Abu Dhabi: Its distinctive concrete facade has not changed in years, even though much about its grounds, and even the city, has transformed beyond recognition. Built for a royal wedding, the Radisson Blu Hotel and Resort in Al Ain was opened in March 1971.
Back then, the property — owned initially by the Hilton Group and known as the Hilton Al Ain — was the first luxury hotel in the UAE. It was inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was then the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Surrounded by sand
Surrounding it was sand as far as the eye could see. Yet, the hotel brought comfort and hospitality to dignitaries attending the royal wedding and became one of the most popular venues in the garden city.
It boasted 76 rooms spread across five floors and a restaurant catering to local tastes, Tim Corden, senior vice-president for the Radisson Group Middle East and North Africa, told Gulf News.
“The hotel became the place to meet and hosted the first theatre event in the city. Its ballroom was a popular venue for occasions and its conference rooms hosted many an important meet,” he said.
Only concrete structure
The hotel building was the only concrete structure in the city, apart from the Kanad Hospital, formerly known as the Oasis Hospital. It reportedly housed a restaurant that served buffet lunch and dinner, a coffee shop and an outdoor swimming pool.
The wraparound balconies on each of the floors added clear architectural lines to the building and a series of arches at the top echoed regional stylistic elements.
Media reports said the cost of the property was 18 million Bahraini dinar, the currency used in Abu Dhabi from 1966 until the introduction of the UAE dirham.
The hotel went on to host many famous guests in the early years. “It hosted renowned boxer Muhammad Ali and Queen Elizabeth II. The facility was also very popular with the local community,” Corden added.
Changes over the years
As time went by, the property underwent many changes, in keeping with the demands of a growing city. In 1991, 49 chalets were opened and 100 more rooms were added as part of an additional wing in 1994. The wing resembled the original building closely and fitted neatly next to it.
“With all the additions, the hotel grew to house 210 rooms, two cafes and two restaurants. Radisson Group took over the property in 2019,” Corden said.
Retaining signature elements
A complete overhaul was undertaken after the takeover to further modernise the hotel, but its traditional elements were retained, including its main facade and archways. “We wanted to refurbish the hotel for today’s guests, yet preserve elements that will keep the property identifiable for families that have visited it through the years,” Corden explained.
Similar changes were also undertaken at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dubai’s Deira Creek, which had first opened in 1975, and at the Radisson Blu on Abu Dhabi Corniche — also a Hilton property, formerly, and the first luxury hotel to open in Abu Dhabi in 1973.
Today’s visitors to the Radisson Blu property in Al Ain will find lush gardens surrounding the hotel buildings, swimming pools and a series of sports courts.
Apart from hosting guests to the UAE, Corden said the Al Ain property has been a key employer. It now employees between 250 and 350 people.
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“The hotel has always been very popular and it saw 80 per cent occupancy prior to the pandemic. We look forward to welcoming more guests as tourism picks up again in the UAE,” he added.