There cannot be very many UAE residents who remember what the Jumeirah beachfront was like 18 years ago, but one of them is Gerald Lawless, who has just left the hotel group after that length of service, and who had his achievements honoured at a glittering reception at the top of the Burj Al Arab on Monday evening.
It was a gathering of the elite of the Dubai establishment, with the star guest in attendance Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Emirates group.
Also present was Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and chairman of Dubai Holding, of which Jumeirah is a subsidiary.
Mr Al Gergawi thanked Mr Lawless for his unswerving hard work and loyalty over nearly two decades, and congratulated him on his new role as adviser in tourism and leisure for Dubai Holding. “We will not be losing you. Dubai is loyal to those that are loyal to Dubai,” Mr Gergawi said.
Mr Lawless took the podium looking just a little emotional, but revealed that he had felt far more so at a farewell event organised by Jumeirah staff last month.
Many employees had recorded a personal video clip thanking him for all that they had learnt at the hotel group, and at its own dedicated training college, which has done so much to lift standards of service.
There was a sprint down memory lane: a picture of the table napkin on which the very first designs for the Burj Al Arab were sketched out; some video of the final moments of the old Chicago Beach Hotel before it was demolished to make way for the Jumeirah Beach Hotel on the same sight; and shots of Jumeirah Beach when both the Burj and the JBH were under construction.
It was eerie to see the Chicago Village – a walled rectangle of villas and palm trees – surrounded by nothing except sand and sea, where now there stands the Madinat complex – Souk, Mina Al Salam and Al Qasr hotels, with a new one, Al Naseem, due to open this year.
The nostalgia was topped off by a display of trinkets and souvenirs pulled together by Neasa Lawless, Gerald’s wife, who also serves as the main archivist for Jumeirah, collating all the documents, photographs and other memorabilia of the past 18 years.
Then, with a big thank you in his native Irish tones, Mr Lawless handed over to his successor as president and chief executive, Stefan Leser, the Swiss-born executive who was lured from the travel company Kuoni for the Jumeirah top job.
“I know that I look too young for this job, but I can inform you that my next birthday is the 50th and I have to wear these glasses, you see, so that proves my age, I guess,” Mr Leser joked.
Regardless of age, it looks like there will be a different approach in the offing at Jumeirah. Mr Lawless was a career hotelier, while Mr Leser comes to the job after a long stint in information technology followed by the travel industry. It should be fascinating to see how the change works out.
All that is in the future, and the Burj event was a celebration of Mr Lawless’s achievement at the company.
He began working there when it was a two-hotel business based exclusively in Dubai. He leaves it as an international chain with 23 hotels in 12 destinations from London to Shanghai, and 100 restaurants in the UAE.
He certainly deserved the plaudits, gratitude and best wishes that came his way at the Burj. Over to you, Mr Leser.
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