|By Abdul Basit, Khaleej Times, Dubai,
United Arab EmiratesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 02, 2013--The Jumeirah Group plans to add nearly 600 keys to its portfolio in 2013 and sees great potential for further expansion in the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, chief executive officer Gerald Lawless told Khaleej Times in an interview.
The group is in talks to launch its first property in Saudi Arabia and another first property in India is in its development stage, according to Lawless.
Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts' properties are regarded as among the most luxurious and innovative in the world and have won numerous international travel and tourism awards. The company was founded in 1997 with the aim to become a hospitality industry leader through establishing a world-class portfolio of luxury hotels and resorts. Its brand essence is summarised in its simple promise, "Stay Different".
The global luxury hotel company is a member of Dubai Holding. Its portfolio includes Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab hotel, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and eight more properties in the UAE and 10 in other countries.
Last year, the group added five properties with more than 770 new keys, with 18 more properties under development at different stages across the globe. The total number of keys in its current portfolio is more than 5,000 across 20 hotels and resorts. The group added six new properties in 2011.
"Over the course of 2013, we are looking forward to adding two new hotels to our portfolio -- the Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel in Kuwait and Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel in Baku," said Lawless, who is also president of the Jumeirah Group.
The Kuwait hotel has 316 guest rooms and suites, 80 serviced residences and 12 villas. In Baku, the property has 176 rooms and suites, with 14 cottages.
"We also have five hotels under construction in China as well as projects in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and the British West Indies and Jumeirah Mumbai, our first project in India," Lawless said. India is a very important market for the group as part of Asia and the company will continue to explore opportunities for more properties there, he added.
The group, which has around 40 luxury properties, including under-construction hotels, will continue to explore new markets but there is no set target and date to touch 50 properties. "Over the next two to three years, we will continue to grow at a normal pace and we are not saying any specific numbers," Lawless explained.
He mentioned that Saudi Arabia has been an important source market for the group's hotels: "We have also been exploring opportunities to operate hotels in the country. We are currently reviewing several projects and its on top priority for us."
The Dubai-based group has almost half of its properties located in the emirate and one in Abu Dhabi. Madinat Jumeirah is the largest property of the group in the UAE that has three hotels under one property with total 867 rooms and suites.
Madinat Jumeirah will have another five-star hotel with 420 keys within the property in the next two years. In November last year, the expansion of the property was announced. Phase IV of the project will face the Burj Al Arab area in Jumeirah and includes a luxury five-star hotel, villa complex, restaurants and a commercial centre featuring retail stores, apart from an open walking area. Lawless confirmed that the hotel will be completed by the end of 2015.
"We are finalising contracts at this stage," he added.
Talking about the competition in the Dubai market, he said that it's very much a free market and the hotel industry is a good investment. "I think as long as the industry is doing well and as long as the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors are is actually performing well, there will be investors' interest in building hotels," he said.
"I am confident that the market will find its own level and balance. People will keep building hotels because people will keep coming to stay in Dubai."
He appreciated the expansion of Emirates airline and said the carrier plays a key role to bring a significant number of tourists to Dubai. Last year, Dubai International Airport witnessed 57.7 million passengers and the hub has crossed 10.5 million mark during the first two months of 2013.
He mentioned that the occupancy level for UAE properties was around 80 per cent on average during the last year. Talking about properties outside the UAE, he said: "London and Frankfurt are big performers."
"Our hotel in Frankfurt is doing very well. We see a lot of Dubai visitors going to Frankfurt and staying in our hotel."
London has always been a strong market, he said, adding: "Our hotels in London continue to perform well." The group's other hotels are also settling down, he added.
The company opened its first hotel -- Jumeirah Beach Hotel -- in 1997, the same year Lawless also joined the group. He carries 23 years of industry experience.
Responding a question, he said: "The great thing is the brand name of Dubai. Dubai is known everywhere. I think the combination of Jumeirah, Emirates airline and Dubai give a great strength to Dubai tourism and to ourselves."
"We are part of Dubai Holding and we get huge support from the parent company to go forward with our agenda with our strategy to develop the brand on global basis," he added.
He said the GCC, the UK and Russia are the top three markets for the group's hotels in the UAE and all three are equal. GCC tourists especially feel like home because of the same language and other things, he added.
Lawless, who also is a member of the executive committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said: "We see the travel and tourism industry will continue to grow."
"We are extremely optimistic this will continue to be one of the top world industries. Right now travel, the tourism and hospitality industry accounts for almost eight per cent of global employment."
The industry contributes virtually 250 million jobs worldwide and almost nine per cent of total global GDP. "I think a lot of economists underestimate the value of tourism to the economy," he added.
He mentioned that the group continues to refurbish and upgrade its properties. "We have to keep every thing in perfect condition," he said, adding that there is zero tolerance, especially for Burj Al Arab.
Talking about the Dubai's bid for Expo 2020, he said the group is prime hospitality partner. "We are really hopeful because it will be really a fantastic event for Dubai."
Jumeirah Restaurants is the dedicated branded restaurant division within the Jumeirah Group. It is a company of multiple and successful restaurant concepts developed and licenced globally. Its first restaurant -- the noodle house -- remains the division's flagship brand. "We have 20 noodles house stores in operation and another 21 under development, mainly standalone," he said.
In Dubai, the group also has a place which is fun for the whole family -- Wild Wadi Water Park, situated between the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The unique water park is one of the most technically-advanced water parks in the world.
When asked about its competition with other water parks in Dubai, such as those newly-opened in Abu Dhabi and others located in Ras Al Khaimah, he said that it's really a very special product. The park is doing very well and the company continues to update its rides.
(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
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