TBY talks to Gerald Lawless, Executive Chairman of Jumeirah Group, on the rise of Dubai as a luxury holiday destination, expansion, and MICE tourism.
THE BUSINESS YEAR The Jumeirah Group has established some of the world’s most iconic hotels. What role has the group played in the rise of Dubai as a luxury holiday destination?
GERALD LAWLESS Since the opening of our first property, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, in 1997, we have worked closely with both Emirates Airlines and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to promote Dubai as a luxury travel destination. The opening of our flagship hotel, Burj Al Arab, in 1999, followed by the opening of Madinat Jumeirah in 2004, reinforced Dubai’s image as a world-class year-round holiday destination. As the Jumeirah and Emirates brands expand their global reach, we are continuing to promote Dubai in new overseas markets, such as China, Russia, Brazil, and the US.
Where is the group planning to expand and why?
When we began our international expansion in 2005, we identified the “key letterhead cities” around the world, which became the priority destinations for our expansion. Just like an airline, a successful hotel brand should be represented in a number of “tier one” locations, such as London, Frankfurt, Shanghai, and New York. Over the past 12 months we have reinforced our presence in Europe by opening five new hotels: Jumeirah Frankfurt, Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto in Rome, Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa in Mallorca, Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul, and Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living in London. Going forward we plan to open new hotels in the Asia-Pacific and MENA regions to ensure that our brand is represented in all key markets. Over the past year, we have expanded our portfolio internationally from 10 hotels at the beginning of 2011 to over 20 hotels at the beginning of 2012. These include new properties in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the Maldives, Shanghai, Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Mallorca, and Rome. Jumeirah is now taking its place in the top echelons of the luxury hotel industry, and we are well on our way to becoming one of the leading luxury brands worldwide.
Competition in luxury tourism in Dubai is fierce. How has Jumeirah Group managed to maintain its position at the head of the industry?
Our hotels in Dubai are the market leaders in terms of occupancy rates and revenue per available room (RevPAR). The beachfront resorts recorded extended periods of full occupancy averaging at 84.4% during the first four months of 2012, while RevPAR—the industry standard for measuring revenue in relation to rooms available—has grown by 18.7%. Jumeirah’s city hotels have also regained their leading position with an average occupancy rate of 85.5% and RevPAR growth of 8.4%. Over the years, our hotels and resorts have gained a reputation as the finest in the city, and therefore, we enjoy a high ratio of return guests. Sirius, our loyalty program, has also proved to be highly successful. Jumeirah has also hosted and sponsored a number of prestigious events that truly showcase the very best of the properties and the destination. These include Art Dubai, which takes place in Madinat Jumeirah every year, and the Dubai International Film Festival. On the sponsorship side, Jumeirah is very proud of the achievements of Rory McIlroy, our Global Brand Ambassador, who is now recognized not only as one of the top golfers in the world, but as one of the top sports personalities.
How have the demands of luxury travelers evolved in Dubai?
While luxury travelers have become more sophisticated in their demands, they have also become more aware of the potential socio-economic benefits of travel and tourism. Many of our guests in Dubai choose to enrich their beach holidays with cultural experiences. That is why we began our collaboration with Sheikh Mohammed’s Centre for Cultural Understanding and can now invite our guests to visit the Jumeirah Mosque where they can learn more about Islam and its traditions. Jumeirah has also launched a number of culturally focused activities across its hotels in Dubai, such as traditional pearl diving and art programs.
What role has the food and beverage aspect of the group’s operations play in the business?
The business of food and beverage has been an essential part of Jumeirah’s success. We now operate over 100 restaurants, bars, and lounges in our hotels in Dubai. We also have a dedicated restaurant division, which is in charge of a number of restaurant licenses. Some of these have been developed in-house, such as the noodle house, which is now represented on a franchise basis in a number of countries in the Middle East, and will soon be opening outlets in the UK, Russia, and Morocco. Additionally, Jumeirah operates several restaurants under a license agreement with Caprice Holding, such as The Ivy Dubai, The Rivington Grill, and Scott’s, which is due to open later this year at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. These restaurants provide an authentic London dining experience and have proved very popular with our guests.
What are the aims of the Global Arts and Culture platform initiative?
Our guests have a wide range of interests and come from all over the world. We are delighted when we can help them connect to a creative community they may not have previously been aware of. We support these creative communities in ways that enhance the guest experience, while creating new opportunities for artists and providing a bridge for ideas and people within the hotel environment. Our hotels are magnets for culture, and today’s travelers crave a place where exciting art, elegant design, luxury service, and the exchange of interesting ideas can all mix. We have been actively collaborating with local artists in New York, a dedicated art curator based in Jumeirah Essex House, and the official hosts of the world-famous annual Art Dubai week at Madinat Jumeirah. This is the largest and most established contemporary art fair in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Art Dubai features over 75 galleries from 32 countries, showing work by over 500 artists. Our newest hotels in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Frankfurt, Rome, Istanbul, and Mallorca also feature a number of original artworks displayed prominently in public areas as well as guest rooms. In addition, we recently announced the winner of the second Jumeirah Group Arts and Culture Award, presented at the 16th annual Luxury Briefing Awards in London. The Arts and Culture Award celebrates leading international enterprises that are supporting artists and advancing artistic practice through innovative creative collaborations in the business arena. This installment of the award was given to Montblanc for its Young Artist World Patronage.
Dubai is also a hub for MICE tourism. Is this an important revenue generator for Jumeirah?
MICE tourism forms an integral part of our business. Jumeirah offers one of the largest MICE facilities in the region and we are delighted with the results we achieve. Our hotels in Dubai host a number of high-profile events, such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council meetings, the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference, Leaders in Dubai, and Dubai International Film Festival.
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© The Business Year - June 2012