Oxfam states that the accumulated wealth of the top 85 of the richest in the world equals the total worth of $ 3.5 billion of the poorest! It goes beyond 4 billion of the poorest, when one adds the total wealth of the next 250 richest in the world to the top 85.
What it signifies is the flow of wealth from the broader population to a very tiny subset is stronger than ever, and, it is no less different in Sri Lanka. In the end, each year, the rich are getting richer and with this dramatic income stratification, hotels are looking at ways and means to serve themselves to some rich pickings.
More and more hotels in the market are chasing the very high-end leisure traveller where the only restraint on consumption is how conspicuous they want to be. There are ofcourse a few among the world’s richest eight five who ‘buck the trend’ and want their money to stretch when they pay pretty pennies at hotels. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, does not mind driving a second-hand Volvo and always flies budget. Warren Buffett ranked the world’s wealthiest person in 2008 and as the third wealthiest person in 2011, still lives in the house he bought in 1958 for $31,500, doesn’t eat fancy food and drives himself to work every day. However, for the majority of the ‘jet set of jet sets’, price is not an issue. They are high net worth individuals who are accustomed to opulence and want nothing less.
Take the recently opened jewel suite at the New York Palace which Martha White describes “As a three story 5,000 square foot penthouse that resembles a jewel box with its own private elevator and views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The floor in the entry way on the 53rd floor is glittering black marble arranged in a sunburst pattern, while a 20 –foot crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The living room sofa is a brilliant sapphire blue and a tufted ivory chaise has a pearlescent sheen.
Two floors up, in the second living room next to a vast private terrace, the wet bar (one of two in the Suite) and the half-bath are swathed in a sparkling wall covering, and an angular lavender sofa calls to mind an amethyst crystal. Iridescent tiles lining the private roof top hot tub give the impression of sinking into a giant opal.
And then there are the Jewels themselves: more than a million dollars of the jewellery designer’s work is displayed in five museum-like cases in the entryway and a boudoir area in the master suite has lighting and floor-to-ceiling mirrors designed specifically for jewellery showings”. Such grandeur, excess - or over-the-top display, depending on your point of view, is all for the taking, starting at $ 28,000 a night, which incidentally can feed over 28,000 homeless people in India with a wholesome meal.
Dubai break fireworks record
The birthplace of fireworks is generally recognized as China, with the first explosive mixture found being black powder, during the Sung dynasty (960-1279). The first application of this technology was for entertainment. Once the recipe for black powder was perfected, the Chinese found that it was easily used as rocket fuel, and they made hand carved wooden rockets in the shape of a dragon, in the sixth century. These rockets shot rocket powered arrows from their mouth, and were used against the Mongol invaders of 1279.
The principle behind these rockets is still used in rocket powered fireworks today as Dubai set a new Guinness world record for the largest fireworks display, as the emirate saw in the New Year. Over 500,000 fireworks were used during the display which lasted around six minutes.
The spectacle’s final salvo of fireworks created an artificial ‘sunrise’ along the seafront, with the highest fireworks reaching more than one kilometre in height. The previous record was set by Kuwait when it celebrated its golden jubilee anniversary in 2012. Dubai’s firework spectacle broke Kuwait’s record with the launch of enough fireworks within the first minute. If that wasn’t impressive enough they went on for another full five minutes to create the biggest bang in the history of pyrotechnics. Kuwait has held the record since last year, when it fired more than 77,000 fireworks in a display lasting more than an hour. Dubai’s feat effortlessly overshadowed the 180 fireworks per second, eight-minute show that Las Vegas put on to herald the start of 2014. In Sydney on NYE 2014, organisers set off 7 metric tons of pyrotechnics in 12 seconds with the Sydney City Council spending $6.8 million, (paid for, by Sydney City Council rate payers), to briefly light up the night sky. In all, Dubai, Las Vegas and Sydney, (not counting the several other of the world’s capitol cities), burned tens of millions of dollars within a mere 15 minutes.
One of the entertainment items during CHOGM held recently in Sri Lanka was the fireworks display at the Parliament complex on the Diyawanna which went on for over half an hour – prompting Iris Dotan an Israeli Businesswoman to exclaim “the Sri Lanka government must be very rich”. All this goes to show that public money spent ‘over-the-top’, on public firework displays hardly yields any real returns – except perhaps a Guinness world record and a windfall for those involved in the fireworks and pyrotechnics industry.
Gingerbread for the goats
One can always tell when the holidays are approaching in the UAE, with giant Christmas trees going up in hotel lobbies, festive decorations hanging in the region’s shopping malls, and the Hotelier team’s inboxes filling up with emails from the region’s hotels showing off their Christmas and New Year events. Every year it seems as if UAE hotels are competing against each other to host the most lavish or decadent Christmas or New Year’s event; and this is an industry hardly known for subtlety, with a steady stream of the biggest, tallest and most expensive world records being broken by the region’s hotels.
However, in their eagerness to push boundaries, can the region’s hotels overstep the mark and come up with something that could quite literally leave a bad taste in the mouth? The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah used 150kg of honey, 80kg of sugar, 20kg of eggs, 35 litres of milk, 3.5kg of sodium bicarbonate and 265kg of flour to make 5700 pieces of hand baked gingerbread decorated with 150kg of icing and sweets for putting up a 500 kilogram gingerbread house in the lobby.
The whole construction took the hotel’s team 240 hours to hand make and construct. It intrigues me, when a great deal of food is prepared to glorify a Christmas decoration, when all the while; there is this talk and hype by hotels about sustainability and reducing waste. Frankly, this type of wasteful activity is just one example where most hotels mouth ‘sustainability’ as a purely marketing gimmick –aimed to make their cause appear more splendid or imposing than reality! Getting back to Waldorf Astoria’s gingerbread house - at the end of the holiday period, it was donated to the local Bedouin community to feed their goats.
Call me a silly Billy, but this certainly was not the most charitable use of food. The gingerbread stunt brings to mind the US $ 11 million Christmas tree covered in jewellery and gems that was erected by Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace in its lobby, in 2010. This luxuriously self indulgent display drew a strong PR backlash, forcing the hotel to express regret in its ‘attempts to overload the tradition’. How nice would it be, if hotels can campaign and compete to host the most generous community event, and invest their efforts and monies towards any long term positive impact cause rather than play nanny to goats.
(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as Head of Branding for a leading Hotel Group in Sri Lanka. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.in2ition.biz)