95% OVERSEAS GUESTS

Spain 2020 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Pascal Billard, Director General of Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona, on a century of history, origin of visitors, and the tourism market in Catalunya.

Can you give us a background to the hotel and its evolution since being founded?

The Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona was founded 101 years ago, in 1918. The main difference between the Majestic and most other hotels in Barcelona is that, it is an independent family hotel affiliated with Leading Hotels of the World. The initial entrance was where the Chanel store is now. The hotel then had 150 rooms but increased its capacity after the purchase and extension by the owners (the family, Soldevila-Casals) of additional buildings. The owners are seven brothers and sisters, third generation of the same family, most of them were born in the hotel where they were living. This “emotional” connection with the family, being part of their childhood, made and still makes a difference in how the hotel stands out in Barcelona, when it's compared it with most hotels owned by families treated simply as a real estate property. This philosophy has helped the hotel to continue growing, maturing and adapting to the new era. A great step for Barcelona was the 1992 Olympic Games, which really did put the city on the map, beyond a secondary city. This is today's challenge: to maintain its reputation & positioning both for leisure and business tourism, while competing with major cities and other capitals of Europe. Around the time of the Olympics, we saw many international hotel chains arriving, bringing more high-end products and luxury along with international professionals to the sector boosting the tourism towards a higher level. Majestic followed that path, with major renovations in 1993/1994, taking the hotel from 4 to a 5 stars and 5 stars Gran Luxury; with our latest renovation, between 2009-2013, the hotel reached a new level of luxury.

What makes a hotel a luxury hotel?

We are lucky to benefit from the greatest location in Barcelona, a key element of a luxury experience. Then there are some tangible and intangible aspects which helps to describe our hotel. I do believe our rich history – we celebrated our 100-year Anniversary in 2018 – helps. We have received a number of heads of state, celebrities, artists, and existed through the civil war. This, coupled with multi-generational employees from the same family working in the hotel, and recognizing our loyal clients have contributed to make Majestic Hotel & Spa more than a hotel. It is a true “Icon” in Barcelona which is an intangible strength for a luxury property, that is impossible to copy. We manage the business, focusing on the long-term plan and not solely looking at short term profits. We continue to invest in renovating and maintaining the property every year, it is not just a quick return on investment, but also how we can improve the property, the product and its services. We created an exceptional Suite, the Majestic Royal Penthouse on the 9th floor, the largest suite 3 bedroom in Barcelona with fantastic views, a private jacuzzi and a terrace per room, as well as a butler service and the best amenities and technology to match guests' high expectations. We also recently renovated our rooftop terrace, probably the terrace with the best view in Barcelona that is open to both hotel guests and locals, which recently won the prize of “Best Hotel terrace in Europe” at the “Prix Villégiature awards”. I think these are also tangible improvements that add value to a luxury hotel. One of the trends in this business is being “multicultural-friendly.” In our hotel, 95% of guests staying are not from the domestic market, we must adapt to the needs and desires of the Chinese or Indian market, for example. We are working more and more closely to improve our capacity to “hyper personalize” our experiences respecting each of everyone's client's needs.

What other hotels in Barcelona do you compete with?

We have two different concepts in one hotel, namely organizing events and groups clients from the MICE sector (Meeting, Incentive, Conferences & Exhibitions), where we compete with hotels like the W, Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos… as well as individual leisure where we compete with Mandarin Oriental, El Palace, hotel Arts, Cotton House. There are also some new hotels such as the Monument, Almanac, smaller hotels with around 80 rooms.

What is your strategic plan in terms of expansion?

As Majestic Hotel Group, we are dedicating our efforts into Unique Luxury and Boutique Hotels. We are currently expanding in the Iberian Peninsula through management contracts where we can truly bring value and help position or re-position a hotel from either Luxury or Boutique experience. We are trying to understand its strengths and weaknesses in order to implement the right strategy in execution from Sales & Marketing, Communication, Operations and Talent management, but without only applying brand standards as most chains would do to also serve their own purposes. If we see that we are not the right operator or we could not bring real added values, we will not pursue an opportunity. We do have a central office in Barcelona that supports each hotel. We currently have in the luxury segment, Majestic Hotel & Spa, member of Leading Hotels of the World and offer support to Sant Francesc Hotel Singular, member of Small Luxury Hotels in Mallorca. In addition we have 3 Boutique hotels in Barcelona, the Murmuri, a 53-room hotel in Rambla Catalunya, the Midmost, very successfully repositioned hotel of 54 rooms and the Denit with 36 rooms, which was recently renovated, both closed to Plaza Catalunya. We expanded over the past three years through management contracts for hotels that belongs to the famous soccer players Leo Messi, creating a new brand for him MiM, we now oversee MiM Sitges, MiM Ibiza, and this year a new hotel in Mallorca, which will be branded from the next season into MiM.

How does disruption impact your operations and the sector directly?

External factors, such as the terrorist attacks in August 2017, and the political situation in Catalunya certainly affected us. We had also benefited in the years between 2013 and 2017, from tourism staying away from countries in conflict in North Africa and Middle East, which did reopen in 2018, thus displacing part of the business outside of Spain. Besides, considering that airport traffic data show constant increase in our areas, I believe the Airbnb factor and the increase of apartment short term rental offering (not always well controlled) definitely makes a significant competition. We as hotel have a strict monitoring of licenses, labor and health & safety regulations which the guest does not always consider when comparing the cost of a room night versus an apartment rental with nearly no rules to comply with. Therefore, it is not a fair business, but it is a reality which undermines our industry. It is our ongoing challenge to showcase our differences and keep improving our services. The Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona consists of 271 rooms and suites, as well as 28 residential apartments located in a separate building in front which is a great asset in order to differentiate our offer responding to an increasing high demand specifically for families.