The recently opened Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus took eight years to build, has a royal suite charging more per night than the average Syrian will earn in nearly a decade and was referred to as “My Baby” by a president implacably opposed to the Israeli state in whose spiritual capital the Jewish boss of the famous company hopes one day to take his brand.
In a country where anomalies rule (probable assassination of “brothers” in Lebanon, information ministry with no information, Benetton-chic etc), the $100 million, 297-room luxury hotel just became king.
But if the story of the hotel’s construction — the massive investment from the House of Saud’s Prince Waleed, rumors of presidential intervention to maintain peace in the deal as the country’s business mafia descended on it, the heat on management as US-made air conditioners were unable to be serviced due to Washington trade sanctions — is not enough to grab you, then the service should be. For the Four Seasons is both a unique and potentially devastating gift to the established order of the Syrian capital.
Rising high above the Damascus skyline, the huge, blocklike building clad in Damascene marble and green glass has managed to carve out a distinct space for itself in the tourism sector, unique within the tight confines of Syria’s Soviet-era, centralized economy: it can both hire and fire its own employees.
With the other big hotels in town partly controlled by the government — meaning their employees are considered public sector workers and only to be fired by personal decree of the prime minister himself (that is, never) — the motivation of Syria’s service industry staff to excel has been somewhat lacking over the years.
In the Four Seasons, however, service is attentive to the point of obsession. Sipping scotch in the thickly-carpeted Old Bar beneath the curious gaze of Victorian-era portraits of desert kings, we find our ashtray is replaced fifteen times in half an hour.
But if the staff is a little over-eager, the feel of the hotel’s interior is not. Rooms are chic and modern, with just the required hint of Arabia, each one providing surprisingly verdant views across Damascus or the park below, with its purpose-built mosque and series of apartment buildings.
The lounges are airy and light — watch out for the piano player hitting a bum note as he gawks at the most recent batch of wedding guests to arrive in style. There’s a swimming pool, a gym, a business center and high-speed wireless Internet access in every room.
The successful launch of the Four Seasons has undoubtedly taken Syria into a new era of twenty-first century hotels, and there are high hopes that a trickle-down effect could transform the country’s slacking service industry.
But with pressures and politics steering the country’s future into limbo land, the question every craning neck in town is asking is: Who is going to stay there?
Shukri Al Quatli Street
Damascus, Syria, PO Box 6311
Tel +963 (11) 339 1000