The gates are shut, the phone line is perpetually busy and you can't book a room until Feb. 1.
The Riyadh Ritz-Carlton has suddenly become very exclusive -- and by popular account, a luxury prison. Earlier this week, just as Saudi Arabia declared an anti-corruption purge that targeted some of the kingdom's wealthiest and most powerful men, guests were booted out and reservations were canceled. Travel agents were told the palatial compound had been taken over for government use. On Thursday, a receptionist at the Courtyard Marriott across the road said it had also been fully booked by "local higher authorities," stoking rumors that the list of detainees was growing.
Saudis gleefully shared screenshots showing the Ritz as fully booked, because word was that the VIP detainees -- including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, 10 other princes, four ministers and dozens of former officials and businessmen -- were being held there. People have been quipping about who's going to be added to the "Ritz guest list." The government's Center for International Communication did not respond to a request for comment on where the detainees are being held.
Just weeks ago, the hotel hosted some of the world's top officials and businessmen for an investment conference dubbed " Davos in the desert." On a typical day, the lobby is an informal salon of government officials, consultants and prominent businessmen who hobnob over high tea in halls decorated with leaping bronze horses and pastel trimmings in the style of Louis XIV gone wild. Guests who float in the extravagant indoor pool -- male-only -- look up at a painted blue sky dotted with clouds.
But since Sunday, the property has been shut tight, its massive gates uncharacteristically closed and without a security guard in sight. The hotel's main phone line has played a busy tone all week. A duty manager reached on a mobile number said the hotel was closed and he had no further information. Marriott, which operates the Ritz, declined to comment, citing guest privacy.
Whoever has booked the entire hotel must have decided they need more time. On Sunday, an online search on the hotel's website showed the next availability on Dec. 1. By Tuesday, it was Dec. 15. On Wednesday, it was February.
That will give guests time to save up. When the hotel reopens, the royal suite will be available for 20,000 riyals ($5,332) a night; thriftier rooms at the Courtyard Marriott are available from Jan. 1.
(Updates with Courtyard Marriott now also fully booked in second paragraph.)
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