In case you didn’t see it, on May 19 Hotel-Online published the press release for Abraj Kudai, the structure that will become, on its scheduled opening in 2017, the largest hotel in the world at 10,000 rooms. AK, if you will, is being constructed in Mecca (here I use the traditional spelling), Saudi Arabia, approximately one mile from the Grand Mosque, the holiest shrine in Islam. By definition, it’s aimed at the religiously observant; non-Muslims are not permitted in Makkah (and here I use the transliteration). Beyond the observant, the hotel is obviously targeting a well-heeled clientele:  twelve towers, ten of which will be designed with four-star accommodations and the remaining two will offer five-star rooms and amenities. Oh, and by the way, five floors are reserved exclusively for the Saudi royal family.

At this point, I have a big basic question. Are 12 different towers and a mini-palace all one hotel, or are they 12 hotels sharing a parking lot, heliport pads and a common restaurant, or in this case, 70 restaurants? The fact that two of the twelve towers are begin designed for an entirely different level of accommodation and service makes me wonder if the AK would be rated a 4.167-star hotel, based on 10 fours and 2 fives?  If they are different self-contained units with different ratings, aren’t they different hotels?

I’m not completely oblivious to the idea that there can be different levels of service within one organization. Let’s borrow history’s most famous example of multiple class structures in transportation and tourism:  RMS Titanic.  Titanic offered four basic classes of service: Nice, Nicer, Nicest and No Frills. As a result of Titanic’s less-than-stellar maiden voyage, we no longer classify life jackets and lifeboats as “frills,” but that was then and this is now. The AK has somewhat managed the problem by simply eliminating "No Frills" and "Nice." The only choice for AK guests who are not members of the Saudi royal family will be between "Nicer" and "Nicest," but I still wonder if those choices don’t mean different hotels joined by a common lobby.
Speaking of different hotels with a common lobby, I am also familiar with that model. Las Vegas has several examples of the good hotel inside the ho-hum hotel. (Now there’s a snappy name for a "No Frills" chain. I dibs it, which is just one step below a registered trademark.) I stayed in one Las Vegas hybrid high-rise hideaway and asked a clerk on duty about the good hotel. In this case, the good hotel was several floors sandwiched in the midst of the remaining ho-hummery. My question was straightforward: “Since they’re the same rooms built on the same floor plan in the same building, what makes them so much better than what I’m staying in?” His answer was equally straightforward:  “Better shampoo.”

But let’s talk about those hotels throughout the world, AK included, where upscale is in a separate tower or building.  If we follow the doctrine of “separate but not equal,” then it would seem that they are clearly different, right down to their identity, rate and associated star power. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs but clearly different hotels shouldn’t use a combination room count to brag about their size. 

Collaterally, I wonder about the worldwide trend toward super-sized accommodations, both on land and sea. One can certainly argue that bigger is better for both provider and recipient.  The provider makes more money on a greatly expanded inventory made more profitable by a common staff and an efficient common platform of delivery. The recipient also benefits (supposedly) by that same expanded inventory, insofar as the egalitarian laws of supply and demand drive the price down as availability increases. Clearly those laws haven’t been passed in Saudi Arabia, or the AK has been exempted. And finally, there is the benefit of unintended consequences, where new demand arises for the antithesis of super sizing – the boutique hotel and the intimate river cruise. I’ve gone big and I’ve gone small and each has definite benefits.  What say you? Is the AK the world’s largest hotel or just its newest accommodation complex? And what’s your preference? Small and intimate or large and luxurious?