Jumeirah president and CEO Gerald Lawless opened the debate and set the tone for much of the 2012 event. Jumeirah president and CEO Gerald Lawless opened the debate and set the tone for much of the 2012 event.

Hotelier Middle East’s third annual GM Debate reveals an increasingly positive outlook for Dubai hoteliers, but uncovers concerns for those in Abu Dhabi. There’s also talk, once again, of the need for a unified UAE destination marketing campaign, of the pressures of rising payroll costs and of the influx of new brands. Louise Oakley reports

More than 200 general managers and senior hoteliers from across the UAE attended the Hotelier Middle East Great GM Debate at Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai on September 24.

The conference, now in its third year, was the largest to date, with 42 speakers on the agenda and more delegates attending than ever before. Industry partners included associate sponsor Ronai, plus A&R Towels & Bathrobes, Furnish, Innspec, Lavazza, Coffee Planet, Unique Precise International, Sparkling Sky Hospitality & Retail and ResNet.

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The day-long event comprised two exclusive data presentations, six panel sessions and a total of eight interactive workshops, covering topics including reducing staff turnover, trends in revenue management and the delicate balance of owner-operator relationships.

Delegates were welcomed to the event by keynote speaker Gerald Lawless, president and group CEO of Jumeirah, recently ranked number one in the Hotelier Middle East Power 50.

Lawless celebrated the success of the UAE’s hotels, tourism and airline industries to date, but he acknowledged that with more competition coming, “we’ve got to keep running fast to get ahead” — setting the tone for much of the Great GM Debate.

As part of this, Lawless urged the GMs to focus on developing future hotel talent: “I’ll always have a great affection for hotels and for hotel managers because I look upon myself as a hotel GM. That was my background and it’s one that I’m very proud of,” Lawless said as he opened the event.

“I also believe that we see a lot of students coming up within the industry these days and we ourselves in Dubai have our Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM) and as hoteliers we have really a big obligation to these young people to ensure that we offer them the opportunity to share in the great bounty of this industry, to enjoy such a wonderful career that all of us in this room have enjoyed, are enjoying and will enjoy for the future.

“But I do think as well that when I see some of these graduates after four years in a university course, such as the one we have at the EAHM — you know all the great hotel schools around the world — we bring these young people in for graduate placements and very often we do not give them enough responsibility.

We do not actually let them test themselves, let us test them by giving them more responsibility within our operations and within our hotels and I would really urge all of us again to look again at how we do this,” said Lawless.

He added that hotels also needed to “welcome UAE citizens into our great industry”.

“We can demonstrate to them that it doesn’t have to cut across any of their values...in that we have vacancies in all areas, such as accountancy, guest relations, human resources, marketing and indeed why not F&B service as well and of course culinary art.

“I keep encouraging our general managers and colleagues across the company to really embrace Emiratis, no Emirati is coming here to take anyone else’s job, they’re people that have graciously welcomed us to their country, I myself have been here on and off since 1978 and back here since 1991 and I’ve always felt so welcome and welcomed by Emirati citizens and I’m really gratified now to see so many of them coming into our industry,” commented Lawless.

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