Friday 24 May 2019

ME tourism 'on the brink of exciting times', says expert

DUBAI, July 31, 2018

The Middle East tourist offering is “on the brink of truly exciting times”, believes Gerald Lawless, former president and CEO of the Jumeirah Group and immediate-past chair of the World Travel and Trade Council.

Often cited as one of the visionaries who helped make Dubai the tourist showpiece that it is today, Lawless has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to hotels and constantly improving the guest experience, taking the reins of the Jumeirah Group in 1997 before the brand had even launched a single property.

In less than three years, the group was up and running – with the iconic Burj Al Arab, its jewel in the crown. The hotel – the world’s first seven-star property – captured the imagination of tourists around the globe and stamped the UAE’s passport as a truly global destination, invariably kick-starting two decades’ of visitor-driven expansion across the country that transformed the region entirely and solidified tourism’s role as a long-term revenue alternative away from oil.

However, more than 20 years and unrivalled growth later, Lawless believes the Middle East is once again on the cusp of redefining tourism.

Speaking ahead of this year’s Hotel Show Dubai – taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from September 16-18 – the Irishman insisted that anything is possible in the region, now that tourism has proven its worth.

He said: “I think we’re on the brink of truly exciting, but also challenging times."

“The argument has been won and everyone accepts and understands that travel and tourism is a force for good, a great benefit to the economy, to society. To see what is happening not just here in the UAE with the likes of the development in Ras Al Khaimah as an example, but with what is happening in Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince being truly committed to developing the kingdom as a tourism destination not just for religious tourism but also to show what the country has to offer, is just fantastic.

“When you look around the Middle East and hone in particularly on the UAE, Dubai is the example of a location that really developed its product and developed itself as a tourist destination. I think Dubai very much stands out as a leader in terms of what has occurred in this region," he said.

“It is great to see the understanding that has developed in this part of the world of the importance of tourism and the benefit of travel and tourism to the global economy and indeed society. What has been achieved here is nothing short of phenomenal. At this moment in time, I am very excited and believe we truly are at the beginning of a great era for tourism in the Gulf countries and the Middle East generally.”

A graduate of Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland, Lawless stepped down from Jumeirah with the now globally-renowned brand operating 23 hotels across 12 worldwide destinations – and owning in excess of 100 restaurants.

Asked where the region can now go having firmly established itself as a key player in global tourism, Lawless said: “We need to ensure that what we're doing is done in a sustainable way. Sustainability covers the environment, for sure, but it also covers the social aspects of what travel and tourism can do to a destination. For us in this part of the world, we have to understand, appreciate and respect the culture of the region. We have to understand the people who live here and what their aspirations are for the future of their country and how the country can develop with travel and tourism.

“So it's not just numbers. It's the sustainability of those numbers. It's the sustainability of the whole travel experience for people who are staying here. There are many, many different levels of a market, but I think the sustainability issue is one that we have to think about and we have to be very considerate about it."

“When I first came here in 1978, there was really only Dubai Creek. That was it. It was the buildings around the creek that were the major areas. And I still love when guests come and stay with my wife and me. We have our little tour around Dubai which always starts with a visit to Bur Dubai, the Al Fahidi Fort and the museum down through the Textile Souk, hop on an Abra, go across to the Spice Souk, walk through the Spice Souk up to the Gold Souk, and then walk back down and walk up by the creek and see all the boats from different parts of the world. This is the magic of Dubai.

“A place like Dubai must never lose that sense of heritage, the sense of culture, and the sense of sustainability to continue with that,” he added.

September’s Hotel Show will gather 30,000 industry professionals to the biggest networking and product sourcing event of its kind anywhere in the Middle East.

Now in its 19th year, the three-day event will feature more than 600 exhibitors, a packed general manager’s leadership conference, and a host of live features.

Lawless said: “The Hotel Show is one of the major events for any hotelier and I can’t imagine why anyone would not make it a priority to attend."

“It’s not just for hoteliers, but suppliers or anyone with interest in the business. The Hotel Show is such a great forum that brings everyone in the industry and like-minded people together, and is important for all aspects of hotels. It also has the Hospitality Leadership Forum, which gives the region’s GMs a chance to get exposure to the market, but also the market to get exposure to these influential GMs.

“The Hotel Show is a true coming together of the industry and a really important one at that, and one that is eagerly looked forward to by everyone in the business.” - TradeArabia News Service

Tags: UAE | hospitality | tourism |

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