The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), being held on May 4-5 at Madinat Jumeirah, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Jumeirah Group president and CEO Gerald Lawless is one of a handful of hoteliers that spoke at the first conference back in 2004 and who will again address this year’s event. Here, he reflects on the changes in the hotel investment landscape and reveals yet more growth plans for Dubai-based Jumeirah.
You were one of the speakers at the first AHIC back in 2004; what do you remember from the event?
I think because Jonathan Worsley (chairman, Bench Events and founder of AHIC) and I had a lot of conversations before the first AHIC was held, to me it was very much a combination of efforts from all sides that brought us to have the first AHIC in Dubai 10 years ago and certainly we always had a great sense of pride that Madinat Jumeirah was the host venue and continues to be the host venue ever since. It was a just a sense of satisfaction that we had within Jumeirah that finally the AHIC took place and came about.
How do you think AHIC has helped facilitate and improve investment in the Middle East hospitality industry?
It concentrated investors' minds and was a chance to showcase what Dubai has to offer in terms of hospitality investment and indeed in the broader region to demonstrate the potential that exists for the travel and tourism industry through the investment in hotels and resorts and these lovely locations.
If you see what has been developed in Dubai over the last 10 years, as an organisation and event, a conference such as AHIC is vital for bringing together of the industry both in terms of the investors and the operators and this has been borne out by what has occurred in the mean time and I think AHIC has been a significant contributor to the development of the hotel industry definitely within the region and very specifically with the UAE — particularly when you see not only what’s happened in Dubai but what’s happened in the rest of the country in Abu Dhabi, for example, the way they’re now developing the tourism infrastructure of places like Saadiyat and Yas Island.
What’s been the most significant change over the past 10 years?
I think it’s a proliferation of various brands that now exist within Dubai in that we virtually have all the top known and best known international brands actually operating here in Dubai and it has also facilitated brands such as Jumeirah to be able to promote its product on an international platform and we can see how Jumeirah has now developed with 22 hotels worldwide in 11 different countries with a significant pipeline, particularly in places like china and throughout the Middle East. We just had the groundbreaking ceremony [on April 16] for a lovely resort with two hotels in Muscat.
So that’s really significant for us. Also you can see there have been other brands which have been start ups in the United Arab Emirates, such as Rotana and I see Coral Hotels really beginning to make their mark as well, so very much these kind of events such as AHIC bring together that important community of investors and operators.
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