Attention-grabbing hotels: sleeping with show-offs

Hotel beds now come with boasting rights, where the only limit is imagination, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.

Look at me, people, look at me. Is there no end to how far today's hotel will go for attention? The $30 million opening party of the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai late last year was more narcissistic than most, with fireworks to rival China's Olympics and more celebrities than the Oscars. But it wasn't the party that had people talking. It was, and is, the solo whale shark wallowing in the hotel lobby aquarium.

(Photos: Dubai's Atlantis Hotel)

For a hefty price tag, Atlantis Hotel guests can stay in rooms with a window view of this lonely creature meant for the depths of the world's oceans. To swim with whale sharks at Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef is to meet the creatures in their own environment but when done the other way around, is it savvy marketing, hotel gimmick or a genuine attraction?

The Atlantis is not the only headline-seeking hotel. The Six Senses (sixsenses.com) group of eco resorts offers guests to its glamorous Zighy Bay resort in Oman three choices of arrival – come by speedboat James Bond-style, drive through the desert and down from the impressive hills into the village in the company Hummer or paraglide in attached to the strapping arms of the resident paragliding male model.

Travel is often about boasting rights and the ability to talk it up back home, so the more unusual the hotel experience, the better. Two brothers in the Swiss town of Sevelen have transformed a former nuclear bunker into the Zero-Star Hotel, called the Null Stern (null-stern-hotel.ch). Choose between standard military-issue beds and a lucky dip shower for the hot water, or the luxury option of antique beds for €20 ($34) complete with coffee in bed in the morning and hot water bottles at night.

Hotels carved out of ice in Scandinavia are old hat when you can stay in a drainpipe in Austria. The Daspark Hotel (dasparkhotel.net) consists of three separate drainpipes deposited in a riverside park. Each has been designed by art graduate Andrea Strauss. Guests book online and receive their personal door code to their section of pipe. Check-out involves simply leaving an amount of money guests believe befits their experience.

There has been much talk of the Hydropolis (hydropolis.com) underwater luxury resort in Dubai and the Poseidon (poseidonresorts.com) in Fiji, both originally marketed to open this year. The Poseidon, which will have 24 suites built 12 metres under the water, set in a coral lagoon teeming with wildlife, has set back the opening date to next year.

The Hydropolis is a proposed 220-room resort in the Persian Gulf complete with, wait for it, a cosmetic surgery clinic – the theory being that underwater is the best place to hide while those scars heal. Dubai Tourism says the resort is still at concept stage but will open eventually.

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From one extreme to another, the Galactic Suite space resort (galacticsuite.com) plans to welcome its first guests in 2012, treating them to 15 sunsets a day as it orbits the globe. At about $4 million for the experience, including astronaut training, it's not for the budget-minded.

Back on earth, the partnering of hotel with high-end brand names has been happening for a while now. Hotels and fashion stars continue to thrive on the heels of the Bulgari Hotel in Bali and Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast, with newcomer Missoni having opened its own hotel doors in Scotland in June – and hotels in Cape Town and Oman to follow.

Dianne Von Furstenberg designed rooms for Claridges Hotel in London, while Commes des Garcons has long worked with Christina Ong, of Como Hotels, to dress her staff in the schmick Metropolitan Hotels of London and Bangkok.

Then there are the chefs who lend their name to draw in the crowds, such as Gordon Ramsay at Claridges and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, both in London.

Car companies got in on the action with Volkswagen's Hotel Fox (hotelfox.dk). The hotel was built in 2005 to promote the car maker's Fox 21 and 21 artists were invited to design the 61 rooms. Think pure fantasy in every room with totally over-the-top modern art design to match.

Some marketing pair-ups are less enduring and have nothing to do with design. The Roger Smith Hotel (rogersmith.com) in New York teamed with Real Live Billboards for a publicity stunt earlier this year. It gave away a five-night stay in the hotel to a couple willing to stay in a replica of a guest room on the ground floor. The catch? They had to keep the curtains open from 4.30pm to 7.30pm daily, allowing passersby to watch them. Not bad work to stay in a swanky hotel close to Grand Central Station, the UN, the Chrysler Building and within walking distance of Times Square and Central Park.

(Photos: Show-offs - amazing hotels around the world)

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