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Jumeirah, Dubai’s little giant, does well after US ditched Dubai Ports

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Hazel Heyer l Special to eTN  Mar 20, 2008

After the supposed-US deal with Dubai Ports collapsed and a flood of negative headlines, Dubai even gained strength as the regional leader in tourism and hospitality. This, following decades of having switched to non-oil industries after the oil boom and commerce spike in the ‘70s.

Dubai Ports World’s London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O), which ran port operations in six US states among scores of other ports around the world, faced opposition in Congress and the American public. The U.S. opposed Dubai Ports operations fearing security breaches.

Gerald Lawless, executive chairman of the Jumeirah Group, a member of the Dubai Holding, said the issue had no tangible effect on tourism to Dubai as a result of the coverage generated by the Dubai Ports Authority debate. “Our hotels continue to enjoy some of the highest occupancies in the world and the forecast for the short and medium terms is strong,” he said when the heat was on the Dubai Ports.

Since then, Dubai has never looked back. The ports deal sank. Quickly, it was history. However, Dubai’s chain made even bigger, better headlines. This time, positive ones.

Based in the tiny yet most progressive Gulf Cooperating Council emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the Jumeirah Group is the fastest-growing operator of luxury hotels and resorts in the world. It has won numerous international travel and tourism awards, including top accolades, the most recent recognition of which is the World’s Leading Luxury Hotel Brand at the World Travel Awards last December.

Its flagship property and the world’s most luxurious and perhaps the most featured Dubai hotel, the Burj Al Arab was awarded the much-coveted title of World’s Leading Hotel. In addition, Jumeirah operates the award-winning and iconic Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Madinat Jumeirah and Jumeirah Bab al Shams Desert Resort & Spa in Dubai, the Jumeirah Carlton Tower and Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in London and the Jumeirah Essex House in New York City. The group’s portfolio also includes Wild Wadi, regarded as one of the premier water parks outside of North America and the Emirates Academy, the region’s only third-level academic institution specializing in hospitality and tourism.

With a property in the US, and probably another in the pipeline, Jumeirah is not flinching in the face of recession, economic slowdown and the increased debate on global warming. In fact, Jumeirah’s forging ahead. Lawless said, “Certainly, we do not come away with a feeling of great pessimism. We have strong focus in places in the Gulf and new destinations particularly India and China, both of which are sources of funds to keep the world economies going. Though there are a lot of talks on sovereign REIT funds, the latest, popular and fashionable targets, people have remained pragmatic in the Gulf, in Abu Dhabi and in Kuwait were very mature and well-known investment funds have been around for about 30-45 years. People here are investing money wisely for their future generations. I think, it is unfair to target some of this REIT funds and I felt there was an underlying trend to worry about what China is going to do in the long-term with their commodity buying around the world.”

Jumeirah supports a “green” future. Lawless said they are aware of the need for sustainability. Hospitality will continue to work on best practices to minimize the impact including rewarding guests for their participation in the CSR initiatives with Sirius points - the guest recognition and reward program that gives them opportunity to offset their carbon footprint.

He added, “Travel is good for the planet and not bad. As a member of the World Travel & Tourism Council, we want to get across to the world especially to the media that it’s good to travel, not bad at all. Though I don’t know what it’s like in the US, in the UK for instance, some say they’re good citizens and hence, they won’t travel. To places like India, or Kenya where the Masai Mara tribes are being supported by tourism. Locals lose money directly from the economy as tourism does not grow. It’s a shame if people stop traveling because they think the aviation industry and the hospitality sector pollute the environment,” said Lawless.

Today, Jumeirah has achieved its main objectives of being one of the foremost names on the global front. “We want to expand across the globe as a luxury brand. We’re only 11 and still quite small. But we benefit a lot from our centralized position in Dubai as our base because the emirate is well known around the world. People travel daily on Emirates Airlines to Dubai from New York and Houston (showing 100 percent increase in US travels to Dubai) and lately, Sao Paolo,” he said.

SHIFTING SANDS
Jumeirah’s executives are excited to open the new hotel in Shanghai this year. By 2011, Jumeirah looks to operate or have under construction 60 hotels and resorts worldwide with 65-75 percent of the growth in Asia. Together with its sister companies in Dubai Holding, the group expects to open at least two additional hotels in Dubai in Healthcare City and Business Bay in 2008. Through the expansion of airlift in and around Dubai, the chain looks at locations in Europe, the Americas, as in Central and South America.

Jumeirah, Dubai’s little giant, does well after US ditched Dubai Ports



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