Jul. 8, 2015

Gerald Lawless

UAE, Dubai

Gerald Lawless

President & CEO, Jumeirah Group

TBY talks to Gerald Lawless, President and CEO of Jumeirah Group, on the new Venu brand, the impact of new three- and four-star hotels, and expectations for the future.


Gerald Lawless is a graduate of Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland, holds an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration in Hospitality Management from the Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island, and an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a Member of the Executive Committee and Vice-Chairman of Corporate Governance of the WTTC. He is also a Member of the Global Agenda Council for Aviation, Travel, and Tourism of the WEF, a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, a Member of the Advisory Group of the Global Irish Forum, a Member of the International Advisory Board of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, a Member of the Dubai Holding Executive Committee, and a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Emirates National Development Programme. He is also Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, a former Non-Executive Director, and Member of the Board of NASDAQ Dubai and Travelodge.

How would you describe the dynamic between the traditional Jumeirah Hotels brand and the new Venu brand?

Stay Different, the original Jumeirah brand, has always been the foundation of the Group, which we are continuing to develop regionally and internationally. Venu, our newest hotel brand, is a contemporary lifestyle brand aimed at competing within the lucrative lifestyle segment. We are more flexible on room size with the Venu brand depending on the style and feel of the hotel; we would consider, for example, a room size of 32-35sqm for this brand. Jumeirah hotels usually have a 50sqm minimum room requirement. The target audience for the Venu brand is also slightly different, though not necessarily younger or more budget-conscious than that of Stay Different; the two brands complement each other.

What is the strategy behind your food and beverage division?

Our dedicated food and beverage division, which is essentially a separate company, is composed of 32 restaurants located in our hotels in Dubai. They rent space within our hotels and operate outlets as standalone restaurants. We wanted to give our hotel guests the feel of dining at a restaurant that is not part of a hotel operation. We offer them exceptional cuisine, a dedicated service team, as well as a distinctive concept and theme unique to that particular restaurant. We have a large portfolio of brands—the Noodle House being the most widespread—and we are continuing to expand the franchise.

Regional and international expansion is of high importance to the Jumeirah Group, which now has representation throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Which international markets present the greatest opportunity for growth?

Asia continues to be a very interesting source of business for potential hotel development. There are still opportunities to expand our Venu portfolio in China, and we are not yet present in Beijing, Dalian, or Tianjin. We would like to open another hotel in Shanghai in addition to the already successful Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel. Likewise, Vietnam and Cambodia have good potential; we already have a resort under development in Bali, and Indonesia offers attractive opportunities. We aim to be in Malaysia as well. The Middle East is of prime importance, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia. There is great potential in Africa, especially for Venu. We have already signed an MoU for a project in Angola, and we are looking at South Africa and West Africa. In East Africa, there are opportunities in places such as Kenya and the Seychelles, in addition to Mauritius, in which there is already a Jumeirah resort under development.

Considering the expected influx of three- and four-star hotel investments, how do you see Dubai's hotel industry evolving over the next couple of years?

Any mature market needs to have a complete range of products in terms of the styles and types of hotels. As Dubai expands and develops its tourism products, including theme parks and other activities for families, a budget hotel may suit visitors' needs better. With the growth in numbers of travellers coming to Dubai, there will be a great need for more affordable hotel options. Dubai has always maintained a very high-quality, high-class image, and it will continue to do so in its budget offerings.

Dubai has lofty targets for the buildup to the World Expo 2020; however, there is also a lot of concern for 2021. What are the industry's expectations given the climate right now?

We are feeling confident given the status of Dubai's current hotel development pipeline. In addition to hotels, we are also taking into account the number of serviced apartments coming online. In order to sustain an organic growth pattern, we have set a target to achieve 20 million visitors prior to the World Expo 2020. We also expect there will be a considerable demand increase coming out of 2020. We do not anticipate having to turn guests away, but hotels will be at capacity with roughly 25 million people coming per year. Dubai's tourism market already has strength and depth, and it will be able to continue its evolution and growth subsequent to 2020. In addition, the continued growth and expansion of the Emirates airline will support this. Having said this, the industry cannot be complacent, and we will work hard to promote Dubai and continue stimulating demand.