Gerard Lawless, Jumeirah, on travel

My name is Gerald lawless, I am based in Dubai and I am the executive chairman of the Jumeirah hotel group. And our main businesses is the operations of development of our jumeirah hotels. We started in Dubai in 1997 with the jumeirah beach hotel and in 1999 we opened the Burj Al Arab and in 2004 we completed the Medina Jumeirah. We also since 2001had been operating the Jumeirah Carlton tower hotels and Lawdnes hotel in London and since 2006 we have been operating the Jumeirah Essex house and central park in New York. Then having invested in the properties here we then decided as a strategy that we would like to develop a luxury hotel management company on an international basis. And we see ourselves very much competing in the same space as the four seasons and other luxury hotel groups.
I spend most of my time travelling both in terms of development of new properties, meetings with the investors and sometimes being involved on the management contracts and negotiations. The biggest challenge is that we are spread very thinly on a global basis, so it’s not unusual for me to travel on certain occasions from Dubai to New York, New York to Chicago, Chicago to shanghai, shanghai to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Dubai. It’s quite a challenge with the time differences. So it’s not unusual to end up in London one week, shanghai the next week and the states a week or two afterwards.
My favorite thing about travelling is flying emirates airlines out in Dubai I think it’s an incredible airline and they look after all passengers very well.
Regarding personal holidays the last thing I want to do is get on another flight but the first thing my family want to do is travel somewhere! Usually in the winter time we go for a ski holiday in the New Year to the French Alps.
I travel to Ireland more in recent times than in the past. I like to get back to Galway as it is mine and my wife’s hometown. This year we went back for a couple of weeks in august, and maybe once or twice during the year as well.
Growing up we didn’t travel half as much as people do nowadays, but I remember in about 1962 I went with my family to Birmingham. That was my first flight. Also in my last year in school we went on a tour to Germany in 1969 where we rowed competitively, which was a fantastic trip. And I said from then on I would always travel so I always have and won’t stop until I have to.
Any trip that I go on for the first time is always exciting and is always nice to say that’s another one to tick off the list of countries I’ve visited. I’ve been to china now many times I go about five or six times a year. I’ve gone to shanghai many times also and on one occasion my wife came with me and I saw a lot more of shanghai and Beijing in the few days with her than I’ve seen in all the times I visited on business. Because when I go on business you just end up going from one meeting to the other, but we took a couple of days out. China is just fascinating.
Also in the early 1990’s one particularly interesting trip was shortly after the civil war had finished just a few months in Lebanon which had gone on for fifteen years. I went with a British Lebanese man to Beirut just to check out some opportunities there and while we were in Beirut we got a call to say there was a possibility of a project in Damascus in Syria so we went along to get a taxi in the centre of Beirut and negotiated with the driver that he would take us to Damascus and back that evening in this twenty year old Mercedes taxi so he said you have to give me some Syrian pounds, so we had to go to the bank and get a load of Syrian pounds, which were worth about 5p each so we got a pile of those and then a lot of that flat Lebanon bread, the pita bread. So we got about 50 slices of those breads, which he put in the boot of the car and off we went over the mountains and through the valley and we got stopped. At that time Syria was more or less occupying Lebanon, so we got stopped about every half an hour by the Syrian troops. They searched the car and we would have to give them some Syrian pounds and some bread and we would go up to the next checkpoint. But finally we got up to the boarder patrol which would normally sometimes about 3 or 4 hours to get through, so this driver went in with the remainder of the Syrian pounds and the bread and he came out in 5minutes and off we went on our way to Damascus. Then we got into the outskirts of Damascus and he stopped the car and told us to get out. He said I cant go any further, find another taxi and see me here tonight at 6pm. Sure enough we came at 6pm and he was there to bring us back to Beirut. It was a bit of an adventure.
If I had to give people advice for when they’re travelling I would say not to let things irritate you, for example if there are long lines, or if security are asking you silly questions or if you have to take your shoes or belt off, just be patient and not let yourself get upset with things you cant control anyway. Take it as it happens. Even if you don’t get the desired response a smile and politeness goes a long way towards people wanting to help you rather than aggressiveness and arrogance which you sometimes see particularly in airports. A lot of these guys are just doing their jobs and do sometimes get undeserved abuse. Stay calm and just be Irish! 