IN THE STARS

UAE, Dubai 2012 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gerald Lawless, Executive Chairman of Jumeirah Group, on the rise of Dubai as a luxury holiday destination, expansion plans, and MICE tourism.

Gerald Lawless
BIOGRAPHY
Gerald Lawless has helped establish Jumeirah as one of the premier luxury hotel brands in the world. He joined the company in 1997 after a 23-year career with Forte Hotels. He is a Graduate of Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland and holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management by the Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, US. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the World Travel and Tourism Organization, member of the Aviation, Travel and Tourism council of the World Economic Forum, and fellow member of the Institute of Hospitality. He is also a Non-Executive Director at the Travelodge Board where he represents Dubai Holding, and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.

What role has Jumeirah Group played in the rise of Dubai as a luxury holiday destination?

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.

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.

What role has the food and beverage aspect of the group's operations played 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.

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.