Gerald Lawless joined Jumeirah in Dubai as Managing Director in June 1997. His remit was to develop a hospitality portfolio that would deliver a completely different experience. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Wild Wadi Water Park, and Burj Al Arab quickly set the standard for the regional and international growth to follow.
In January 2007, Gerald was appointed Executive Chairman of the Jumeirah Group and continues to lead its ambitious growth to become the most distinctive and innovative hospitality group in the world. This ambition is expressed by the brand as ‘Jumeirah - STAY DIFFERENT’.
Gerald spent the first 23 years of his career with Forte Hotels managing properties in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Ireland and the Caribbean. In 1991 he established Forte’s Middle East office in Dubai, and oversaw growth in the region from three to twenty hotels in six years.
BTN met Gerald to ask his thoughts on the current state of the industry and what the Jumeirah Group has in the pipeline. BTN: What do you think the rest of the world can learn from the rapid development of tourism in Dubai?
GL: When it comes to the industry in general, Dubai currently leads global hotel statistics with an average room rate of US$283 in 2007; meanwhile, other Gulf cities also topped the US$200 mark. Demand for hotel accommodation is healthy and not reliant upon one customer stream. The region has wisely spread its attention across multi-faceted projects such as The Palms in Dubai, The Pearl in Qatar, Reem Island in Abu Dhabi and Amwaj Islands in Bahrain. Dubai, particularly, has shown how to successfully attract visitors from all sectors, including commerce, family tourism, meetings, events and exhibitions.
Dubai has positioned itself as a significant and important global city at the crossroads of the East and the West. This is also the success of the Emirates Airlines who helped to set up Dubai as a major international hub.
BTN: You have been expanding aggressively to the rest of the world. How has this been?
GL: Jumeirah was founded only 10 years ago and we have been on an incredible journey since the opening of our first hotel in 1997 here in Dubai: The Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
In June 2005 we updated the brand to Jumeirah Stay Different, we also announced our ambitious expansion plans to grow our portfolio to 60 Jumeirah luxury properties operating or under development by 2012. We are therefore moving ahead rapidly with new projects and developments.
The coming months are really exciting for us: we are going to launch our first serviced residences under the Jumeirah Living brand, we get ready to open our very first hotel in Asia with Jumeirah HanTang Xintiandi in Shanghai, and we expect to announce further new management agreements soon. We are well on the way to reaching our objective.
BTN: What other markets do you see as crucial to the expansion of the Jumeirah brand, inbound and outbound?
GL: In developing a luxury brand we need to have a global spread. Therefore we are involved in negotiations in Buenos Aires, Miami, Chicago, Beijing as well as other parts of the world. While the leading destinations of the world remain the most mature markets, economic and tourism growth are driven by emerging markets and developing economies.
Jumeirah has identified the Asia Pacific region as one of the key geographical growth areas for Jumeirah hotels and resorts, with expansion targeting both key gateway cities and some of the world’s most successful and idyllic resort destinations.
BTN: What are the biggest challenges you face in fulfilling your expansion strategy?
GL: Human capital is our main challenge. However, with over a hundred different nationalities working in the Group, Jumeirah literally employs colleagues from all over the world. We have colleagues from America and Australia, Bangladesh and Belgium to India and Ireland, South Africa and Sweden. In addition, we also very committed to recruiting UAE Nationals as part of our ongoing and very successful Emiratisation programme.
People are the foundation of our success and growth; the strong culture within Jumeirah, our operating philosophy and value proposition is built on our people.
We at Jumeirah aspire to be the Employer of Choice for talent seeking a career within the exciting and fast-growing luxury hospitality industry and we pride ourselves on the proactive initiatives we have taken and continue to take to attract and retain great people.
There is a very strong focus on training and development within our company and we have a dedicated, fully equipped, state-of-the-art Centre for Training & Development at Jumeirah offering a wide array of training programmes for colleagues at all levels in the organization.
BTN: Finally, in your view what is the single most important issue facing the travel and tourism industry?
GL: Sustainability. We must take a hard look at the way we treat the environment and we should establish mechanisms to respect the communities where new developments are underway.
We also need to get the message across that travel is good for mankind and beneficial economically and socially.