11-million-dollar Christmas tree runs into trouble

A luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi which unveiled a Christmas tree decorated with jewels valued at 11 million dollars has decided to put the record straight against criticism of having gone over the top.

The Emirates Palace hotel said it regretted "attempts to overload the tradition followed by most hotels in the country," it said, in a statement quoted in Gulf News on Sunday.

"Putting the Christmas tree... is a tradition meant to share in celebrating occasions guests hold while they are away from their home countries and families," said the hotel in the United Arab Emirates capital.

Under a headline of "Trouble over 11 million dollar Christmas tree," Gulf News said the hotel stressed this was "within the framework of the UAE's policy which is based on the values of openness and tolerance."

Emirates Palace stressed that the jewels were on loan from an Abu Dhabi gallery which had paid all the costs of making and decorating the tree. The jewels would be recovered by their owner at the end of the festive season.

"The hotel is just a venue for exhibiting the tree," it said.

The tree, inaugurated on Wednesday, holds a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones, said Khalifa Khouri, owner of Style Gallery which provided the jewellery.

Emirates Palace hotel general manager Hans Olbertz said the tree, which he described as the "most expensive Christmas tree ever," will probably be an entry into the Guinness book of world records.

The 13-metre (40-foot) faux evergreen, located in the gold leaf-bedecked rotunda of the hotel, is not the first extravagant offering from the three-billion-dollar Emirates Palace.

The hotel in the oil-rich Gulf emirate where the local population is Muslim, bills itself as a seven-star establishment and has a package for a week-long stay priced at one million dollars.

The package comes with a personal butler and a chauffeur-driven Maybach luxury car as well as a private jet available for trips to other countries in the region.

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