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June 19, 2014

Gerald Lawless, President and CEO, Jumeirah Group

By Chris Boyle

Gerard LawlessTak Man, Publisher of Elite Traveler Asia, sat down with President and CEO of the Jumeirah Group, Gerald Lawless, at the WTTC Global Summit in Hainan. They discussed upcoming developments and exciting news for the luxury hotel brand, including their launch into China.

Elite Traveler: What are the latest developments with Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts?

Gerald Lawless: Our portfolio of hotels, resorts and residences is expanding and we have a solid footprint in Europe with properties in Istanbul, Rome, Frankfurt, Mallorca and three properties in London, including the latest Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living.

Grosvenor House Apartments are doing very well especially with the type of guests who are familiar with our brand. In the summer period many of our guests from the Gulf region visit London and find that our luxury residences are ideal for them during extended stays. They like the luxury of hotel service with the amenities of a luxury apartment.

Besides Europe we have our property in Abu Dhabi. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers offers some of the best restaurants in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Scott’s recently opened in Abu Dhabi, the first time in 160 years they have opened outside of London. Scott’s offers you the very finest seafood dishes, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.

We have just confirmed two properties in Muscat, Oman, which will open in about three years’ time. We have also signed a management agreement for a luxury hotel in Mumbai, India, as well as Bali, Indonesia. In China we plan to open five major properties including Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Sanya, Macau and Qiandaohu or Thousand Island Lake, in addition to our existing Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai. We have great opportunities all over the world, with a pipeline that continues to grow.

ET: What makes you different from other luxury hotel operators?

GL: Through our Dubai properties we have built a reputation as one of the top luxury hotel operators. Our service philosophy is based on our brand promise of STAY DIFFERENT.  We recognise that everyone is different which is why each of our properties is different and has a solid connection with its local community and culture.

I personally take part in every orientation for new employees who join our organisation. Also, we have what I call the ‘golden thread’ of Jumeirah culture, which is essential to the organization and is based on three hallmarks, which are:

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  1. I will always smile and greet our guests before they greet me
  2. My first response to a guest request will never be no
  3. I will treat all colleagues with respect and integrity

30% of our guests have stayed in our properties before, which means we have a good customer relationships and high brand loyalty. China is exciting for us because many of the Chinese travellers have already stayed in our properties and they keep asking us when Jumeirah will open more properties in China, beyond Shanghai.

ET: What do Private Jet Travelers want when they stay at your properties?

GL: It depends which countries they are from. In general, they expect a tailor-made experience. For example, as you may know, we have a fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms in our Burj Al Arab hotel. Next year we are looking to have a few convertibles which we will rent out to our guests.

Your readers travel all of the time and I find that as well as luxury, they also want a sense of enrichment when they stay with us. We have local enrichment programmes associated with our properties. In Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has set up The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Every Thursday we offer to take our guests to the local mosque to learn more about the religion and culture of Dubai. Our guests always come back with a sense of enrichment.

We also connect with the local community. About a year ago we started to work with a residential centre in Dubai for disabled children, supporting them through voluntary work and financial assistance to upgrade their facilities and events for the children. Another community-based programme we support is the rehabilitation of endangered turtles in the Arabian Gulf – in the basement of Burj Al Arab we have a marine biology facility that allows us to nurse them back to health, after which we release them back into the wild from the beach in front of Madinat Jumeirah. Finally, we have just setup The Jumeirah Foundation through with we assist and support nominated programmes throughout the region. These are really great ways to give back to the local community.

ET: What is the most important thing you have learned throughout your career?

GL: It is the people in the organisation who make the business successful. We recognise the importance of every job in the company. To reinforce this, we get our senior leadership to take on a junior role in a hotel for day once every 18 months or so, so that we can all appreciate the challenges of working ‘at the coal face’. The first time I did it, I worked as a kitchen porter and dish washer. It really gave me an insight into the importance of all of our staff.

ET: Gerald, you have quite an amazing brand, outlook on life and the people around you. We can see why you have been so successful. Congratulations on your recent and upcoming projects. We are thrilled about your additions into Asia and look forward to visiting your new properties.

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