DIFFERENCE TO STAY

UAE, Dubai 2014 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gerald Lawless, President & Group CEO of Jumeirah Group, on Dubai tourism, the hospitality culture, and the economic contribution of the sector.

Gerald Lawless
BIOGRAPHY
As President and Group CEO of Jumeirah Group, 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, which culminated in him setting up and growing Forte’s operations in the Middle East. Taking on the challenge of launching Burj Al Arab, the world’s most luxurious hotel, after the successful introduction of Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Lawless went on to become President and Group Chief Executive Officer of Jumeirah Group. Jumeirah currently has 22 properties under management in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Maldives, Shanghai, Istanbul, Baku, Frankfurt, London, Mallorca and Rome, with a robust pipeline of new openings planned.

Jumeirah is regarded as a symbol of leisure and tourism in Dubai and your motto is “Stay Different." What are the core values behind this and how do you apply them?

Our motto refers to the fact that we recognize that each customer is an individual. We apply this to each of our hotels, since we believe that each hotel must have its own personality. This is manifested in the different architectural style we apply, but the golden thread that we have going through each of our hotels is the Jumeirah culture, which is based on our hallmarks. Our three hallmarks are behavioral standards. The first is that we should always smile and greet the guest before they greet us. As a first response to a guest request, we never say no. The third is that we treat each of our guests and employees with respect and integrity. We have developed this culture over about 17 years and we put forward the idea that each customer is an individual.

How do you blend modernity and comfort so well with the signature Arab hospitality of Jumeirah?

First of all, you have to undertake beautiful projects and hotels. We are very fortunate that HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum supports the Jumeirah Group here in Dubai with Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab, which have become icons for the industry and for the city. It is our culture and our service standards that define Jumeirah in addition to our lovely properties, and we have been able to stand out and export this brand overseas. We are now operating in 11 different destinations, with 22 hotels worldwide and at least 15 under development. We have quite a large pipeline, which continues to evolve and develop: we have five hotels under development, three under construction and two more ready to come in China.

In light of the new regulations for visas between the UAE and Europe's Schengen zone, how do you see tourism developing as a result?

The British and some Europeans already come here anyway without a visa, so from that perspective it does not make much difference. It is, however, important that countries continue to have an enlightened approach to visas to facilitate travel. I work a lot with the World Tourism and Travel Council and the World Economic Forum, whereby we have been trying to lobby and persuade governments over the past years that by adopting a more pragmatic approach to visa entry, they would develop their tourism. Ultimately, there should be a common electronic visa platform across the world, as this would address many security-related matters as well.

There has been a lot of talk about the diversification of the economy in Dubai. What role do you think the tourism sector plays, and how will it boost Dubai in the coming years?

The tourism sector contributes nearly 10% to global GDP, provides 8.7% of jobs worldwide, and employs 260 million people working within the travel, tourism, and hospitality segments; hence, it is already an extremely important industry. It sometimes does not get the credit it deserves. In Dubai, it has been said that by 2020 we will have created 277,000 additional jobs with 40% being in travel and tourism. Right now, the sector contributes approximately 20% of Dubai's GDP, meaning there is a huge amount of importance attributed to it. Through the leadership of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it is clearly understood that tourism is an important pillar of Dubai's economy.

What will see in terms of investment in the coming years?

What we are doing at the moment is developing the fourth phase of the Medina Madinat Jumeirah, which will be a 430-bedroom hotel. It is well laid out with attractive architecture. Its style will be more modern than the rest of Madinat Medina Jumeirah and will be a nice link between the extremely modern Jumeirah Beach Resort Hotel and the tradition of Jumierah Medina and the other three hotels that form the resort. It has a great beach area as well, so we are looking forward to opening that in two years from now.