Gerald Lawless, president and group CEO, Jumeirah Group weighs up the impending shortage of talent for the industry, life post Expo 2020 and Jumeirah’s ambitious plans to have 46 hotels in operation by 2020.
You have spent 18 years with Jumeirah and have extensive experience within the hospitality industry, what first attracted you to the industry?
I was interested in going to hotel school because it is such a welcoming and inclusive environment and industry, a hugely positive industry where you meet so many people.I learnt so much in my early years and have passed on my wisdom to my son, who recently graduated from the Cornell University of hospitality. I told him that he’ll never be lonely in the hospitality industry, because you are always interacting with people and it is a hugely vibrant business and those are the key factors that first attracted me to the industry.
With 11 Jumeirah hotels currently operating in the Middle East, which would you say are performing best?
We have a pretty even performance around the world between Middle East and Europe, the most outstanding performers are the hotels in Dubai and the Maldives as these are at the top end of the spectrum operating with very high occupancy rates.
Our occupancy levels worldwide are very good, and Abu Dhabi has been a great growth story for us, as we have grown very strongly there. On a global basis we are getting a lot of interest from other brands asking us to run their properties.
What is your vision for the Jumeirah brand, and how do you ensure it stands out in a competitive market?
One of the greatest things about Jumeirah is that we are Dubai based but our brand isn’t just well respected in the region, but worldwide too with our iconic properties including the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Emirates towers that have become landmarks for Dubai and the region.When you look at these hotels they have truly stood the test of time, and haven’t suffered with old age or gone out of fashion. Whilst we are known as a luxury brand we have re-introduced to the market our lifestyle brand Venu, which is inspired by the spirit of Dubai and is infused with a powerful sense of substance. We believe that this new brand will appeal to the millennial traveller and will give us a competitive edge to our existing portfolio. Our Venu brand is expected to open in 2017 and will offer 119 serviced apartments and 300 rooms, ensuring we stand out in the market.
Can you tell us little bit about your global brand strategy?
We have 11 operating hotels and 12 properties in the pipeline scattered around the globe including locations such as China, Spain, Azerbaijan and the UK. Our current pipeline includes two hotels in Muscat, one in Abu Dhabi at present but we are looking at potentially two more there, eight in China, one in Bali and next year we will be concluding our fourth phase at Madinat Jumeirah’s, Jumeirah Al Naseem.
All of this highlights Jumeirah’s competitive edge and we want to keep raising the bar of luxury and setting it at another level. We have serious ambitions for the future and are always careful about where we plan on going next.
Historically there tends to be an economic downturn post Expo, what do you foresee happening to the hospitality industry after 2020?
I am extremely inspired by the leadership of the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and President of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and I have every faith in his leadership to guide Dubai onto the right path pre and post 2020.
We are not just focusing on 2020 at Jumeirah and nor are many other hotel chains, we have to plan for the future if we want to grow in this market. So our ten year plan should lead us to having approximately 75 Jumeirah hotels worldwide as a prediction by say 2023 and by 2020 we should be looking at somewhere in the region of 45 or 46 hotels in operation.
The Jumeirah Group recently launched its own restaurant group, what can you tell us about this move?
The Jumieriah Group already has a stable of brands including Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts, contemporary lifestyle brand Venu, plus our wellness brand Talise so it was only right that we debuted a restaurant brand in February this year.
In doing so, the Jumeirah Restaurant Group Dubai has been a really successful venture and it is a global restaurant management company that operates, creates and franchises a variety of different restaurants. We currently have 60 restaurants under our wing including Tortuga, The Noodle House and Pierchic and we operate not only high-end brands, but also offer casual dining solutions and lounges. And we seek to develop further existing restaurants located within our Jumeirah and Resorts portfolio with menu overhauls, refurbishments and by acquiring top-notch chefs.
With over 175,000 rooms under construction in the Middle East, what impact do you think this will have on the employment crisis currently facing the hospitality industry?
Travel, tourism and hospitality account for 277 million jobs and this is projected by 2020 to grow to at least 300 million jobs worldwide. We have also seen a total of 9% of global employment falls under hospitality, which is more than the car industry and more than many other industries too. So for one I really feel that we don’t get enough credit within our industry for how much travel, tourism and hospitality benefits the global economy.
Secondly, we are forecast to grow over the next five years within the industry by at least 4% per annum, which way exceeds the GDP goal for most countries. We need to look at where the business is coming from and we also need to ensure that we have the correct career growth for the next generation of hoteliers. The future of travel and tourism, as predicted by the Royal Travel and Tourism Council shows us that we have a talent shortage in 37 out of 46 countries internationally, so this is a huge challenge for us here in Dubai too, but I do think this is a challenge we are well ready to face.
We know that we can attract more people to the region and industry, but we also have to be careful as to how we attract people to these jobs. I personally feel that within the hospitality industry we have senior leaders excelling yet we don’t take enough risks with the younger people.
At The Jumeirah Group, we have made sure that we are pulling graduates in from Cornell University, Emirates Academy of Hospitality and other hospitality management schools into employment. They are management graduates, and I do seriously believe that we need to give people the opportunity to progress quickly in their industry. It is vital that we reach out to our local community too and encourage Emiratis to engage in the hospitality industry.