The Chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Gerald Lawless, will share his inside knowledge of building Dubai as a destination, as well as one of the world’s best-known luxury brands, Jumeirah Group, when he addresses the inaugural Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference (AHTIC) in Colombo in November.
The former Jumeirah CEO, now Head of Tourism and Hospitality with Dubai Holding, Jumeirah’s parent company, has played a key role in the country’s phenomenal growth for nearly two decades.
His own track record speaks for itself: when he joined Jumeirah from Trusthouse Forte in 1997, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel was about to open. It now has 22 across 11 global destinations and more than 20 hotels are in the pipeline in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Europe.
Dubai’s overall expansion as a favourite tourist destination is just as impressive. Gerald says: “I remember in 1981 the Hyatt opened a hotel with 600 rooms and someone from the industry said, ‘now Dubai has seven five-star hotels – and that’s enough’.” It clearly wasn’t. There are now approaching 700 luxury hotels in the emirate with another 67 planned over the next 12 months.
Key to that expansion has been co-operation between government and the private sector. Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing built a strong rapport with hotel owners and other industry players, as a group, so issues like immigration could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. The development of Emirates Airline was crucial too, as was marketing at big international events, and the government’s commitment to building infrastructure to cope with the huge influx of visitors.
Visa waivers to tourists from 30 countries – often without reciprocal concessions – also aided the expansion. “I had never seen co-operation like that anywhere else in the world,” said Gerald. “His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum really understood the potential of travel and tourism to the country.”
The value of tourism as a force for good in the world economy is one of Gerald’s key messages in his new roles.
He argues that a worldwide trusted-traveller or e-visa programme – supported by high-level security and international data sharing – would further boost tourism, which already accounts for 10 per cent of the global workforce, while enhancing security.
He also predicts that handled the right way, tourism could account for a hugely increased percentage of GDP in many emerging markets in Asia.
Sustainability – environmental, but also social and economic – is another of Gerald’s passions. He cites the example of a new hotel project in an ecologically sensitive area in the interior of a tropical island. He emphasises the importance of training and employing local people there, providing health and education. That way everyone’s experience – including the tourists’ – is enriched. “We ignore sustainability at our peril,” he says.
Gerald Lawless’ keynote address, Building a Tourism Destination, will be delivered at AHTIC in the Hilton Colombo, November 27 – 29.
Jonathan Worsley, Chairman of Bench Events, which is organising AHTIC concluded: “Sri Lanka is on a mission to rebuild its tourism industry after decades of civil war. I am sure that everyone in the audience will be fascinated to hear, in detail, the secrets of Dubai’s success and to hear Gerald’s thoughts on how similar success can be achieved in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the region”.