What new initiatives is Jumeirah currently involved in?
LAWLESS: We have had a very exciting year. For the last twelve months, within Jumeirah, we have opened ten hotels. We have actually gone from ten hotels in operation to twenty hotels, in just over a year we have doubled our size so we are taking a little bit of a breather at the moment. We are trying to consolidate what we've achieved so far to ensure that we do everything possible to fill our hotels and to ensure that business keeps going very strongly into the new properties. Dubai is quite a mature market for Jumeirah. We have been enjoying extremely good occupancy over the last months in particular, which seems to be really sustainable for the rest of the year. Most of our renovations and new things have had to do with new hotels opening across the world. We have just come back from opening our hotel in Spain, on the island of Majorca.
Going forward, what will the breakdown be between the UAE and international markets?
LAWLESS: In terms of our earnings, our revenue, since we own most of the hotels in Dubai, our revenue earnings will still be Dubai-focused, with between 85-90%. But that will change over the years as we go more and more into agreements across the world. And if you look at it in terms of gross revenue, certainly we would look at hotels outside Dubai contributing upwards of 35-40% of our total revenue for the future.
What geographic regions are you most keen to focus on in the future?
LAWLESS: When we say we consolidate, we are still concentrating a lot on now having established ourselves as a global luxury brand. For the Jumeirah name, we’re looking very closely at the Middle East region and Asia, and we have a lot of discussion going on, as we speak, in Saudi Arabia, which we view to be a very important market for Jumeirah. We also have five hotels under development in China, in Hainan, Macau, Guangzhou, and ShinDao, right outside of Guangzhou. Three of these hotels will be opening within the next two years and the other two within the next five years. We will have quite a presence within China with at least six hotels opening within the next three to five years. I think we will achieve something similar, hopefully, in Saudi Arabia. On the market side, in terms of where our business is coming from, particularly into Dubai, we find that we have had quite an upsurge in business from Russia, a great deal of it driven by the fact that Emirates Airlines now serves in so many areas across the world. Some of the more traditional markets like Europe haven’t gone down, but they've pretty well stabilized. We have quite a good business from Europe, from Germany, and from the United Kingdom, but Russia has been a big growth market for us as well as China, which is quite a strong market. Particularly, the Chinese like to buy brands, so during Chinese New Year and their other holidays, we do very well with the Burj Al Arab from the Chinese market.
How would you rate the current state of the hospitality industry in Dubai?
LAWLESS: Dubai has really recovered very strongly, particularly in travel and tourism. We find that our occupancy levels, average room rate, and overall RevPARs are now equal to those of 2007-2008. In fact RevPAR this year is already up 18% from the same period last year. So we see huge recovery in Dubai in travel and tourism. Dubai is back in a big way.
What have been some of the key challenges you will need to overcome in the future?
LAWLESS: When we look at key challenges, I think it is always going to be within our business. We are a labor-intensive business, and within Jumeirah, we base our culture and our brand on the people who work for us. We call them our colleagues and it is something we have really been able to use to carve our identity for Jumeirah, in the way that our colleagues interact with our guests. So it is a challenge that we have met, I think, in really having extremely good employees working for us. Most of our guests talk to us about how impressed they are with the Jumeirah colleagues.
Have you noticed any impact on travel patterns or arrivals due to the political situation in the region?
LAWLESS: Not really. I think that we have picked up a lot more business from the region following the Arab Spring, particularly from Saudi Arabia and from the GCC itself, and particularly during the shoulder and summer periods, where traditionally GCC outbound visitors would have gone to places like Syria, Egypt, and also to Lebanon. Although Lebanon is recovering very strongly at the moment and Beirut is well up on last year. But generally, yes we have benefited, maybe in the shoulder and summer periods, from the Saudi Arabian market in particular. Otherwise, I think our business base has been growing. It has been growing very much thanks to Emirates Airlines who really has created a universal aviation hub in Dubai.
What is your general outlook for the tourism sector in Dubai?
LAWLESS: My general outlook for the tourism sector is very positive. We are now up to almost 9 million visitors a year, visitors as defined by the UNWTO as people who stay in the hotel for one night or more, which is quite phenomenal when you think that the city itself has a population of just about 2 million. So I think that to get that number of visitors coming in here is significant. I think the United Arab Emirates, as a country, as a haven of stability, will always remain extremely attractive to visitors from oversees. It is good to see that our markets are broadening, not only from Europe but also from Asia, from America, and of course from Russia.
Dubai has really recovered very strongly, particularly in travel and tourism. We find that our occupancy levels, average room rate, and overall RevPARs are now equal to those of 2007-2008. In fact RevPAR this year is already up 18% from the same period last year. So we see huge recovery in Dubai in travel and tourism. Dubai is back in a big way.
What are the best opportunities for foreign investors interested in hospitality in Dubai?
LAWLESS: I still think that as long as we continue to grow the number of visitors, the hotel business is still a good business to be in in Dubai. We have also had a broadening in terms of the product offering, in terms that it’s not only our own Burj Al Arab and our own 5 star luxury hotels, but you see quite a number of budget hotels of a branded nature, like Premier Ends and Express by Holiday Inn, coming into Dubai and developing very rapidly. They are also servicing a really important market for us. So on all levels, from the luxury to the budget, I think the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, have a great potential still for investment within the country.
How much positive kickback do you expect from Qatar being in the spotlight with the 2022 World Cup?
LAWLESS: I think this is great for the region. It is fantastic that they are having the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. I think it also important that Dubai is bidding for the World Expo in 2020, which is a perfect fit for Dubai to go for something like the World Expo. It would be right for Dubai and we will know in 2013 if we succeed in achieving the 2020 World Expo. In Shanghai when they had it last year, they got 70 million visitors, and Dubai is aiming for 30 million, obviously not having the population and the hinterland that China would have, that Shanghai would have. But it would be really incredible for Dubai if we get the World Expo in 2020.
How well are the public and private sectors cooperating in tourism?
LAWLESS: I would say that within Dubai, we are very pleased with the way the private sector works with the public sector, particularly what’s called the DCTM, the Dubai Tourism Commerce Marketing. We've always worked closely with that tourist board to develop and encourage tourism and travel into Dubai. And finally, I would say that without Emirates Airlines, I think it would be very hard to have a tourism industry. They have done an incredible job in really letting people see what can be achieved with an airline that has a true open skies policy.
How significant is the Arabian Travel Market for Jumeirah?
LAWLESS: It’s very significant. The Arabian Travel Market and is just on the back of the Arabian Investment Conference, which is taking place at the moment in our hotel of Madinat Jumeirah, which really showcases the United Arab Emirates, the Arab world, and Dubai in particular, as one of the hotspots for tourism worldwide. It’s great to see that the Arab world really understands and appreciates the importance of travel and tourism. After all, travel and tourism really does provide almost 10% of the world’s GDP, it provides 235million jobs or 8% of the world’s labor force, and these are figures that have been put out by the World Travel and Tourism Council and by the UNWTO, which really signifies to us, in the Arab world, that we should be working very hard to develop travel and tourism in this region.