Heated up about keeping Jumeirah individual

Bill Walshe, chief sales and marketing officer for Jumeirah, engineered the company’s rebranding. He tells Tim Burrowes why

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  July 24, 2005

Heated up about keeping Jumeirah individual|~|Walshe,-Bill200.jpg|~|Walshe... ‘We will stay different. We will never have someone design ‘the Jumeirah bedroom’ for instance’|~|It’s lunchtime on one of the hottest days of the year so far and Bill Walshe, in jacket and tie, is on the terrace, making a decent job of looking comfortable for the Campaign Middle East camera. After all, when your business is marketing one of the world’s most famous hotels, it’s a pity to be photographed indoors, even if it is meltingly hot outside. Having made the most of the photogenic backdrop of the Burj Al Arab, he retreats back into the air conditioning of the Mina A’ Salam’s executive club lounge and takes a plush leather armchair at the board room table opposite his number two, marketing director Nicolas Ghrayeb. Walshe has what must be one of the most enviable jobs in marketing — presiding over a portfolio that is so glamorous it includes not just the Burj, but its neighbours the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Madinat complex too. And that’s not to mention the likes of Emirates Towers. Which brings us to the reason for our conversation — the rebranding of Jumeirah International simply as Jumeirah. Walshe speaks of a formative moment when he overheard a guest at the Emirates Towers with an hour or two to kill ask staff if they happened to know anyone at the Burj Al Arab, having no idea it was part of the same group. “We recognised that people had difficulty associating our businesses with each other,” he says. It was a recognition that last month saw the beginning of an ambitious AED30 million (US$8.2 million) rebranding aimed at making sure the rest of the world knows it too. So Emirates Towers becomes Jumeirah Emirates Towers. And even Jumeirah Madinat Jumeirah. Yes, really. Along with the rebranding comes some serious ambitions — most notably a five-year plan that will see 40 luxury Jumeirah hotels across the world, with almost all of them on Emirates airline routes. “People are genuinely surprised when I say I’ve been preparing for this for three-and-a-half years,” says Walshe. “But for that time we’ve know we wanted to take the company international and grow the locations in which we operate. In order to do that we need a credible brand platform. “The growth over the last seven years has been simply explosive. When we opened Bab Al Shams in November last year, it was the first time we opened a hotel without knowing the date of the next opening. For that seven years we’ve focused from project to project to project. There has been a reactive element of what we were doing.” Usually, one of the hardest parts of a branding exercise is to get all the individual parts of an organisation to conform. Yet Walshe says Jumeirah is trying to achieve the opposite. “Our two least favourite words in marketing are ‘cookie cutter’, which is our idea of hell. I would rather retire than do that.” Instead, individual hotels will be marketed around the theme of “consistent individuality”. Three “hallmarks” will underpin the brand’s approach — staff are trained to always smile and greet a guest immediately, to never initially respond to a guest’s request with the word “no” and to treat colleagues with respect. And like the hotels already in the chain, all future hotels under the Jumeirah badge will be high-end luxury destinations. But they will maintain their own identities. Walshe says it is what customers want. “They least like being put in a box. We will stay different. We will never have someone design ‘the Jumeirah bedroom’ for instance.” The brand campaign is being targeted for three different audiences — guests, potential partners and potential staff. The travellers being targeted will be those likely to go to luxury destinations, whether for leisure or business. As for potential partners, the growth of Jumeirah will come partly from building its own hotels but mainly by taking on management contracts from developers — a competitive business that will see Jumeirah go head-to-head with other luxury chains for the rights. Walshe says: “The biggest challenge is that there are today only a finite number of hotels or resorts around the world that would sit comfortably within the brand in terms of size, quality and location. “It’s an incredibly competitive market place and it’s likely that Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons will chase them too. The challenge for us is to create a visibility that will make an owner look at us first. We want to be front-of-mind when they choose a partner.” And that third group is potential new staff. With the group currently employing more than 6000 people and major growth planned, recruitment is a key issue. “We feel our growth needs to attract talented individuals,” says Walshe. Although there is also a new logo, designed by Dubai’s Gregg Sedgwick Creative Strategy— the three prongs are intended to reflect the company’s three hallmarks — Walshe argues this is not the centrepiece of the rebrand. “It is a brand, not just a logo. One of the most enjoyable challenges of coming up with it was creating a brand that could stand on a world stage but pay tribute to our heritage. We are a Dubai-based brand and we are very proud of our origins.” The logo seems to have elicited mixed views when it was first presented to the board. “Give me a table with ten people around it and I will show you ten different designers.” But he says the decision to rebrand was unanimous. “It was pretty much a no-brainer. It was a process we went on together. It was led from the front by our CEO. Please make mention of that.” The move also marks an opportunity for the Middle East’s marketing industry, with a significant spend planned for the end of this year. But agencies that want the business are going to have to work hard for their money. “It’s certainly the largest single campaign in the history of our company,” he says. “What we are going to be looking for in any agency that pitches for this business is an agency that demonstrates the ability to create an internationalisation of the Jumeirah brand. “Sometimes with Dubai-based agencies, because they see the Burj every day, they themselves have a parochial, subjective view. “To win our business, any agency is going to have to show the ability to stand back from our brand and view it as an international brand, and with objectivity, almost without reference to the history of the brand. “We need an agency that can best envisage our plan of 40 hotels within five years, and a multi-continental spread, and communicate that now, before it happens.” And once the rebrand is done? “I can see opportunities coming along that are not appropriate for the Jumeirah brand,” says Walshe. “One of the reasons our growth plans have accelerated is because of becoming part of Dubai Holding. There are other parts that are into acquiring hospitality assets and we can offer some management expertise. So I can see the likelihood of introducing another brand.” Looks like the heat is still on.||**||

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