News from the desert: Abu Dhabi and Arizona
News from the desert: Abu Dhabi and Arizona
11 FEBRUARY 2019 8:22 AM

The Gulf & Indian Hotel Investors’ Summit changed its venue in Abu Dhabi this year while the emirate hosted the first ever papal visit to a Muslim country. Across the world, the largest hole on the planet celebrates its 100th birthday.

I attended the Gulf & Indian Hotel Investors’ Summit, which is one of my favorite dates on the hotel industry calendar. That’s because of the content and attendees, not because it guarantees some winter sunshine and a break from weather in London.

Conference conversation centered on the rise of franchises in the Middle East, the ongoing differences between owners and operators in a market of disappointing metrics and increasing supply and the continued excitement over Africa, where first-mover advantage still is attainable.

GIOHIS is in its fourth year, but the 2019 event was its first at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which is in the Saadiyat Island area of this sprawling city.

Evidence of the city’s size is the fact that GIOHIS 2019 was dwarfed by Pope Francis's visit, the first papal visit to a Muslim country. Both events took place on exactly the same dates, but I saw nothing, not even a buildup of traffic.

The papal visit, at the request of the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, culminated in a mass for 180,000 inside and out of the Zayed Sports City Stadium. I still might have been oblivious to the fact if I had not read The National newspaper with my breakfast.

It is possible to hide such mega-events as there is lot of land here, although that might be a trick on the eyes. Westerners see lots of sand, but that does not mean it does not have a vital role with no need for a building, hotel or resort on it. Most is sand hereabouts, and if the legion of workers were not kept watering, planting and maintaining, the desert would return swiftly, one suspects.

Saadiyat Island has been designed as a resort and cultural redoubt. A row of resort hotels—including the Park Hyatt, but also the Rixos Saadiyat Island Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas and St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort—stand in a line. It’s a long line, with hotels very comfortably spread about, all built in desert colors, which is either because of a city ordinance or because it makes everything look better.

At the tip of the island on the side closest to downtown Abu Dhabi is the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, the only satellite of the Paris museum, which opened in November 2017.

This is where GIOHIS staged its final-day reception, and we kindly were given admission tickets to the museum itself. The building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, is an expansive dome with a roof of geometric webbing that allows the sunlight to enter.

My first thought was: Why would anyone want to come to the UAE to see French impressionism? But the museum works well. The chunk I saw—maybe I saw it all, I do not know—took an intelligent path from ancient pottery, fetishes, sarcophagi and armaments to religious artifacts and medieval tapestries to the Old Masters and modernist art, including works by Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Giovanni Bellini, Man Ray and Édouard Manet.

I must say I saw few if any female artists represented.

Those visiting later this month and onwards will get to see a temporary exhibition of works of Dutch masters featuring Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt (van Rijn).

Another beautiful expanse
From the first visit by a pope to a centennial of a scenic wonder, I also heard that there is news of that beautiful American attraction named the Grand Canyon.

Later this month, Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park turns 100. I am surprised to learn, though, that it was the 15th area of beauty to granted national park status by the U.S. government.

Today, the Grand Canyon is the second most-visited national park in the country after the Great Smoky Mountains with 6 million annual visitors. A whole host of activities are being staged to mark its centennial.

I stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim in 2011. This is quite an achievement, although it had not been me making the booking.

The North Rim opens to the public only between mid-May and mid-October, and accommodation sells out rapidly after the booking window opens. It consists of hotel rooms and bungalows, which is what I stayed in.

Whoops, too late for 2019. I just tried 10 or so speculative booking itineraries, and all came back a blank.

I would like to tell you about the food choices, too, but I was there with a friend to run across the canyon and then back again, a feat strongly discouraged by park rangers, and after 12 hours or so, some 42 miles and 11,000 feet of net elevation, I entered the restaurant hardly able to swallow, let alone digest anything.

But the lodge is one of those wonders of wood, where the welcome and warmth is immediately evident. Next morning I had more of an appetite, and the sun when it rose up makes the canyon a majestic wonder, something I would heartily recommend to any traveler.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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