CEO interview: Jumeirah's Jose Silva on the Dubai-based brand's new strategy

José Silva, the new CEO of Jumeirah Group, has a focused and ambitious vision for the future of UAE’s home-grown hospitality company

Executive interviews, Operators, Jumeirah group, Jose Silva

Just a few months into the job, new Jumeirah Group CEO José Silva already has a clear vision for the brand and its growth. As part of the company’s growth strategy, he has a monumental task ahead of him before the company can go full speed ahead with its global expansion plan: restructuring its existing portfolio of hotels.

The Portuguese hotelier and Four Seasons veteran is the third CEO for Jumeirah Group in the last two years. Silva recently served as Four Seasons’ regional vice president overseeing France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, and was previously the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris. In March, he replaced interim CEO Marc Dardenne, who had stepped into the role previously held by Stefan Leser and Gerald Lawless.

Silva has a high goal in sight. He plans on expanding Jumeirah’s hotel pipeline from the current 25 hotels to 35 hotels in five years and then to 50 hotels in 10 years. According to him, he can easily see that scale of evolution with half a dozen hotels each in Asia and Europe, with a goal towards expanding in the United States as well given the right opportunity. 

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However, he does not want to force an expansion that is not in line with the company’s strategy.

“We want to be the Emirates of the hotel industry globally,” he says.

At a recent interview with Hotelier Middle East at Jumeirah Group’s D3 office, Silva says that plans are afoot to restructure the hotels within its hospitality brand into different tiers based on the experience each hotel offers. Along with the restructuring of the brand, Silva says Jumeirah will unfold its plans for the new, ultra-luxury, yet-to-be named “Burj Collection” brand in the fall of 2018.

Silva hints that there may be up to three different tiers within the Jumeirah brand — one ultra-luxury brand, one core brand, and the recently launched Zabeel House collection that is meant as an entry-level to introduce 30-somethings to the Jumeirah offering.

“Some hospitality companies have as much as 20 brands and it’s not clear to the consumer which segment of the market they belong to, whereas some have just one brand only. But the issue with that is you then try and fit everything into that one brand. I favour having three entry levels in order to have brand clarity and brand focus, whether it is a Zabeel House, a community-focused entry-level brand, or say a Burj Collection or a Jumeirah Collection. It needs to be clear to the consumer which segment of the market it is,” Silva adds.

According to Silva, it’s important to reclassify the hotels that are in the existing portfolio before the brand begins its global expansion plans, as that will help determine the level of investment needed.

“In the Jumeirah portfolio, the Burj Al Arab stands out as the iconic hotel in a class by itself, so we already have one of those ‘bucket list hotels’ in our existing portfolio,” he says. “It’s not a new idea to introduce a super luxury brand to the portfolio. At the core of the brand we have the Al Qasrs of the world and Al Naseem which is very family-oriented but as we expand the brand, it helps us determine if we’re looking at a Burj Al Arab kind of investment or are we doing a very local authentic style like Al Qasr or are we doing a contemporary hotel lifestyle and design like Al Naseem.”

Silva believes that brands need to stand for something, and that luxury brands the world over have different market segments that they target, like with luxury car brands and jewellery brands.

“Luxury brands the world over have a core product, an aspirational product and an entry level introduction to the brand. And the vision of the three brands within Jumeirah is exactly that,” he adds. “It’s my vision as the CEO of a luxury brand that you need to have an uber-luxury brand at the core of your business, I already see it within Jumeirah. When I arrived we already had four Zabeel Houses in the pipeline, we had the larger-than-life Burj Al Arab and the rest of the brands. So this already exists within the group, based on what the market demand was when each of these hotels was signed.”

According to Silva, the brands will be exposed to the consumer as and when the company launches new hotels in the region and abroad. 

“I’m concerned that the ‘one brand only’ model eventually tries to fit and force everything into a specific brand which makes it very difficult for the consumer to differentiate between the hotels and it gets difficult to market the hotels as well. We can’t put an Al Naseem or and Al Qasr in every location in the world or in every neighbourhood in Dubai either,” Silva adds. He says that with a three entry level strategy, consumers will know exactly what they will receive. Silva believes that in certain “triple A locations” like Paris, London, Hong Kong or New York, Jumeirah can build the sort of extraordinary hotel that the locations demand. “You can’t put the Burj Al Arab anywhere else in the world. But could you have an expression of uber-luxury like the Burj Al Arab in Paris, London or New York? Most certainly,” he adds. Without giving away the location, Silva added that Jumeirah will soon announce a hotel as extraordinary as the Burj Al Arab, but located in a main gateway city in Europe.

However, Silva is aware that there is a scenario in which the consumer might engage more regularly with one brand over others. “There might be a case where someone who frequents Zabeel House might book themselves for a weekend at the Burj Al Arab for an anniversary or a special occasion,” Silva comments.

The newly appointed CEO is also of the opinion that it’s important for consumers to experience a brand in their 30s, to allow people to actually grow with the brand right into their 60s and move up the brand levels itself. “LVMH and most brands do that extremely well, where you can find a bag for $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000. The democratisation of luxury is better received by the consumer when they have the option of a limited edition and an entry level product as well,” he says.

However Silva’s idea for the tiered system does not affect the level of quality, design and service at each Jumeirah brand. “We’ll always have that at each level of the brand. The only thing that might differ is the design to differentiate between the tiers of identity,” he confirms.

Silva, however, wouldn’t it exactly call the process a “redefining” or a “brand restructure”. Instead, he likes to refer to it as a brand evolution of a luxury brand towards its global expansion. “We need to be a bit more cautious with a possible launch in London, Paris or Hong Kong in terms of identity clarity. In Dubai, everyone know exactly what the Burj is versus a Zabeel, so it’s not confusing because it’s their brand. They own it. But as you go to Hong Kong or Paris you need to know where you position yourself exactly,” he adds. Before or while you’re going global, Silva says that it’s important to define who you are for a non-brand user.

One of the mistakes Silva says operators can make is that brands are reactive to an expansion instead of proactively positioning brands globally. Keeping that in mind, Jumeirah has also recently appointed a brand officer to identify the brands and the different identities that exist within the group.

So when it comes to the brand revamp, this could be completed before the end of the year, according to Silva. “The timing of this is shorter rather than longer and we want to unfold this during the year and we could see further expansion of this uber-luxury brand over the next 36-48 months,” he notes.

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