Dubai Tourism Full Steam Ahead with QE2 Buy

DUBAI ~ The booming Gulf emirate of Dubai has bought the Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the world’s most majestic cruise liners, and plans to turn it into a luxury floating hotel.

Dubai said it has paid Cunard Line US$100 million for the liner, the latest move in its ambition to become a global tourism desert hotspot ranking alongside Las Vegas.

“Dubai is a maritime nation and we understand the rich heritage of QE2. She is coming to a home where she will be cherished,” Dubai World chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said in a statement.

The QE2 has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times in its 40-year lifetime and carried over 2.5 million passengers.

But it will sail no more once it is berthed at a huge multimillion-dollar palm-shaped artificial island and turned into a luxury hotel from 2009, according to the plans unveiled by Istithmar, the investment arm of state-owned Dubai World development company.

The Palm Jumeirah, which is one and a half times the size of New York’s Central Park and can be seen from space, will eventually include thousands of luxury apartments and villas as well a hotel part-owned by billionaire Donald Trump.

The 293-metrt-long ship weighs around 70,000 tons and has a combined guest and crew capacity of 2,794, Cunard said on its website.

Dubai’s latest purchase is just another step in the city-state’s sprint to become a major tourist and leisure destination to rank alongside Las Vegas and Orlando in the United States.

The ship, which was launched by Queen Elizabeth II herself in September 1967, is the longest-serving cruise liner in Cunard’s 168-year history and was its longest-serving flagship.

Since it came into service in 1969, the ship has undertaken 25 world cruises, has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and has carried more than 2.5 million passengers.

Istithmar said its refurbishment program would aim to recreate the ship’s original interior and would also include a museum celebrating its rich history.

Dubai has undertaken several other mega-projects in order to more than double the number of its tourists to 15 million by 2015.

Work on Dubailand, a cluster of billion-dollar schemes billed as the “world’s most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment project,” is well under way.

Scheduled for completion around 2025, Dubailand is estimated to cost 235 billion dirhams ($64 billion) and will also house the world’s largest transparent snow dome and a Universal Studio theme park.

Equally ambitious is Burj Dubai, or Dubai Tower, which is touted to become the world’s tallest skyscraper.

Launched in early 2004, the construction of the $1-billion tower by South Korea’s Samsung should be completed at the end of 2008.

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