Ireland attractive to Arab visitors, says senior hotel executive

Trade between Ireland and Arab world full of opportunities, says Gerald Lawless

Gerald Lawless, head of tourism and hospitality of Dubai Holdings: believes  rising education costs in the UK, combined with the country’s scrutiny of its “non-dom” tax rules, has created a good opportunity for the Republic’s universities to recruit students from Arab countries.

Gerald Lawless, head of tourism and hospitality of Dubai Holdings: believes rising education costs in the UK, combined with the country’s scrutiny of its “non-dom” tax rules, has created a good opportunity for the Republic’s universities to recruit students from Arab countries.

 

Increased education costs and changing tax rules for non-residents in the UK have created opportunities for the Republic’s universities to attract students from Arab countries, according to Dubai-based Irish businessman Gerald Lawless.

Mr Lawless, who was president and chief executive of Dubai’s luxury hotel group, Jumeirah, and is now head of tourism and hospitality of its parent company, Dubai Holdings, believes there are opportunities to boost existing trade between Ireland and the Arab world.

Speaking this week, he said that rising education costs in the UK, combined with the country’s scrutiny of its “non-dom” tax rules for non-residents, has created a good opportunity for the Republic’s universities to recruit students from Arab countries.

National University of Ireland Galway has been out here, as has University College Cork, and the Royal College of Surgeons [Ireland] already has a branch in Bahrain, ” he said.

Mr Lawless added that recruiting students from the region would strengthen existing ties. The Republic sold goods and services worth more than €5 billion to the region last year, up from €4 billion in 2014.

The Irish hotelier will be discussing his experience with Jumeirah, the group he joined in 1997, and the opportunities to increase tourist traffic between the Republic and the region at the Arab-Irish Business Forum in Dublin Castle on Friday.

Daily flights connecting Dublin with Abu Dhabi and Dubai mean both the Irish and Arab hospitality industries could benefit, Mr Lawless noted. “We are seeing a lot more Irish coming out here,” he said.

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Mr Lawless will also be discussing Arab countries’ own efforts to attract tourists, in some cases in the face of conflict. Since a group linked to Islamic State shot down a Russian jet carrying 224 passengers over Mount Sinai in October, travel to Egyptian resort Sharm-el-Sheikh has collapsed.

In February, 340,000 people travelled there, compared to 640,000 during the same month in 2015. Countries including the UK have stopped flights to the destination.

Mr Lawless noted that the authorities have considerably strengthened security in the area and its airport. “Egypt is trying to reassure the international community that it is doing all the right things,” he said.

Other Arab countries are attracting growing numbers of visitors. Dubai had 14 million tourists last year and expects that number of increase again. Saudi Arabia already draws 20 million Muslim pilgrims to Mecca every year and is taking steps to grow non-religious tourism.

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He was only recently appointed as head of tourism and hospitality with Dubai Holding, which had shareholders’ funds of close to €20 billion at the end of last year.

Originally from Galway, he graduated from Shannon College of Hotel Management and spent 23 years with Forte before joining Jumeirah in 1997. He launched Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the nearby seven-star, distinctively sail-shaped Burj al-Arab . He is considered an influential figure in Dubai’s hospitality industry.