“We have projects that are coming up in places including Qatar. We’re very optimistic that we will do some projects this year or at least sign up the agreements in 2014, for Saudi Arabia.” Jumeirah now has five hotels under development within China. “Our first opening will be in Guangzhou and later in Hainan Island.” “We expect to open in Bali in 2015 and in Muscat in 2015 or 2016. Significantly, here in Dubai as part of the overall Madinat Jumeirah complex, we’re developing another 430-bedroom hotel within our own property. We’ve a lot going on at the moment.” The Group is also “quite large” within the restaurant business, operating more than 100 restaurants and bars through its hotels and around Dubai, in addition to developing and franchising successful restaurant brands, such as the Noodle House. Lawless and his wife Neasa first visited Dubai in 1978, while he was working with Forte Hotels, and stayed there for four years. “We had been working in the UK with Forte and I ended up in Glasgow, but both of us always wanted to go abroad. Finally I was offered a place, more in frustration with me than anything, as I kept pestering the HR department. Finally they said to me one day: ‘Would you go to Dubai?’ And I said ‘Yes, I would’ and then I said ‘Where is it?’” he laughs. At that time Dubai was much more businessbased, and “tourism hadn’t really taken off yet. It was based around the development of the infrastructure of Dubai. They were building Jebel Ali Port, which is now one of the top five container ports in the world.” “It was great to see Dubai in the early days. You could see even then that it was a truly dynamic city.” As a smaller city of about 200,000 people at that time, “everybody knew each other and we had a pretty good time. We got into sailing here, joining the Jebel Ali Sailing Club.” In 1982, Lawless moved with Forte Hotels from Dubai to Durban in South Africa, where his youngest son was born and the family lived there for two and a half years, before being moved to London, where he begged the company to send him back to the Middle East. “We went to Bahrain for three years, then to Dublin for two years at the Shelbourne Hotel looking after the Irish division for Forte, then we went back to London for 18 months where I looked after the Caribbean and the Middle East,” he recalls. “Finally, I managed to persuade Forte to allow me to set up an office in Dubai where we
THE BURJ AL ARAB AND THE JUMEIRAH BEACH HOTEL REALLY REDEFINED WHAT DUBAI WOULD BE ABOUT, WITH REGARDS TO QUALITY TOURISM AND LUXURY TOURISM COMING INTO DUBAI.
would manage the Middle East. We all moved back out to Dubai in late 1991 and we’ve been here ever since.” Forte Hotels was taken over in 1996 and Lawless “was very fortunate to be invited to come onboard to set up what has now become the Jumeirah company” the following year. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had already taken the big step of developing the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and of course the Burj Al Arab, which has become very much the symbol of Dubai over the years, he recalls. “When I joined, the strategy had already been set by His Highness when he founded the company, by actually constructing the two very big hotels: the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab. From what I understood at the time,
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Arab Irish Journal Issue 6