The president and group CEO for Jumeirah Group, Gerald Lawless, is crowned this year’s most influential hotel professional in the fourth edition of the Hotelier Middle East Power 50.
Climbing to the top spot from seventh place last year, Lawless’ ranking is testament to the phenomenal growth in the Jumeirah portfolio he has driven over the past 12 months. The chain has expanded from 10 hotels in January 2011 to 21 properties as of September 2012, with new openings including several market debuts — Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Rome, Istanbul and Mallorca among them.
He may not run as many hotels as those operated by the international giants also featured in the Power 50, but where Lawless’ success is significant is that he has taken what was 15 years ago a small regional company, global, and with that not only put Jumeirah on the world hotels map but also contributed in no small part to Dubai’s destination status. His achievements over the past 12 months represent eight years dedicated to internationalising the Jumeirah brand, ensuring that investors the world over understand what Jumeirah stands for, and doubling the portfolio over the past year is the culmination of this effort.
This is by no means the peak for Jumeirah though. Lawless is committed to pushing expansion further still, with Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, Baku, Azerbaijan in soft opening, and Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel, Kuwait due to open before mid-2013. In total, 13 hotels are confirmed in the pipeline, but Lawless has made no secret of his desire to sign more hotels in key letterhead locations such as Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.
While personally committed to ensuring Jumeirah continues to fulfil its expansion targets, Lawless is also dedicated to consolidating the existing business — which he helped found in 1997 after a 23-year career with Forte Hotels. Continually exceeding performance targets is a key priority. At the end of 2011, Jumeirah scored 94% within the Market Metrix Hospitality Index — the largest measure of hospitality company performance available today with 35,000 guest surveys. Dubai properties performed well, with Madinat Jumeirah reporting 80.1% occupancy at RevPAR AED 1607 averages between July 2011 to July 2012. The competitive London market is also strong, with average occupancy of 78.3% and RevPAR of AED 1568 at its hotels in the city.
And aside from Jumeirah’s hotel development, Lawless is also responsible for Jumeirah Restaurants, which launched a second Rivington Grill in Dubai this year and is set to debut Scott’s at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi soon. Meanwhile, home-grown brand The Noodle House reached UAE Superbrand status in 2012 and is set to open new outlets in Morocco, Russia and the UK later this year.
Talise, Jumeirah’s signature spa brand, has also been a target for growth under Lawless’ watch. Until January 2011, it was only present in Madinat Jumeirah. There are now Talise spas and fitness centres in 10 hotels and resorts worldwide, with more opening soon in Shanghai, Baku and Kuwait.
There has been one black mark against Jumeirah in recent weeks, however; the sale of its New York property Jumeirah Essex House by Dubai Investment Group. The sale is scheduled to complete by midnight on September 7, when JW Marriott takes over management. Only time will tell the impact of the loss, as there are currently no more Jumeirah hotels planned for the US, but for now, the firm is focused on America as a source market.
A self-confessed high achiever, Lawless believes in the philosophy that “if something is achievable, you have a duty to set about achieving it”. This attitude no doubt is behind Jumeirah’s success as well as Lawless’ many personal accolades, including being a member of the executive committee and vice chairman – corporate governance of the WTTC.
Praise for Lawless is far-reaching indeed and Ahmad Bin Byat, CEO of Jumeirah’s parent company, Dubai Holding, credits him as being “instrumental in making Jumeirah the global success story it is today”. You simply can’t argue with that.