BE MY GUEST.Summary: Gerald Lawless, the executive chairman of Jumeirah Group, is almost as emblematic of a hardworking expat businessman as his own project -- The Burj Al Arab The Burj Al Arab (Arabic: برج العرب, "Tower of the Arabs") is a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates managed by the Jumeirah Group and built by Said Khalil. It was designed by Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC. -- is symbolic of Dubai. He tells Aarti Nagraj about his plans to expand Jumeirah in India and across the region.
F rom the comfort of his swish office in Al Qasr,Gerald Lawless savours the panoramic view of an even more opulent development;
the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel that kicked off his 15-year career with the Jumeirah hospitality group.
"When we first opened Burj Al Arab, everybody said that it would never make money," says the executive chairman. "But it's been a huge commercial success and we like to think that it's the symbol of Dubai.
"We know we have competition from another small tower down the road," he chuckles, referring to the world's tallest tower, Burj Khalifa. "But we think Burj Al Arab will continue very much as the symbol of Dubai."
To position the entire Jumeirah Group as a symbol of Dubai and the UAE on the world stage has been the relentless endeavor of the Irishman.
Lawless began with the Dubai-based company in 1997, when Jumeirah had just started work on the Jumeirah Beach Hotel This article or section is written like an .
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Mark blatant advertising for , using . , Burj Al Arab and Wild Wadi.
"When you come in to take over such developments, you really do concentrate in the initial years on just getting these big businesses off the ground. Only after you get them to start working well do you become involved in looking further afield.
"So it was in late 2001 that we took over the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London. And we knew from then that we could really develop Jumeirah as a global hotel brand, which we are well on the way to achieving," he says.
Jumeirah currently has about 51 hotels under development or in operation in cities across the world including London, New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , Shanghai, Istanbul and Rome.
And so far this year, most of those properties have a positive story to tell.
As of June 2012, the company's international hotels reported occupancy rates of 76.3 per cent, with average
daily rate (ADR ADR - Astra Digital Radio ) reaching Dhs1,945 and RevPAR (revenue per available room) hitting Dhs1,484.
Figures for its portfolio in the UAE are more impressive, with occupancy rates of 79.8 per cent, ADR of Dhs2,235 and RevPAR of Dhs1,784. In Dubai alone, the company's hotels saw RevPar rising 15 per cent year-to-date.
"Looking at future bookings, we feel that the strong performance will continue throughout the year," says Lawless.
The chairman is especially confident about the group's properties in Dubai, mirroring the positive sentiment of the emirate's entire hospitality sector.
According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), hotels in the emirate e·mir·ate
1. The office of an emir.
2. The nation or territory ruled by an emir.
Noun 1. emirate - the domain controlled by an emir recorded a 24 per cent rise in revenues and a nine per cent increase in guest numbers during the first quarter of the year. Hotels also saw a 22 per cent jump in guest nights and a 12 per cent rise in the average length of stay during the first three months of the year.
In terms of source markets, Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia (sä`dē ərā`bēə, sou`–, sô–), officially Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, kingdom (2005 est. pop. topped the list with 272,631 guests, followed by India, the UK, the US and Russia.
The positive results follow on the back of a record year in 2011, when Dubai welcomed more than nine million visitors and the industry made revenues of Dhs16 billion.
One of the key factors for this striking growth is that Dubai is constantly on the lookout for in search of; looking for.
See also: Lookout new markets, says Lawless.
"We attribute this to the expansion of Emirates and the great work they are doing in opening up new routes to Dubai. Who would have thought a few years ago that we would have direct flights to destinations like Sao Paulo, Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires Buenos Aires (bwā`nəs ī`rēz, âr`ēz, Span. bwā`nōs ī`rās), city and federal district (1991 pop. ?"
So now, if one market goes soft or levels off, there are always new ones coming in, he says.
But is this kind of growth sustainable over the long term? Especially since the city is set to add around 12,000 new hotel rooms in the next three years, according to hospitality consultancy STR STR
synchronous transmitter receiver Global.
"Dubai is very much a free market," says Lawless. "So if investors feel confident to build hotels in Dubai, they are doing so because they are seeing that there is viability for the long-term growth of tourism into Dubai.
"I have been here since 1978, and it's unbelievable if you look at where Dubai has moved since then. Even in the 1990s, people would say that we shouldn't have any more hotels. If that had been the case, we wouldn't have delivered what we have," he states.
Currently, over 50 million passengers pass through the Dubai airport, while nine million stay in the emirate's hotels.
"Even if we get another 10 per cent of that 50 million, we can get ourselves up to 14 million guests. So why shouldn't we achieve the kind of targets that have been set?" Lawless questions.
However, the ambitious chairman is quick to add a word of caution.
"While the tourism boom is definitely sustainable, it doesn't mean that we don't have to work hard. We can't say that we will build and they will come," he says.
Hotel operators must focus on being energetic, getting out there and promoting Dubai as the best place in the world.
"Dubai is now bidding for the World Expo in 2020, which I think is perfect for the city and the UAE. We have to be imaginative and brave out there to promote the incredible product that we have.
"We shouldn't be complacent just because Emirates is bringing people. We as hoteliers have to promote ourselves very strongly and I think that can be done," he states.
By doing that, the industry will be pushed to look for varied source markets.
"So if we have a slowdown in Europe Going forward, the company has no for example, we are not totally dependent on one market, but have got Russia, China, Indonesia, South East Asia East Asia
A region of Asia coextensive with the Far East.
East Asian adj. & n. , US, South America South America, fourth largest continent (1991 est. pop. 299,150,000), c.6,880,000 sq mi (17,819,000 sq km), the southern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. , Africa - all these places. I mean the world is our market for Dubai," he emphatically adds.
Jumeirah in specific has been seeing significant growth out of Russia and China over the last couple of years. The company has opened sales offices in Shanghai and Russia and employs over 300 Chinese staff in Dubai alone
"As we have developments coming up in China, we also have an incentive for our colleagues from China who understand and know Jumeirah and who have worked with us for a number of years.
"We give them a chance to go back and work in China, but we also assure them that after the agreed amount of time they spend there, we will guarantee them a job back in Dubai if that's what they want," he says.
In terms of expansion, Lawless says the group will now focus on growing in the Middle East and Asia.
"Asia should come through the economic situation that we are now facing in good shape. We see a lot of demand in emerging countries like Indonesia, Philippines and all of Southeast Asia. There's also plenty to do in countries like China, India and Pakistan," he says.
Though he is reluctant to divulge precise details, he reveals that the company has specific discussions going on in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Delhi.
"In Saudi Arabia, we have active discussions going on in Jeddah, Riyadh, Al Khobar, Mekkah and Madina.
"But nothing is signed yet," he promptly adds, giving me a smiling nod reserved for nosy nos·y or nos·ey
adj. nos·i·er, nos·i·est Informal
1. Given to prying into the affairs of others; snoopy. See Synonyms at curious.
2. Prying; inquisitive. journalists.
"Now that we have established a global reputation, it's really important that we look at developments in the region itself. We have great potential here and I think people in the Arab world are very proud of what Jumeirah stands for and what it has achieved," he says.
plans for any mergers or tie-ups with other hotels brands. "We are happy to be independent," Lawless proudly states.
He also brushes off a question about the possibility of an IPO (Initial Public Offering) The first time a company offers shares of stock to the public. While not a computer term per se, many founders, employees and insiders of computer companies have found this acronym more exciting than any tech term they ever heard. .
"It's entirely up to the shareholders. We are here to run our hotels and we are pleased as long our parent company, Dubai Holding, is pleased. It's very much their call," he says.
And ensuring that his bosses, his "colleagues" as he calls his employeeCarlton Tower hotel, London UKand most importantly Adv. 1. most importantly - above and beyond all other consideration; "above all, you must be independent"
above all, most especially , his guests, remain constantly pleased seems to be the main aim of the smiling Irish gentleman sitting in front of me.
"Everything works around people, and if we get that right, it is the secret to getting success in the hospitality business," says Lawless.
And to get the formula right, the chairman makes sure that each of his colleagues follows the group's 'three hallmarks.'
"Firstly, smile and greet the guests before they greet us. Secondly, as a first response to a request, never say 'no'. And lastly, we treat each other with respect and integrity.
"You can ask any of the colleagues here and they should be able to tell you these points," Lawless confidently tells me.
The last hallmark is especially vital, as the group has over 110 nationalities of people working together just in Dubai.
"We constantly encourage our people to understand each other and work together," says Lawless. He is also keen to encourage more UAE nationals to become a part of Jumeirah's team.
"We feel now we have achieved global recognition, we have achieved quite a reasonable global spread, and we think that we have done okay. We have more hotels in operation than we expected, and from 2011, we have virtually doubled the number of units with the number of hotels," he states.
Some would argue that Jumeriah has done more than 'okay'. But the enthusiastic and optimistic Irishman has no plans to sit back and relax.
"Have we achieved all our objectives? No. We have many more objectives in what we want to do for the future. But with the foundation we have been given we have no option but to succeed."
"While the tourism boom is definitely sustainable, it doesn't mean that we don't have to work hard. We can't say that we will build and they will come."
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