Best of 2012: Jumeirah Group interview

Africa, Asia, India, the US and Saudi Arabia are all on Jumeirah Group’s hotlist for this year as it aims to have 30 hotels under management by 2016

Walking down the infamous Las Vegas strip you don’t need to travel far to see uncanny replicas of some of the world’s most iconic structures. You can have breakfast staring up at the Egyptian Pyramids and the Sphinx, lunch in the shade of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, go shopping by some Venetian canals and finish with a midnight dinner at the Eiffel Tower.

A little-known fact is that if it hadn’t been for the global recession and the subsequent slump in US property values, it is likely plans for a replica of the Burj Al Arab — Dubai’s famous sail-shaped showcase hotel — would have joined this roll call of architectural trophy pieces.

“We have often had [approaches],” Gerard Lawless, Jumeirah Group president and CEO, recalls as we sit down for a catch-up chat after the long summer recess.

“We own the design rights and architectural design rights to the Burj Al Arab. So you can’t just go out and build one… Prior to the financial crisis, yes there was talk about doing something… [However] there was also a body of opinion that we should keep the Burj Al Arab unique.”

While fanciful developers may have had to shelf their plans for a Burj Al Arab-inspired project, the Dubai hotel group is certainly not resting on its laurels and has seen client numbers, profits and development plans trending in the right direction.

“2012 has been very good, especially in Dubai. Dubai has been really strong and steaming along,” he says confidently. “Overall, on revenue, we are up about ten percent on last year and we expect to have quite a multiple of that by the end of the year.

“Occupancy and average room rates have had healthy growth on last year,” he adds.

In fact, figures from Jumeirah show that between January and August 2012, average hotel occupancy was at 74.4 percent, up 5.8 percent compared to the same period in 2011. At the same time, revenue per available room (RevPAR) — the standard performance measure in the hospitality industry — was at AED1,421 ($386), up 13.4 percent compared to the same period last year.

Some of Jumeirah’s biggest source markets are still the UK and Germany, but Lawless says that the ongoing difficulties in the eurozone have not hurt client arrivals to the group’s hotels. At the same time, the heightening tensions surrounding military action against Iran and the impact from the Arab Spring political demonstrations have also had little influence, he believes.

“This particular situation in the region is not affecting at all the attitude of our tourists. We have good business. The number one comes still from the UK. Russia has come up to number two and certainly we don’t hear any concern about the region. Quite the opposite, they see the UAE and Dubai as somewhere to come and be a haven of peace without any concerns… We have seen crisis come and crisis go. The situation that prevails in the region is not affecting us at all.”

While Jumeirah is perceived as a Dubai hotelier, its scale and scope has moved far beyond the emirate and it is now a truly international player. At this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) exhibition in Dubai, one of the biggest talking points was the growth in the Saudi market.

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