By Louise Oakley  www.arabianbusiness.com

From fashion icons and world record breakers to budget innovations and long-awaited arrivals, 2010 has been a vintage year for new hotels.

1. Armani Hotel Dubai

There is little surprise at this hotel’s entry into the Top 10 Hotel openings of 2010. There were sceptics who claimed this was a “fluff” opening, but the noise surrounding the arrival of the world’s first Armani hotel couldn’t be ignored. All eyes were on Dubai for the right reasons — and quite a stunning hotel was the result.

Room categories available include 24 Armani Studios, 44 Armani Classic rooms, 38 Armani Premiere rooms, 36 Armani Suites, six Armani Executive and six Armani Ambassador Suites, and five Armani Signature Suites.

The hotel features restaurants offering world cuisine ranging from Japanese and Indian to Mediterranean and, of course, Italian.

Entertainment destinations include the region’s first and only Armani/Privé club and the world’s first in-hotel Armani/SPA, alongside Armani/Dolci, a chocolate and sweets store, Armani/Fiori, a flower shop, and Armani/Galleria, an Armani accessories store.

Complementing the hotel and located on levels nine to 16 of Burj Khalifa are the Armani Residences, 144 luxurious private residences, which like the hotel have all been designed by Giorgio Armani.

While rates may have been adjusted to allow for the new economic climate, there has still been a healthy demand for those wanting to test the hype, with guests saying the experience matched, if not surpassed, their expectations.

2. Raffles Makkah Palace

Once in a while a project comes along that really captures the imagination and Raffles Makkah Palace is one of them.

The hotel is situated in the very heart of Makkah and is part of the Mecca Royal Clock Tower development.

Occupying 15 floors of the 32-story tower and containing 211 suites, the property offers panoramic views of the Grand Mosque and the Ka’aba below, and is situated just a few steps away from the main entrance to the Grand Mosque, King Abdulaziz Gate.

Inside lies the spiritual heart of Islam, the Ka’aba — or House of God — said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael around 2000 BCE.

The Abraj Al Bait Complex, which contains Raffles Makkah Palace, also includes a premium four-story shopping mall, a commodious prayer hall that can accommodate up to 10,000 people,  a convention centre for 1500 people,  a museum and even a lunar observatory.

The hotel offers something new at the very top end of the market for the pilgrims entering the Kingdom year after year.

3. EasyHotel Jebel Ali

Marking the entry of the easyHotel brand to the Middle East, this property is located inside the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) secure compound with access from Sheikh Zayed Road.

It symbolises the trend of budget properties opening in the emirate of Dubai as the city, known for its love of all things five-star, looks to diversify its offering.

While the pipeline is still dominated by the upper-scale properties, the emergence of hotels such as easyHotel, CityMax and Premier Inn, as well as ibis, signals the arrival of the much-needed budget sector.

This 216-room property boasts air conditioning in all bedrooms alongside wireless internet access and work desk space.

Remember though that the business model for these hotels is you pay for any extra; Wi-Fi internet access – AED 30 for 24 hours; flat screen TV -AED 30 for 24 hours extra towels available – AED 5 per towel; housekeeping service available at AED 60 for a full room clean; luggage storage — AED 1 per locker per hour; and secure car parking available on-site – AED 10 per car per night.

You won’t see brand creep from these hotels and independents will do well to keep up as the sector diversifies.

4. Ritz-Carlton DIFC

The development of Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre has been one of those stories that won’t go away.

After months of rumours of potential sales, possible buyers and various sums of money, Union Properties agreed to sell the Ritz-Carlton hotel development for less than the asking price of AED1.5bn (US $410m).

But behind the stories was a Ritz-Carlton hotel standing 14-storeys high begging to be occupied and that is something worth getting excited about.

Epitomising understated luxury, the hotel is finally opening this month. Guests benefit from a direct walkway access to The Gate buildings, and with 341 rooms, the hotel is destined to become a Dubai staple for business travellers.

Other reasons to be cheerful include Blue Rain, a signature Thai fine-dining restaurant; Can Can, a French brasserie; the Center Cut steakhouse; Lobby Lounge & Terrace and No 5 Cigar Bar.

5. One&Only The Palm

One&Only The Palm blends Moorish and Andalusian architecture with contemporary interiors, which makes for a superb hotel in a high-profile location.

Consisting of 90 keys, the stylish guest rooms are secluded in a residential environment within the tri-level Manor House, as well as in six low-rise Mansions and four private Beach Villas.

The resort’s private leisure facilities include an 850m², temperature controlled pool, 450 metres of beach front and the all-suite One&Only Spa and fitness centre.

Guests can also sample local and international cuisine with the resort boasting three restaurants — Zest, Stay by Yannick Alléno and 1O1, all under the culinary guidance of Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno.

Zest has expansive floor-to-ceiling windows creating an elegant and inviting ambience while 1O1 offers sweeping panoramic views of the Gulf.

Stay by Yannick Alléno provides a fine-dining experience with signature dishes showcasing traditional cooking methods reinterpreted in contemporary fashion.

6. Ibn Battuta Gate

Larger than Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Ibn Battuta Gate’s iconic entrance certainly creates an impression on those entering and leaving the west of Dubai.

Swiss-operator Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts runs the Seven Tides-owned property. It remains to be seen whether those residing in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai Marina and JBR will make the short Metro hop to partake in the hotel’s facilities, but initial impressions suggest the property’s outlets could become staples, especially for residents of Discovery Gardens. Guests of the 396-key hotel also have easy access to the mall.

7. Four Seasons Beirut

The opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut in January this year marked the end of a longwinded construction process that was continuously disrupted by a variety of political turmoil, civil unrest and the short but destructive war with Israel during 2006.

It was an opening that highlighted the positivity within the hotel sector in Lebanon and many hope that hospitality will be given chance to flourish.

“The overall positive atmosphere in Lebanon has given many investors the green light to go ahead with their projects and one of those was the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut,” general manager Stefan Simkovics told us in the first quarter.

8. Kempinski Nile

Luxury hotel chain Kempinski opened the first five-star boutique hotel in Egyptian capital Cairo, the Kempinski Nile.

Offering 137 rooms and 54 suites, the Kempinski Nile overlooks the banks of the famous river.

Designed by French architect Pierre Yves Rochon, guests can choose from four restaurants and four bars, including a rooftop bar and shisha bar. The hotel also offers a spa and health club, private balconies, a pillow concierge and a butler service for residents.

Recent figures suggest that Egypt is currently seeing something of a tourism boom — helped by the weakness of the UK pound, British tourism to Egypt was up 20% in 2009 for example.

9. Grand Millennium Al Wahda

The 850-room Grand Millennium Al Wahda has 585 rooms, 265 residences and is the largest hotel in Abu Dhabi.

While normally size isn’t everything, you have to say in Abu Dhabi it is.

The additional rooms had a positive impact on rates (if you are a guest) and will help to secure the long-term ambitions of the UAE capital’s tourism strategy.

The hotel also boasts the largest health club in the city with a 2700m² spa, swimming pool and large gym.

Guest rooms are high-tech, with features such as multi-line telephones with data ports, wireless internet connection, 37-inch LCD televisions, Bose sound systems, and heated towel racks.

Dining venues include the Porterhouse American Bar and Grill; the Asian restaurant Toshi; Portobello Italian eatery; and the Al Wahda for all-day dining.

10. Rose Rayhaan by Rotana

Rotana, the UAE-based hotel group, opened the world’s tallest hotel at the start of 2010.

The Rose Rayhaan by Rotana on Sheikh Zayed Road is 72 storeys and 333 metres high and offers 481 rooms, suites and penthouses — it has also made it into the Guiness Book of Records.

The new hotel operates under the group’s alcohol-free brand, the second in the group after Al Marwa Rayhaan, KSA.

“This alcohol-free option reflects our respect for the culture and beliefs of our guests and our dedication to fostering a new Arabia in today’s world,” said Daniel Mathew, general manager.

The Rose Rayhaan was one of the few properties that received anywhere near the amount of coverage that the Armani Hotel garnered in 2010.

While obviously being a very different hotel, by all accounts it has been doing very well, despite having to spend a lot of time cleaning the significant number of windows in the property.

The results are certainly worth it though as the hotel boasts unspoiled views of The World and Sheikh Zayed Road below.

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