns in the short term, but if you’re saying I’ll write off all my investments to date, then of course your return profile is different and a hotel might make sense. But you’re opening yet another hotel in a saturated market … and competing with Bulgari and the Four Seasons.”
One concept that Mr Podaras points to is "The World", a high-end community cruise shop that sails the high seas. Apartment owners have shares in the company rather than title deeds. Could the QE2 become something similar, sailing to events such as the Rio Carnival and the Olympics?
"This is probably not for the QE2," said Mr Podaras. "The costs to refurbish and upgrade her propulsion systems, let alone the operational costs ... would be prohibitive," he said.
For now, everyone is waiting for a firm announcement from the QE2's operators. DP World or PCFC did not respond in time to requests for comment, but there's no question that a reborn ship is eagerly anticipated.
"It's great to have a (mostly) intact QE2 still with us over 50 years after her launch, and for that we thank Dubai and wish them luck with her," said Mr Lightbody.
“Many of our members are very keen to step aboard once more, and stay a few nights, and many will visit Dubai who otherwise wouldn't.”