UAE then and now: Hilton, the hotel that brought air-conditioned luxury to the dunes of Al Ain

The arrival of an international hotel chain in the 1970s – one of the few concrete buildings Al Ain – was nothing short of a sensation

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE we take a little trip back in time to see just how much the country has changed.

Early advertisements for the new hotel promised much. It was a “most modern architectural masterpiece” with “breath-taking views” of Al Ain’s mountains and oasis.

But this was a rare case when the breathless branding was no understatement. The arrival of a five-star hotel to the Garden City must have been nothing short of a sensation.

It brought luxuries unimaginable just a few decades before. The rooms were air-conditioned and it had a swimming pool and a banquet hall. The hotel boasted the only conference rooms in the city and it was one of the few concrete buildings there at the time.

Construction started in 1968 and it was ready three years later to host a royal wedding. It even opened two years before the capital’s Hilton. Aerial photos showed the new hotel surrounded by nothing by desert.

The older photo, taken in early December 1978, shows the classic architectural lines of the original building. The balconies of each room seem to wrap around the building in clear lines. It also featured local motifs, such as arches that can be seen at the top. The black and white photograph also shows men in uniform sitting close to the flag poles and people relax on the hotel’s lawn. We do not know for certain but it is plausible the gathering was related to National Day as it was taken in the days around December 2.

But nothing stays the same. The hotel underwent several renovations and expansions through the years. Chalets were added and a massive new wing later expanded the hotel. The new photograph shows that original building and the new wing added to the right. But the distinctive arches can still be seen at the top of the original hotel.

Then came perhaps the greatest change in the hotel’s remarkable history. Hilton announced from January 1, 2019 the hotel – along with its sister property in the capital – would no longer carry its flag, bringing an end to more than four decades of history.

But Radisson Blu took over the management in 2019 and a complete overhaul was completed. Rooms, chalets and the lobby were refreshed, setting a hotel older than the UAE on a bright new path for the future.

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