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Wed 14 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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New life begins at 40 for QE2

QE2 chief executive Manfred Ursprunger outlines the gargantuan project ahead now that the iconic ocean liner has arrived at its final port of call in Dubai at the distinguished age of 40.

QE2 chief executive Manfred Ursprunger outlines the gargantuan project ahead now that the iconic ocean liner has arrived at its final port of call in Dubai at the distinguished age of 40.

What is your role in the QE2 project?

I am the chief executive for QE2 Enterprises with Nakheel Hotels. I came here about one year ago and was charged with setting up the company and developing the business plan and vision for this project.

It is easy to slip into a theme park model, so we have to keep on our toes.

What are some of the first issues you had to address?

This is a 40-year old vessel and typically in ships of that age, the main thing that needs to be renewed to be viable is the level of comfort - the air conditioning for example.

The QE2 was built for trans-Atlantic voyages, but Dubai's climate obviously requires much stronger cooling equipment. The other thing is plumbing; that's typically the Achilles heel for a ship at that age, along with electricity. These are the kind of things that are being addressed from a technical point of view.

We also looked at the various refurbishments the ship had undergone over the years. As a result there are a lot of areas that are no longer within the philosophy of the original vision for the ship.

So we identified the areas on the ship that we felt were still very close to the original design and we said those we will restore. The rest of the ship has been altered in many ways and is not recognisable, so there's no real historic value in those areas.

Will the cabins be redesigned?

Yes, there is very little historical value there. We also looked at the engine rooms; the engines have no historical value because they were replaced in 1986 so we decided to take that space.

Then we looked at the funnel, which is fairly deteriorated, but we wanted to preserve it because it is iconic so we will remove it and within the precinct there will be a museum.

But naturally a ship needs a funnel, otherwise it doesn't look like a ship, so we will build a replica and inside will be a very luxurious penthouse apartment.

What details can you release about the finished project?

Well, they are not all designed yet. This is conceptual. On the Palm Jumeirah we will have a precinct where the QE2 will take the centre stage.

The precinct will consist of two residential towers and the base of them will be a ‘D'-shaped building that will house the museum and an art exhibition area. It will have coffee shops and restaurants.

On the land bridge there will be a very luxurious low-rise development. The whole precinct will have very beautiful English gardens.

It will be very suitable to the QE2 and will celebrate the ‘British-ness' of the project. On each side there will be a mega-yacht marina and the ship will be moored at the end of the land bridge.

There we will have proper gangways like a ship in port, although more extended, so people will have the feeling of walking onto a ship rather than having a building in front of it like you often see in cruise terminals.

The ship will have 200 luxury hotel rooms on the top area. There will also be 130 residential apartments with one-, two- and three-bedrooms.

On the front of the ship we will make use of the bow; there will be an indoor and outdoor wellness centre and spa. The precinct will take people back to the grand old days of tradition when people dressed up and showed off their jewellery. We want to do this in an authentic, non-theme park way.

How do you plan to avoid the reputation of being simply another novelty hotel?

As I said, it is easy to slip into a theme park model, so we have to keep on our toes to ensure everything we do we vet through our historians. These people pull us back and keep us on the right track.

What we envision is somebody going away to have a night out for a special occasion or a special weekend or function.

Maybe you'll be able to book a package where you come on board, have a heritage tour and end up in a yacht club where there is an indoor and outdoor pre-dinner cocktail area.

You can have a sunset cocktail then follow it with a beautiful dinner and enjoy a wonderful West End-style show.

We will create a very luxurious West End-style theatre where every seat in the house will be a premium seat.

It will be intimate; small enough that you have a connection with your performers and yet the stage and the backstage will be big enough to put on lavish productions.

So you may have spent six hours from the late afternoon to the late evening and it has taken you back to an era that doesn't exist anymore.

What do you see as the biggest challenges of the project?

The challenge now is to study the project carefully from every aspect, including outlining the physical plan to realise our vision. The reality is that this is an old ship that has been renovated many times and our engineers are now going onboard to look at the details.

The other challenges are making sure both the ship and the land sides are in harmony. We also want to further develop the QE2 brand.

Is this a unique project?

Yes - there is nothing like this in the world. There are other projects that have used the idea of having a ship as a hotel, but mostly they are museums that people can walk through and they have been kept completely preserved. This is very different.

What will your target market be?

We are targeting a very wide spectrum. Most ocean liners have a policy that you have to buy a full package to actually experience it, but in our case it will be very different because people can actually book for dinner or a theatre experience and they will see what the ship is all about. For some it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for others it will be their apartments.

Is it strange to set up this iconic piece of British history in Dubai?

Not at all because we think that Dubai is a very fitting place. Not only do British citizens comprise the largest expat community here, but Dubai and the UAE itself has such a strong maritime history. It's a very proud nation of seafarers so it's very fitting for us to have the QE2 here.

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