China property

Dubai hotel group executive brings urban resort ideal to projects in China

Having tested the waters in Shanghai, Jumeirah Group is continuing its push into Asia with a focus on leisure and corporate guests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 4:33pm

The Jumeirah Group’s Shanghai hotel has proven so popular even the group’s own visiting executives can be hard pressed to get a room.

More than 500,000 guests have stayed in the Pudong-based Himalayas Hotel since it opened five years ago, and those numbers will have only encouraged the Dubai-based luxury hotel company and its newly appointed chief development officer Shafi Syed to look to Asia as the next growth market. After opening its first hotel 19 years ago, Jumeirah now operates 22 hotels across Europe and the Middle East, with additional hotels in Istanbul and the Maldives.

The company began its expansion in China with the 2011 debut in Shanghai. Next year it will open its futuristic Nanjing hotel, designed by late Iraqi-born British architect Dame Zaha Hadid.

In total, there are 10 Jumeirah projects under development in Asia-Pacific – and eight will be in greater China, including the Nanjing development.

Syed sees the company as different from a lot of hotel groups, which need to “put a flag somewhere” to show shareholder value.

“We’re a home-grown brand from Dubai which has aspirations to grow where our customers want us to grow. That’s really our strategy.”

Syed has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the Middle East in his previous roles for Trump Hotels, India’s Taj Hotels, and hotel company Wyndham, but when asked his favourite city in the world, there’s no hesitation.

“It has to be Dubai,” Syed said.

“I’ve been in Dubai for nine years, and Jumeriah is something that I’ve admired from outside. I’ve admired it as a guest, I’ve gone into their hotels, I’ve experienced their restaurants ... It’s absolutely fantastic now to go and take that to other markets.”

It seems fair to assume your Shanghai hotel is going fairly well if you’re opening other hotels in China. How is it doing?

It’s doing extremely well. I was there the day before yesterday. I couldn’t get a room – I was staying at the hotel across the road. I couldn’t pull rank because obviously they’re paying guests. It’s just coincidental, but it’s fantastic that our hotel is doing phenomenally well for us.

What kind of clients are you aiming to attract to your China hotels?

We started off as a leisure company, but then having opened our hotel in Dubai, which is a very strong business hub, our leisure hotels actually saw very strong influx of business travellers. You’d go to a beach resort and see people in suits in the lobbies, doing meetings. I think our mix of customers has been a very healthy mix between leisure and corporate. That’s what we have carried to our other destinations, and that’s what we will do in China. We see our brand as an urban resort brand.

Do you have plans to expand to Hong Kong?

Yes, it’s definitely on our radar. We are having discussions with potential partners in Hong Kong, but it’s about other locations where customers are asking us to be. We’re in Bali, we need to be in Jakarta, it makes sense from a twin-city perspective. We’d like to be in Singapore and Hong Kong. We’d love to be in Tokyo, we are having discussions with potential opportunities in those locations, as well as Manila and Seoul.

You started your new role in August. What are you hoping to achieve?

Jumeirah has got some relationships with existing hotel developers and we’ve got great relationships with the influencers in the industry. So I think my role is to continue to nurture and maintain and strengthen those relationships.

From a development standpoint, to close the obvious gaps where the customers want us to be in those locations which I’ve already mentioned. The Asian gaps are certainly ones we would look to close. We also need to be in Beijing, as an example.

What attracted you to the hotel and food and beverage industry?

What excited me about it was the people part of the business. Obviously having worked in a number of countries now, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, each one of them offers its own unique insights in terms of how customers approach hotels, in terms of how hotels approach customers. So that’s been something that’s been always exciting to me, the nature of having lived in different cities, and having worked in different hotel companies.