AHIC 2020 was on the road for its 16th edition this year, taking place virtually and onsite over three days from September 29 to October 1. The three-day event was packed with critical insights from industry leaders and networking opportunities.The programme, which featured over 60 speakers, was broadcast live from pop-up studios across Dubai. Each day, hosted in a new location with select live audiences, was streamed onto a virtual platform purposed for both onsite and virtual attendees. The key highlights of the event included Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority’s extensive plans around Jebel Jais; the signing of the first Middle East hotel for Aleph Hospitality; the Middle East debut of Women in Hotels, a newly founded initiative to drive parity in the industry; Accor’s expansion in Saudi Arabia with first Swissôtel Living property as well as Accor and Dubai Developments extended partnership with Rixos Dubai Hotel & Suites Jewel of the Creek. RAS AL KHAIMAH Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority revealed investment plans for Jebel Jais during AHIC 2020. The emirate’s new phased investment strategy will focus primarily on developing Jebel Jais as a standalone destination by further diversifying its offering through several new nature-based projects including a pop-up hotel concept, scheduled to open in the second half of 2021, which will introduce unique cliff side accommodation with unrivalled picturesque mountain views. In addition, a mountain lodge, located adjacent to the emirate’s renowned hiking trails will provide luxury accommodation when it opens in 2022. Tourists will also get to experience the mountain from a completely different perspective by winding through gorgeous scenery with the Jais Coaster, a summer toboggan/bobsled concept inspired by the Alps, which will open in Q2 2021. Adding yet another first to its diverse offering, Jebel Jais will also be the home Sky High Meetings, the first-of-its-kind highest meeting room in the UAE ideal for business meetings and gatherings against the backdrop of the Hajar mountains, slated to open later this year. Friends and families will have another reason to head to the peak for a day out in the fresh air where they can enjoy drive through food trailers, kiosks, retail containers, vintage truck restaurants, cafés, rest area, and a kids playground area at the Food & Beverage village opening in the latter half of 2021. With temperatures that are around 10 degrees lower than sea level on the peak, visitors will be able to enjoy the beautiful weather while engaging in a game of miniature golf at the putt-putt facility opening by the end of this year, which comes complete with a fully equipped driving range where golfing enthusiasts can hit biodegradable balls far into the open and clear expanse the of the mountain valleys. The upcoming projects on UAE’s highest mountain will join the existing attractions including Jais Adventure Peak which serves a gateway to the various attractions on the iconic mountain, including the World’s Longest Zipline and 1484 by Puro- the highest restaurant in the UAE. Moreover, the world’s first Bear Grylls Explorers Camp was recently announced and is scheduled to open soon. Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority said: "Seeing the tourism and hospitality sectors unite during this period and pivoting in response to challenges imposed by the pandemic has been truly inspiring. We are honored to be part of this year’s Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) and look forward to sharing Ras Al Khaimah’s experience in navigating through these times with a focus on building a stronger destination, as a result. Our road to recovery is still in its early phases, but we have already seen significant uplift in the tourism and hospitality sectors’ performance leading to Ras Al Khaimah having the strongest RevPAR performance in the GCC." "With the introduction of our new investment strategy, we aim to allocate additional funds towards Jebel Jais, one of the Emirate’s key landmarks, to enrich visitor experiences and to accommodate the increasing demand for travel experiences set in expansive, open and natural environments" added Phillips. Alison Grinnell, CEO of RAK Hospitality Holding shared: "Ras Al Khaimah’s journey towards recovery has been remarkable despite all the uncertainties imposed on the travel and hospitality sector over the past year. Announcing our long-term investment strategy is yet another positive step towards a stronger comeback, and it demonstrates the Emirate’s extraordinary efforts to continue developing its offering, especially on Jebel Jais, to meet travellers’ new expectations and needs. We are also proud that despite these unprecedented circumstances, we continue to evolve the Emirate’s tourism offering with the introduction of new projects such as the world’s first Bear Grylls Explorers Camp opening in October and another first – 1484 by Puro, the highest restaurant in the UAE." The emirate is also assigning considerable funds to enhance the infrastructure on Jebel Jais and facilitate easier access for visitors and improve their overall experience on the mountain. Some of the key areas of focus range from public camping spots, night hiking trails to a base jump platform, e-bikes and an electric car charging station. Ras Al Khaimah’s larger investment vision can be found at investraktourism.com which allows potential investors and partners to learn more about the destination and to become part of upcoming developments that will shape the future of the Emirate. ALEPH HOSPITALITY UAE-based independent hotel management company Aleph Hospitality announced its entry into the Middle East market with the signing of its first hotel in Dubai. The 386-room five-star hotel, located on Sheikh Zayed Road adjacent to the museum of the future and minutes away from the Dubai World Trade Centre, is set to open in the second quarter of 2021 and will be internationally branded. The property has a full floor of meeting rooms as well as two restaurants, a pool and spa facilities. The news comes as Aleph Hospitality is experiencing significant growth across its target geographies in the Middle East and Africa. The company secured a number of new contracts over the last six months during the global pandemic and is set to double the number of operating hotels by December 2020. Commenting on the news, Bani Haddad, Founder and Managing Director of Aleph Hospitality, said: "We are very excited about the signing of the management agreement for our first hotel in the UAE and look forward to announcing the brand soon. After considerable success growing rapidly in Africa, we are now adding the Middle East to our focus. The strong demand we’re witnessing - even during the Covid-19 global pandemic - has proven that our model and the services we provide are the right solution for hotel owners and international brands alike." "Given the current growth and our healthy pipeline, we are confident of achieving and very likely exceeding our target of 35 hotels by 2025," added Haddad. 2020 AHIC AWARDS The 2020 AHIC Leadership Award went to to Helal S K Almarri, Director General at Dubai Tourism, in recognition of his achievements in leading the Dubai’s tourism sector to unprecedented levels of success. Last year, Dubai welcomed 16.73 million travellers to its beaches, hotels & shopping malls, with the tourism sector contributing 11.5 per cent to the emirate’s GDP. The 2020 AHIC Lifetime Achievement Award has been presented to Rudi Jagersbacher, in recognition of his contribution to the region’s hospitality industry. During his eight years in the region as President of Middle East, Africa & Turkey at Hilton, Rudi saw Hilton more than triple the number of hotels in the region by launching four new brands and entering 12 new countries and territories.