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Tue 21 Dec 2010 02:22 PM

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Jumeirah bets on China, Qatar World Cup

Dubai hotel group will not be sold to help pay off emirate’s debts, says executive chairman

Jumeirah bets on China, Qatar World Cup
(ITP Images)
Jumeirah bets on China, Qatar World Cup
LUXURY HOTEL: Jumeirah Group operates luxury hotels and resorts such as the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai (Getty Images)
Jumeirah bets on China, Qatar World Cup
GOING NOWHERE: Jumeirah Group is not for sale, regardless of the reported restructuring being considered by its parent company Dubai Holding.

Luxury hotelier Jumeirah Group, owned by the ruler of Dubai, is setting its sights on China for long-term growth and plans to build a hotel in Qatar in time for the 2022 soccer World Cup.

Executive chairman Gerald Lawless reiterated the group, a unit of indebted Dubai Holding, the personal investment vehicle of the Gulf emirate's ruler, would not be sold to help pay off debts.

"I'm sure that we have a very bright future within Dubai Holding," he said.

Earlier this month, Dubai Holding's main unit, loss-making hospitality and property arm Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, extended a $555 million loan reinforcing doubts over Dubai's ability to solve its debt troubles.

Jumeirah Group operates luxury hotels and resorts such as the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.

UAE hoteliers are seeing signs of recovery after sharp drops in revenue in 2009.

"Future bookings are much healthier than they were a year ago. We are extremely optimistic that we have gone through the worst," Lawless said, adding hotel occupancy rates were expected to rise in 2011.

"Tourism to the region, to the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Dubai will continue to grow and we are very optimistic about 2011," he said, adding the group planned new hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Data from the Dubai Tourism Department showed the number of guests at Dubai's hotels rose to 4.2 million in the first half of this year, up 9 percent from 2009, driven by rising demand from Asia and the Gulf Arab region.

The group is also eyeing expansion with six projects in Chinese cities such as Guangzhou, Macau, and Hangzhou.

"We're finding that a lot of Chinese businesses are now coming to Dubai, and that is one of the strongest growth sectors that we've had," Lawless said.

The group plans to have 60 properties in operation or under development by 2012 as it expands outside the UAE to rival other international hotel operators. In April, it unveiled plans to open new hotels in Germany, the Maldives and Shanghai.

Lawless said the group planned a hotel project in Qatar, which in December won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, the world's most watched sporting event.

"It's a great coup for the region. That one of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries can actually have the world cup. And I think it will have an extremely positive effect on tourism and on business generally in this part of the world," Lawless said.

"We would be delighted to have a hotel project within Doha, and I'm sure, definitely by 2022 we will, but I hope long before then."

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