Nothing much lies on Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia. A few sunbaked outposts and miles and miles of vast, empty desert in all directions.
Then, earlier this year, something very different appeared in the middle of this nowhere: A huge, gleaming luxury hotel complex, complete with its own theme park.
The Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas is clearly no ordinary hotel.
Seen from the air it resembles an entire coastal town. Pristine twin beaches peel away from a central harbor. Above the sands, bright white villas and buildings cluster around blue swimming pools. Behind them, oasis greenery. It’s one of the Middle East’s largest resorts.
So what happens, when a gigantic upscale hotel appears miles from anywhere just as a pandemic freezes global travel?
It gets really busy, according to Etienne-Charles Gailliez, the resort’s general manager. On opening its doors in February it became a staycation hit with locals, he says. More recently it’s been a popular destination for visitors and business travelers from the wider region.
There’s plenty of room. Hilton Salwa Beach has 84 villas, ranging from two to four bedrooms, with private pools and direct access to the white-sand beach (prices from US$1,500-a-night). There are 31 Arabian village-style apartments and villas, while the main hotel has 246 rooms and suites.
The huge grounds also contain more than 20 food and drink outlets, including seven gourmet dining options, a high-end spa with VIP suites, sport courts, swimming pools surrounded by landscaped gardens, corporate facilities and a marina.
On top of that, there’s Qatar’s largest theme park, featuring dozens of attractions, including “King Cobra,” a thrilling twin tube ride that sends riders into the mouth of a massive snake-like structure.