EXCLUSIVE: Jumeirah targets Saudi, India and Africa as part of plan for over 30 hotels by 2016

Jumeirah Group president and CEO, Gerald Lawless, travelled to Saudi Arabia on Monday for talks about potential hotel projects in the kingdom, part of the luxury Dubai hotelier’s plans to have more than 30 hotels under operation within the next four years.

“We are focusing on places like Saudi Arabia… We don’t have anything signed up but there are some very real possibilities,” Lawless told Arabian Business in an interview at Jumeirah Group headquarters in Dubai on Sunday.

“Location-wise, we would very much aspire to be in Makkah, Medina, Jeddah, Riyadh and Khobar. They are the main centres and I think that there is a very strong possibility that Jumeirah will achieve its goals there very rapidly,” he added.

The chief executive said 2012 “has been very good” and he expected strong double digit revenue growth for the whole of the year. “Overall revenue we are up about 10 percent on last year and we expect to have quite a multiple of that by the end of the year.”

As part of this growth, Lawless said the group, which is part of the government-owned Dubai Holding, is aiming to have more than 30 hotels in operation within the next four years.

“At the moment we are operating 22 hotels and really we have gone from 10 or 11 hotels in about 18 months… It is hard to give a number but in four years time… opened and under operation, we should be well into the 30s.”

Within the Gulf region, Saudi is not the only market on Lawless’ horizon. “We would also like to be in Doha and Qatar… We have projects that are coming up in Muscat that will take another two years… Kuwait will open very soon, we are still waiting on final information on that from the developer but I would hope that during the next eight months [it will open].”

In Dubai, Lawless is also investing “a lot” refurbishing some of its major trophy assets, with Jumeirah Emirates Towers to complete an overhaul of its rooms by the end of 2012 and Jumeirah Beach Hotel currently in the midst of a three year refurbishment of around 200 rooms.

Elsewhere, Lawless said he would be interested in expanding the luxury brand across the UAE. “If there is a property that is the right standard and right profile we would be happy to consider it and there is no reason why we wouldn’t consider having a Jumeirah hotel in the other emirates other than Abu Dhabi and Dubai.”

Jumeirah previously operated the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, which was switched to Meydan in December 2010, but Lawless said he was still be interested in adding a similar style resort to the group’s Dubai portfolio. “It would be nice to have a desert property… If the opportunity was to come forward we would seriously consider it.”

Elsewhere, Asia, Africa, Russia and India are on the company’s agenda. “All the opportunities are there… We are still trying to get a deeper understanding on how to approach the African market.

“We already have five projects under development in China… so we look forward to a big presence there within the next 18 to 24 months.

“I would hope we will be able to report some movement in [India] in the next four to five weeks. We are very active in India at the moment and very close to finalising, but, like everything, it takes time,” he added.

In the US, Dubai Holding is set to complete the sale of Jumeirah Essex House hotel by September 7 but Lawless said the region remained a priority for the group.

“The US is a very important source of outbound traffic for us… We are bolstering our sales and marketing presence within the US and we have offices in LA, Chicago and New York. We will make sure we keep a high profile there.

“We have a good opportunity to source another suitable hotel within New York and if it comes it will be great but it will be on more of an opportunist basis. It will take some time and we don’t have any immediate plans at the moment.

As part of the sale of Essex House, the hotel will change operator, but Lawless declined to reveal confirm whether the Dubai group would be compensated for the loss of the property. “It is not unusual that if an asset is sold the new investor wants to change the operator. Marriott came on, in what I assume is an agreement with the investor.”

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