The Dubai-based Jumeirah Group is emerging as one of the most admired luxury hospitality brands in the world.
True to its motto "Staying Different", the group is going ahead with its expansion plans in Macau and China, the global slowdown notwithstanding.
In an interview with Emirates Business, Gerald Lawless, Executive Chairman of the Jumeriah Group, spoke about the group's outlook, its expansion plans, new ventures and "staying different".
The hospitality industry is gearing up for challenges – drops in tourist arrivals and occupancies and a cut in corporate travel spending – that 2009 will bring. What is the Jumeirah Group's strategy to deal with these challenges?
With our presence in several global business and leisure hubs, we are in a strong position but we realise that nobody can afford to be complacent. Accordingly, our focus will be on flexibility and looking at new ways of doing business within all the segments we operate in. We will look at ways of streamlining our business practices to be more efficient, without compromising on our core values and, above all, our guests' experience.
Despite the slowdown and a recession in some economies, the Jumeirah Group has announced its plans for Macau and China. Which are the other markets that you will be entering?
After careful consideration of the current economic climate, we have determined that our development plan of 60 hotels and resorts under construction or under operation by 2012 remains achievable, even in this challenging environment. Most of these projects are still under development and we expect a market revival by the time they are due to open in three to five years.
Our strategy is to have a presence in what we call "letterhead cities" and aspirational resort destinations and we will continue to look for those opportunities. By 2012, 45 per cent of our hotels should be in the Gulf, about 30 per cent in Asia-Pacific, and the rest located evenly in Europe and the Americas.
We are also diversifying our offerings, with new and dynamic divisions such as Jumeirah Living, The Taste Department, Talise Wellness and Jumeirah Retail.
Where do you see the Jumeirah Group five years down the line?
We will have reached our goal of 60 hotels and resorts signed – under construction or in operation. We will be fine-tuning the service in the hotels recently opened and putting the finishing touches to hotels still under construction.
Jumeirah Living, our luxury-serviced apartments brand, will be present in most new Jumeirah mixed-use projects.
The expansion of Taste Department, Jumeriah Group's branded restaurant chain, is also on the cards. It is expected that 150 Noodle House restaurants will be opened by 2012 around the world.
This month, the Taste Department has announced a new licensing agreement to open Noodle House restaurant branches in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The agreement with Mira Foods will see seven outlets open in Saudi Arabia and the agreement with Al-Ghunaim Trading Co Ltd will be to open six outlets in Kuwait. This announcement comes shortly after the signing of management agreements in Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus, taking Noodle House's presence to 11 countries.
What would be the group's investment in the Middle East?
As a proud homegrown Dubai-based company, the Middle East is an important market for our growth strategy. As I mentioned before, the number of properties we anticipate managing in the Middle East and North Africa will equate to 45 per cent of our total portfolio worldwide in 2012.
We have already signed management agreements for hotels and resorts in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain. Several of these projects are already underway, for example the Jumeirah Khor Hotel and Residences – a prestigious hotel and apartment development located in the heart of Dubai Healthcare City. Then there is Jumeirah Al Fattan Palm Resort, a unique beach development on the Palm Jumeirah; the Jumeirah Etihad Towers, one of Abu Dhabi's most prestigious new beachfront developments; the Jumeirah Dubai Towers in Doha and the Saraya Aqaba in Jordan.
How do you plan to tackle the manpower crunch faced by the industry in the region?
We recognise that people are our greatest asset in ensuring a luxury product and service. People are the foundation of our success and growth; the strong work culture within Jumeirah, our operating philosophy and value proposition are all built on our colleagues. Accordingly, recruitment, retention and training of staff are crucial and we have worked hard to develop pro-active initiatives to address this.
Jumeirah currently employs over 11,500 people from over 100 different nationalities, and we anticipate we will need up to 55,000 colleagues worldwide by 2012. Our existing human resource strategies are sound. We have an extensive in-house recruitment centre within the Jumeirah Group and this team is assisted by a network of agencies we have retained in our key source markets worldwide. The team travels the world to look for talent and we also work closely with schools, colleges and universities worldwide to recruit the best graduates.
We will capitalise on the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management to cultivate our own talent pool along with programmes such as Aspiro, a fast-track career development programme for high-achieving, goal-oriented, ambitious students from leading hospitality and management degree courses.
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 all levels in the organisation.
How do you market a super deluxe hotel brand?
It is a combination of innovation, diversification, adherence to our core values and old-fashioned hard work. Most of all it is delivering a superior level of service and experiences which would exceed our guests' expectations.
Each Jumeirah hotel has its own identity, but the golden thread of our corporate culture and the highest standards go throughout all our hotels.
In our advertising campaign, we highlight Jumeirah's "Stay Different" message, which accentuates the individuality of the Jumeirah portfolio and recognises the distinctiveness of luxury travellers and the importance of personal experiences in their lives.
Our aim was to create a campaign that reflects each customer's desire to be recognised as an individual, and which shows them engaged in real life personal experiences. True luxury is emotional, memorable and above all personal, and this is what we believe today's sophisticated luxury traveller relates and responds to.
We are building one of the strongest luxury brands in the world at the moment, and this campaign shows we are very committed to doing so.
Have you increased your ad spend?
As Jumeirah is building a global luxury brand, advertising is obviously a key component of our marketing plan along with partnerships, sponsorship or public relations. Moreover, in line with Jumeirah's promise to "Stay Different", our advertising mix keeps evolving to reflect the different phases of our growth and our international expansion.
For example, as Jumeirah gets ready to open new hotels in China, Argentina or Spain, we will increase our advertising spend in the Asian, South American or European markets, respectively. We will also increase the use of trackable means of advertising in our media mix.
In 2009, brand-building advertisement will account for about 50 per cent of our advertising budget, whereas the other 50 per cent will be more tactical and focus on specific promotions in our hotels and resorts.
What has been your investment in technology? Do you have a global sales and marketing engine back-office?
Innovation is one of our guiding principles and technology obviously plays a key role in our success. In every new Jumeirah hotel, guests can expect a consistent, high quality experience of the guest and in-room technology. Complete wireless internet coverage, high definition in-room entertainment, integrated lighting control systems and easily accessible connections for power, internet and MP3 players are just a few examples of Jumeirah's IT brand standards.
One of the key pillars of our IT strategy is to be able to rapidly include new hotels or other business into our infrastructure and we do that through the deployment of centralised enterprise solutions such as a CRM (customer relationship management) and HRMS (human resources management) system. The more systems are centrally hosted, the easier it is to configure and switch on a new business.
Regarding sales and marketing, we have already commenced with a new strategy to re-organise distribution, which will redefine the way we do business with all distribution channels and intermediaries. Pertinent to this will be the launch of our new website — www.jumeirah.com – later this month, which will have an improved online booking system.
What makes Jumeirah different from other international brands?
In the UAE, the Jumeirah brand is extremely well known for our exceptional service and regarded as one of the region's leading organisations.
In order to maintain the luxury standards of hospitality that Jumeirah is renowned for, we have implemented signature standards wherever you stay with us in the world and our hallmarks, mentioned earlier, ensure the guest experience is always exceptional.
All Jumeirah hotels are different and have a great sense of place. That is a promise we have to ourselves, our owners and our valued guests. When you wake up in Jumeirah Essex House, you feel the connection with Central Park and New York; when you are in Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Resort & Spa, you can feel that you are in a desert oasis.
PROFILE: Gerald Lawless, Executive Chairman, Jumeirah Group
Lawless joined Jumeirah in 1997 in Dubai as Managing Director. 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.
In January 2007, Lawless was appointed Executive Chairman of the Jumeirah Group and continues to lead its growth.
He spent the first 23 years of his career with Forte Hotels, managing properties in the UK, 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 20 hotels in six years.
He is a member of the Executive Committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality (formerly HCIMA). Lawless is also a Member of the Board of Directors of DIFX and Tatweer, Member of the Dubai Holding Executive Committee and Member of the Board of ENDP.
Lawless is an Honours Graduate of Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland and was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management by the Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island, USA.