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Interview with Guy Grawford, CEO for Jumeirah Group: "Towards a Global dimension"

Guy Crawford has more than 30 years of experience in the hotel industry, 23 of which he spent in the Forte Hotel Group. He held various senior management positions with the Forte Hotel Group in the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, Morocco and Belgium. He played an active role in integrating Le Méridien into the Forte portfolio. He was also managing director for Macdonalds Hotels in the United Kingdom before joining Jumeirah in May 2002 as Corporate director of Operations for the group. He was promoted CEO in February 2007.

{{HTR: What is your vision of management in a group that now has global ambitions?The spa product was transformed in order to become a global well-being concept, particularly for luxury customers. We thus use the same approach as for our hotel services: a very upscale offer with pricing that makes investments profitable. It is all a question of the right “pricing”. The example of our Madinat Jumeirah hotel in Dubai is proof. We have twenty or so “spa suites” with treatments billed at a rate of 250 to 300 dollars an hour. And still, it is very difficult to find an opening in the schedule.Guy Crawford: }} Since my arrival, I have always been involved in the headquarter’s decisions in such a way as to avoid putting too much distance between the final customer and personnel in situ. This philosophy is central to Jumeirah, personnel are kept up to date regarding the group’s developments and actions. Even if it is just once a year. Today, as a management company, our clients are also our owners. This attitude of close relations is an advantage that we want to offer on a larger scope. It is not just a courtesy towards personnel or investors, as we hold veritable management meetings.Aren’t you handicapped in your relations with other owners by the fact that you are the management company of the hotels owned by Dubai’s ruling family?Our company is integrated into a larger group, Dubai Holding, which also includes various investment companies DIC, DIG, Tatweer, Dubai Properties, but, since the beginning, our goal has not been limited to the Emirates. We want to be among the best hotel groups worldwide in the luxury universe. Of course we began on our own territory in Dubai, but we are also present in London and New York and there are no limits to our growth. We will have a global presence.Will you find relationships elsewhere around the world that are as privileged as those with your current owners, who would appear to be willing to do just about anything to impress the hotel community? Eight years ago I joined the Jumeirah group and our concern about the level of revenues and return on investments has been constant over the years. What appears to be extravagance without concern for financial results is a legend. If there is one significant difference from the other groups I have worked at, it is undoubtedly in terms of services at luxury properties that are in proportion to the prices we apply to our rooms. This might be what one would call extravagance. I have never seen such demands in all my life. Our strength with respect to new owners will be to produce the best balance between profit, which is our unequivocal motor, investments in the product, and very high levels of services.However, doesn’t the image of the hotels you manage in Dubai, such as the Burj al Arab, oblige you to surprise? To produce the famous “Wow Effect”?It is a different approach because I prefer to see customers feel an emotion. It’s not about merely impressing them – that’s the limit of the “wow!” – A customer of a Jumeirah property must feel New York or Shanghai in a luxury hotel. It’s the blend of a “touch of class”, as we say in England, and real surprise. This is why we call on the best architects and best designers, such as Tony Chi in New York and the Takashi Sugimoto’s Super Potato Design that will design our new hotel in Shanghai. We push innovations the furthest in order to get ahead of what the client expects. Innovation is in Jumeirah’s genes.By leaving the universe of the Emirates more resolutely, you will come up against other upscale management companies. That’s a major challenge...Our challenge does not lie in the architecture as one might believe. It is more subtle. We will grow from 15 to 60 hotels in 5 years and will have to find the personnel to operate these new properties in the same spirit of “emotional service” and integrity with respect to Jumeirah’s core values. It is a real concern. The challenge will be to maintain the personal connection between the management and the last link in services provided. It is still possible today. I personally met each of Jumeirah’s employees, sometimes individually, sometimes as a group. Every other Monday, each manager must dedicate at least a quarter of an hour to the new employees at his ho-tel. This is what gives our company’s service its strength and what we will have to export worldwide.What will be the most difficult year for you? I’d rather call it the most exciting. In 2010, we will experience periods when one hotel will open almost each week. We have barely two years to prepare for this. The challenge is to grow the company so it will be ready at each stage.How will you convince an owner, outside your familiar circuit in the Emirates, that you aspire to being better than RitzCarlton, Four Seasons or Shangri-La?The culture of ownership has been very strong at Jumeirah for years and I have been lucky enough to have worked within Le Méridien, which is undoubtedly the chain with the greatest respect for its owners. Today, when I am visiting our hotels, I spend half of my time meeting the current and future owners of our hotels. This was not true five years ago. We have become aware of their difference and their different expectations depending on the continent and country. It is necessary to effectively convince them that what we have succeeded in doing in Dubai, London and New York can also be reproduced in Phuket or the Bermudas. I accept the challenge to demonstrate this in two years with the new openings.Your outlook is very ambitious and appears to be especially directed towards resort hotels… Our strategy is clear: to be present in all the Letterhead cities of the world, but we are a little bit reticent about speaking their names because as soon as we say anything, property prices go up. This is not good for the owner and for the contracts we want to get signed. So, do we want a presence in Paris, the West Coast, in Germany and Russia…? The answer is yes, but we must wait for the opportunities to be more reasonable. Our supply will nonetheless be developed in two priority areas: Asia and the Gulf countries.Did the real estate and financial crisis affect your growth rate? Paradoxically, bankers are courting us more today. There seems to be an incentive to security and they must believe that we are a strong operator for projects that they are ready to finance in the luxury hotel industry, which is in its best cycle.And yet the luxury segment has a reputation for being cyclical and thus unpredictable… Recent years have shown that if we remain faithful to very upscale service, without trying to manage economic difficulties by cutting back on services, there are enough customers. This is why we remain clearly positioned at the apex of the luxury segment.Are there any ambiguous relationships with investors who also see you as potential financial partners? There are still assessment errors regarding our mission. We are operators and we are looking for the best possible management contract. It is not our goal to be investment partners, aside from a few exceptions to establish our credibility.Does the launch of your new brand Jumeirah Living highlight a new direction in accommodations that you are planning to offer? Today we have a hundred or so projects in very different stages of negotiation for hotels and in at least 40% of the cases these are “mixed use” projects. This is a major trend for our business segment when it comes to outfitting new sites. Owners no longer want to be limited to hotels alone. In most cases they want to associate villas, retail outlets and apartments with hotel services. We have integrated this new dimension in the Jumeirah Living offer. The first has just opened near the World Trade Centre in Dubai. It is kind of our flagship with two 40-floor towers, close to 380 one- to four-room apartments with concierge, swimming pool, bar-Club and fitness center. The model will be adapted in the “mixed use” projects that we will soon bring to fruition.Is this a defensive reaction with respect to a market that could enter into competition with your hotels? These are really two complementary approaches and we can no longer ignore them. Each customer – within the revenue bracket that concerns us – will find his market segment in function of his present needs. When he travels with his family, he prefers a large apartment, and when he is on business, he prefers a good hotel room. For us, this development is inseparable and will become our “core business” with two brands.Is it within this same spirit that you are launching your spa brand Talise? The spa product was transformed in order to become a global well-being concept, particularly for luxury customers. We thus use the same approach as for our hotel services: a very upscale offer with pricing that makes investments profitable. It is all a question of the right “pricing”. The example of our Madinat Jumeirah hotel in Dubai is proof. We have twenty or so “spa suites” with treatments billed at a rate of 250 to 300 dollars an hour. And still, it is very difficult to find an opening in the schedule.

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