Skift Take

Despite being located in the global center of luxury hospitality, Jumeirah has struggled somewhat to grow its footprint.

The surprise exit of Jumeirah Group CEO Katerina Giannouka 15 months into her role is the latest resignation for the government-owned hotel brand of Dubai.

Jumeirah Group was founded in 1997 on the idea of modernizing Arabian hospitality and sharing it with the world. For years, it showed steady progress in this mission. 

Founding CEO Gerald Lawless led for 19 years until his retirement in 2016. It came under the ownership of the Dubai ruler’s investment corp in 2004, and benefited from the emirate’s tourism boom. 

Jumeirah received global recognition for its flagship Burj Al Arab hotel – colloquially called the world’s only seven-star hotel. When Lawless left in 2016, the group had 23 hotels in 12 destinations.

But the expansion has slowed. Eight years later, the group has 26 hotels in 13 destinations.

There’s definitely some movement. A resort at the Red Sea in Saudi should open this year and a property in Geneva is set for next year. In Dubai, the Jumeirah Marsa Al Arab is planned to open before the end of 2024, described as ushering in a new design language for the group’s future hotels and completing the “trio” of hotels alongside Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Still, it’s been a lot of change at the top. Here’s a look at Jumeirah’s c-suite since 2016.

Stefan Leser: 2016

Following Lawless’ retirement, Stefan Leser became CEO, joining from travel company Kuoni where he was vice president. Leser lasted just over a year when Dubai Holding announced in July 2017 that he had resigned. In his resignation announcement, he was celebrated for the completion and launch of Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel in Dubai. He then went on to head Langham Hotels.

Jose Silva: 2018

Then-Jumeirah chief operating officer Marc Dardenne stepped in as interim CEO before Jose Silva was appointed CEO at the start of 2018.

Silva joined the Dubai company from Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts where he was regional vice president and oversaw business in France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. He joined Jumeirah when it had 19 hotels following a handful of closures.

One of Silva’s main focuses in his role was to turn Jumeirah into a global hotel brand. During his stint, properties such as Jumeirah Bali in Indonesia, Jumeirah Muscat Bay in Oman and Jumeirah Maldives Olhahali Island all opened. He also oversaw the launch of a new lifestyle brand called Zabeel House, which has one hotel in Dubai.

In a 2021 interview with Dubai publication Hotelier Middle East, Silva said he wanted to turn Jumeirah into a “top five global luxury brand.”

In September 2022, Silva left and current chief operating officer Thomas B. Meier became interim CEO.

Katerina Giannouka: 2022

In December 2022, Katerina Giannouka was named CEO, and shared plans to turn Jumeirah into an international force. She called it “Mission 2030” and planned to double the company footprint by the end of the decade.

The group’s first hotel in Saudi Arabia – located in Makkah – opened under her leadership. Last May, Giannouka said Jumeirah Group was in talks for more across the Americas, Asia and Europe.

As was the case with Silva’s departure, Meier has again been named interim CEO.

Even during Lawless’ time in charge, the group had a few failed attempts at overseas growth. A planned ‘six-star’ hotel in Scotland never came to be, nor did a signed hotel in Macau. Jumeirah sold its only U.S. hotel, located in New York City, in 2012.

Skift had reached out to Jumeirah but it declined to comment.

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Tags: asia monthly, future of lodging, hospitality news, hotel news, jumeirah, luxury hotels, middle east

Photo credit: Gerald Lawless at the Skift Forum Europe in London.

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