CARMEN MATUTES PRATS, DEPUTY CEO, PALLADIUM HOTEL GROUP
Space editor Can Faik talks to Carmen Matutes Prats – Deputy CEO, Palladium Hotel Group, to get her take on the strategies Palladium Hotel Group is putting into place for the future…
Palladium Hotel Group is a Spanish hotel chain with over 40 years of experience. The chain has 48 hotels and close to 14,000 rooms in six countries: Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Sicily (Italy) and Brazil and operates five brands: Palladium Hotels & Resorts ‒with four sub brands: The Royal Suites by Palladium, Grand Palladium Hotels & Resorts, Palladium Hotels and Palladium Boutique Hotels‒, Fiesta Hotels & Resorts, Ushuaïa Unexpected Hotels, Ayre Hoteles, Only You Hotels, as well as licensed brand Hard Rock Hotels.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Palladium Hotel Group?
My background prior to working in hotels is short because I started working within the company from a relatively young age, when I was 26 years old. Before that, I worked in an audit company that dealt with some hotel accounts, but not at all their procedures. However, because they knew that I was linked to a family with a tourism business, the audit firm wouldn’t assign me to accounts of big chains, only to independent hotels.
What does your current position involve?
I work on the operations side of Palladium Hotel Group’s management team. I’m also on the board of directors of many of the Group’s other companies that operate in other sectors, such as fish farms, construction, and other related fields that are not hotels, but do complement the service industry, such as nightlife, restaurants and fashion.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Managing teams and interacting with my co-workers. Working in operations fulfills me as a person, because it involves hard work and requires me to think carefully on how to make customers happy. When I visit our hotels and see what we’ve accomplished, it’s very satisfying.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
In most companies, the demands of the shareholders are all about achieving maximum profitability. In our case, since we’re a family business and I am also one of the shareholders, we’re more focused on our product and our company. The priority is not so much to receive dividends, as to continue taking care of the product and investing in projects that excite us.
In recent years, our company in particular, and one of our main destinations, Ibiza, have been growing at speeds that require the management team to also grow very fast.
Adding value to our brand is one of our main priorities and, hence, is part of our strategic plan. We’re evolving from a predominantly sun-and-beach product, to a five-star luxury product. Now, our task is to remain observant and consolidate ourselves as a luxury brand. We’re very focused on this, and as a result slowly altering the mentality of the team, which is a process that is not as immediate as the improvements that we have already achieved.
What will Palladium Hotel Group have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition, especially in the luxury hospitality sector?
We keep a close eye on trends, the needs of the customers and how the market is moving. We try to be very flexible and to react quickly to changes. We’re also quite a creative company and have demonstrated on many occasions that we’re good at anticipating developments in the sector as well as create new trends ourselves. We continue to nurture this strength, although it’s increasingly more difficult to predict market trends because the competition is also adjusting and the demands are getting higher, but that also pushes us.
What are Palladium Hotel Group’s unique selling points?
The Ushuaïa product and the fusion of leisure and hospitality, where we have achieved very high standards, is one of our fundamental USPs. We have created impressive and very unique Beach Clubs. It is a model that we are now taking to the Caribbean.
We also have a spectacular level of gastronomy at our hotels, with internationally renowned restaurants such as Sublimotion and Tatel (at Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza), and Minami and Montauk (at Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel), among others.
Other aspects that differentiate us include our fashion ranges, which have seen a 20 and 30 per cent increase in sales over the last four to five years; premium locations, such as our beachfront establishments directly facing the sea, or city centre properties through the ‘Only YOU’ brand leading the way in Madrid; and global recognition for which we have received several awards and has led opportunities for growth.
With seven brands already in the Palladium Hotel Group portfolio will an eighth be added soon?
Coming soon… an eighth brand is already designed and will be launched in summer 2018 in Ibiza.
Can you tell me how your new Hard Rock Hotel in Tenerife is going and will you be opening a third in Europe?
We’re very happy with how it’s going – it really is a spectacular project that’s changing the hotel business in the south of Tenerife and is proving a success with both locals and tourists. It’s a unique product in the Canary Islands.
Yes, we plan to open a third Hard Rock Hotel in Europe. Different destinations are being evaluated but we’re more concerned with growing in quality than quantity. We’re careful not to make mistakes and where we open the third will be in a destination that fulfills the characteristics that we demand to develop our Hard Rock brand.
Are Palladium Hotel Group looking at any countries in particular for new openings?
We’re evaluating many. In the Caribbean there are several interesting destinations, as well as areas of the Pacific and even in Europe. But I will leave it there – I don’t want to give too much away to our competition.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to US and Asia?
The hotel sector is in constant flux, and in the last few years especially, we’ve detected specific trends in the three continents. Asia has super luxury and elaborate hotel chains, the United States has the largest hotel companies in the world and Europe, where we may have been more traditional, has recently seen the opening of new ‘concept’ establishments in both urban and beach destinations. This is why it’s increasingly difficult to be at the forefront of the sector and distinguish ourselves as an innovative chain – many things are being done and very well.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
There is such a wide variety of options in hotel design that it’s very difficult to define the trends. In the past, architects and designers looked to make a hotel a nice, clean and comfortable place, where guests stayed when they were on holiday. These days, the hotel is a bigger part of the whole holiday experience and is as essential as good weather or eating well. In a way, the hotel has become part of the destination. As a result, the interior design has more significance and has a bigger weight in holiday decision making. Interior designers, and the hoteliers when hiring them, have considered in-depth about how to improve the experience, and look more and more for what we call the ‘WOW effect!’ in every part of the interior too. We’re seeing more innovation, such as vertical gardens, furniture design, art, new materials, technology, and sensual touches such as aromatherapy or chromo-therapy.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Hotel design is now fundamental as it is one of the hallmarks of the hotel identity. At PHG, we have a diverse set of brands that are all very different, with each hotel proposition offering a different experience. The design allows guests to enter a different world, not just a hotel or a room, but a complete experience. In our case, this even includes specific aromas – we have air fresheners designed exclusively for our hotels, each reflecting the hotels’ individual personality.
Why do you think that hotel design is so important?
Mainly the incorporation of all types of technology: Smart TVs, home automation, chromo-therapy… At Palladium Hotel Group, in addition to all this, we’re undergoing a digital transformation in building a relationship with our guests, using technology to ensure enhanced customer experience.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Ibiza: because there are so many different faces of Ibiza.
Rome: it’s a city that excites me and I never get tired of visiting it.
Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.
What would be your dream hotel project?
The next one we are going to open: our new brand in Ibiza.
What is next for you and Palladium Hotel Group?
For Palladium Hotel Group we have multiple projects in the pipeline: we’re opening our next Ushuaïa in Cancun (Mexico); we’re building a resort in Costa Mujeres (Mexico) that’s set to be one of the region’s best resorts; we’re launching a new brand in Ibiza next year; and we’re evaluating many other destinations. On a personal level: to continue developing myself professionally.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts? What is your background?
Balance is a goal that I do not know if I will ever meet, but I have been trying to achieve it all my life. When my daughters were small I felt very guilty because I wasn’t with them as much as I wanted, but I’ve always tried to make sure that the time I do spend with them is of high quality. Now that my daughters are teenagers, I’ve taken on more challenges for my personal development. Consequently, I sometimes struggle to find a balance between work – which demands more each day – with personal activities, such as the master’s degree in which I have just enrolled. All this makes for a busy life – but it’s also very satisfying.