BERLIN—Though Gerald Lawless is wearing a cheeky grin, the man means to be taken seriously.
The president and CEO of Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts views 2013 as a defining year for the luxury hotel operator—a year in which the group will establish itself as a formidable player outside of its home base in Dubai.
“This will keep us very busy and at the same time we’ll really get across the message that Jumeirah is a group to be taken seriously in terms of being a major player in the luxury hotel market,” he said during a break at last month’s International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin.
The foundation has been laid, Lawless said. When the Great Recession ground hotel development to a halt, Jumeirah had approximately 10 hotels in its portfolio. But with the recovery churning, that footprint has nearly doubled to 17.
More impressive is the group’s geographic spread, he noted. Though the company is still largely concentrated in Dubai with six hotels, it has an additional 11 properties in markets as varied as Istanbul, Germany, London, the Maldives and Shanghai.
“I look very forward in 2013 to really putting the Jumeirah culture and the Jumeirah difference into these hotels,” he said.
Lawless added he’s looking to do the same in further openings slated for 2013 and beyond—a job that will likely keep him busy. The chief executive is aiming for 30-some hotels in operation by the end of 2015.
While Jumeirah will always have a project or two percolating in Dubai—such as another addition to its Madinat Jumeirah complex, which is slated to begin construction this year and open during 2015—the focus of the company’s development team is looking outward like never before, he said.
Primary growth targets include more countries in the Middle East as well as China, where the company has one property in operation (Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai) and an additional four under development, Lawless said.
Jumeirah also has a hotel signed in Mumbai, but the extended development cycle in India means that property won’t open its doors until a bit further out, he said.
Although the company has expanded its presence in Europe in recent years and now counts hotels in Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Mallorca, Spain, and Rome, the volatile continent is less of a focus, Lawless said.
Additionally, Lawless said the company is “not focused on the U.S. at the moment.”.
Development has become easier during the past six months, both for new builds and adaptive reuse, the chief executive said. For example, the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, a historical landmark that originally opened in 1892, underwent a four-year renovation before reopening in 2010 and then transferring under Jumeirah’s management wing in May 2012.
Lawless also noted a significant uptick in interest from investors.
“There’s a lot of interest in the brand. We’re receiving quite a number of enquiries. Certainly activity has really jumped in the last six to 12 months,” he said.
Performance picking up
“There’s been an incredible recovery mainly in the last six months of 2012,” Lawless said of the Jumeirah portfolio.
Performance has been strong particularly in Dubai, which accounts for the largest share of the group’s profitability.
Average daily rate is back to 2007 peaks, Lawless said. And during January, hotels within the emirate were running near capacity.
During the first two months of the year, occupancy in Dubai was up 2.7%, ADR was up 7% and revenue per available room was up 9.9% in euro terms, according to STR Global, sister company of HotelNewsNow.com.
That strength is even more impressive considering the addition of the 804-room JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, which had its soft opening in November 2012 and launched officially in February 2013, Lawless said.
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