The downturn of global tourism during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 significantly impacted certain regions where the hospitality industry was going through a renaissance. Armed conflict and political tensions in Iraq, the Levant, and Yemen had already driven tourists away from established destinations such as the United Arab Emirates, and the pandemic managed to exacerbate the situation even further.
It took quite a few months for tourism industry leaders to realize that they had to come together in order to face the crisis and make the best of it. The challenge was underscored by reality; in order to stay in business, hospitality leaders had to adjust accordingly and offer safe and hygienic accommodations to travelers, guests, and patrons, but the diminished activity was unsustainable on its own. Thankfully, we now have the prospect of vaccination campaigns on the horizon, and this has brought about hope that 2021 will be a much better year.
In 2020, the annual Arabian Hospitality Investment Conference was held in a virtual manner through a series of video conference calls via Zoom and other platforms. The feeling was somewhat surreal because traditional tourism conferences typically take place in a major tourism attraction such as a landmark hotel, and the activities include taking potential investors on tours of spots that travelers are bound to enjoy. For 2021, the AHIC event is tentatively scheduled to be held at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai in September. The tentative label must be attached to all major gatherings in 2021 because it is nearly impossible to chart the course and genetic mutations of SARS-CoV-2, but the outlook is positive in this regard.
There are many reasons to be hopeful about a recovery of the Arabian hospitality industry in 2021. The contagion rate in many regional countries has been taking a downward turn, and public health officials are working closely with vaccine providers to ensure they have adequate supplies not just for healthcare workers but also for people employed in the hospitality sector. Health and hygiene measures have been implemented across hotels, resorts, shops, restaurants, pubs, and tourism attractions. The region is eager to welcome international visitors once again, and tourism operators have been preparing for their return.
In the last press release AHIC issued before the World Health Organization announced that SARS-CoV-2 had become a pandemic, the investment forecast over the next two years suggested that more than $20 billion would be spent on new hotel construction in countries such as Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These projects were certainly delayed by the pandemic, but everything points to a resumption of activity as soon as public health conditions improve.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel in 2020 is already bearing fruit for the regional hospitality sector. As reported by the Washington Post in mid-December, thousands of Israeli visitors have been flocking to the UAE over the last few months; many of these travelers are Arabs born in Israel who could not previously visit because of passport restrictions, but shop keepers in the famous gold souk of Dubai have been pleasantly surprised to see Orthodox Jewish businessmen visiting with an explicit interest in jewelry.
One particular tourism market that is very eager to get back to normalcy is Ras al-Khaimah, the tourism jewel of the UAE. For this year’s AHIC, His Highness Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, will be a featured speaker, and he has a lot to tell about the tourism boom that has been developing in his emirate over the last few years.
Long before his ascension, His Highness Saud bin Saqr had already spent a couple of decades working on the socioeconomic development of his emirate; he has always been a firm believer in the power tourism has in terms of promoting development, and he knows that Ras al-Khaimah has a lot to offer in this regard. In ancient times, the natural beauty of Ras al-Khaimah attracted visitors from all around the Arabian Peninsula; thanks to the geographical location and topography of the emirate, the climate is far more refreshing when compared to Dubai. Basically, Ras al-Khaimah is like a giant oasis in the UAE, and it is filled with family-friendly tourism attractions, which means that it will soon attract many visitors from Israel and around