Jumeirah Boss: Be My Guest

Exclusive: Gerald Lawless, Jumeirah’s executive chairman, talks about Dubai’s growth and expansion plans.

WORDS OF CAUTION

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 for example, we are not totally dependent on one market, but have got Russia, China, Indonesia, South East Asia, US, South America, 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 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.

Going forward, the company has no 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.

“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.

SECRET TO SUCCESS

And ensuring that his bosses, his “colleagues” as he calls his employees and most importantly, 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.”