KIKE SARASOLA, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER of ROOM MATE HOTELS

Posted in People on 10 April, 2017

SPACE’s editor Can Faik meets equestrian champion Enrique ‘Kike’ Sarasola to discover the correlation between thoroughbred horses and thoroughbred hotels…

Room Mate Hotels is an international chain of boutique hotels with a global vision, founded in 2005 in Spain by the former Olympian Enrique “Kike” Sarasola.

It is guided by the philosophy that the best way to travel is by visiting friends whose lifestyle, location and familiarity with a destination make one feel at home, Room Mate Hotels currently has 23 properties and eight upcoming openings.

What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Room Mate Hotels?

My background, prior to hospitality, was in sports; I had a career as a show jumper and, I am proud to say, I won a record number of awards in the history of Spanish horse riding: three Olympic diplomas in three Olympic Games (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, and Sydney 2000); and four times Spanish champion and bronze medallist in the 2001 European championships. I left the competitive sports world following a back injury, after a fall in Athens 2004 and decided to focus on my business career, managing the Madrid Racecourse where I was involved in real estate companies and IT projects. 

What does your current position involve?

As well as being involved in the day to day running of my existing portfolio of Room Mate hotels and the business in general, my current position involves visiting new cities and scouting out potential locations. I also have to keep my finger on the pulse with industry and competitor news and activity which means attending industry events.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy seeing the growth of Room Mate in the marketplace and opening new hotels in a new city – it’s like conquering it. This is the aspect I enjoy the most. 

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?

I am so happy with the relationship I have with the shareholders, they perfectly understand Room Mate needs and we are all completely on board with Room Mate objectives.

What made you decide to launch Room Mate Hotels when you had trained and were regarded as one of the fourfold Spanish equestrian sport winners?

The concept of Room Mate Hotels came up during travels with my husband, Carlos Marrero (he is now the VP of the company). We went to New York and, at that time, the city was full of visitors, so we couldn’t find a hotel in the city centre. After coming back to Spain, we realised that we spent a lot of money in a hotel far away from the centre and in which we only spent a few hours: sleeping, having breakfast and showering…

Following this, we decided to open a new hotel chain which offered what we ourselves wanted in our regular travels: a hotel in a good location in the heart of the city; original, bold design; reasonable price, exceptional service and an offering not flooded with extras and services that are seldom used. The Room Mate brand is intended for design and city lovers who want to feel at home, it is affordable luxury.

I always say I’m not an expert hotelier but I am an expert guest! When I was an Olympian I travelled the world and stayed in many hotels. Throughout these experiences I collated all of the things I really loved about hotels, as well as the not so positives, to create a hotel experience that puts guest comfort as a top priority.

With Room Mate Hotels celebrating its 15th year anniversary last year what will be the plan for the next 15 years?

We’re really pleased with the success Room Mate has enjoyed in its first 15 years, and we look forward to continuing this in the next 15 years. We have an immediate plan over the next few years to expand into new markets and beach side resorts, and beyond that, who knows!

What will Room Mate Hotels have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition, especially in the boutique hospitality sector?

Guests are the greatest inspiration for Room Mate Hotels. In Room Mate Hotels we not only think about our clients, we also think like them. The goal is to create unique experiences for visitors so they can enjoy ‘the magic of travelling.’ We want them to feel as if they were at a friend’s home.

What are Room Mate Hotels Unique Selling Points?

Room Mate Hotels is not a conventional hotel chain. It has a highly disruptive nature which I am proud to say, positions it as a trailblazer in the global tourism industry. We have three characteristics in our DNA that have defined its personality from the very start: innovation, design and location, and the most important, keeping the guest at the heart of everything that we do.

We really listen to our guests to offer unique and award-winning services such as free, reliable, WiFi throughout the whole hotel; WiMate, our free Wi-Fi service available throughout the city (via a portable mini router that allows you to have 100MB of data per day, for up to five devices). We also serve breakfast until noon and for a small fee you can even enjoy late check-out.

Design-wise, we invite all our designers (Tomás Alía, Teresa Sapey, Patricia Urquiola, Lázaro Rosa-Violán…) to develop their vision and to blend in local touches – whether it is the surroundings, local materials, artwork, or craftsmanship. These all give each hotel its unique personality.

What is next for the Room Mate Hotels as in new openings?

We currently have 23 properties with more than 1,500 rooms and a presence in six international markets; we’ll be opening eight more hotels by the end of 2017 including Rotterdam, Rome, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona.

Our objective during the next few years is to be present in all the main cities of Europe and the US: Paris, London, Berlin, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, and of course open more hotels in the cities where we are already present such as Madrid and Barcelona.

We have also recently announced the exciting launch of Room Mate Hotels Playa, a new leisure concept. We’re widening our urban focus to take in coastal destinations with the first of our beachside hotels opening in summer 2017. We’re targeting properties in the Balearic and Canary Islands, Costa del Sol and Mexico, reaching a total of 2000 new rooms in waterfront cities.

Regarding overall brand development, our biggest challenge is to become a memorable brand in the US, the UK, France and Germany… that is what we are working on and I hope to achieve it in the next few years.

Are Room Mate Hotels looking at any countries in particular for new openings, i.e. London?

London is firmly in our sights and is the place where we should already be opening. It’s always been a target for us and a key focus for our global expansion plans, along with cities such as Paris, Berlin, LA, San Francisco. It’s a fantastic city, one that I’ve often travelled to and got to know over the years.

It is important to me that our first hotel in London should be in a central location, this is our Room Mate philosophy and what our loyal guests will expect from us. Our hotels are in sought-after locations and it’s what makes them the best option for travellers looking for affordable luxury. We are focusing our search in areas of London such as Mayfair, Soho and Knightsbridge.

What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?

Success is dependent on how you treat and interact with your clients. At Room Mate Hotels we always think from the clients’ perspective – how to improve their trips, what services can be improved or developed. It is staying one step ahead of the guest experience that makes the difference.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?

I love design and I am happy to work with some of the best creatives in the world: Patricia Urquiola, Teresa Sapey, Tomás Alía, Lorenzo Castillo, Lázaro Rosa Violán… I take advantage of every moment I travel or stay in a hotel to absorb my surroundings and see what I can reflect into Room Mate Hotels. Inspiration is all around but ultimately, the designers are the experts in their field and I like to have their point of view.

How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?

Design is at the heart of the Room Mate philosophy and ensuring each hotel is really unique. When we plan a new hotel opening, we bring a local designer on board from the beginning to really capture the essence of the city and develop a distinct personality for guests to enjoy.

Can you explain the naming idea of your hotels i.e. Isabella in Florence, Grace in New York and Anna in Barcelona?

The process of creating each Room Mate’s identity starts with the selection of a building; then, we develop a vision for the property in human form: we give it a face, a name and a personality. This personality creates a unique experience that results in guests feeling like they are staying with a much loved friend rather than a big, corporate, faceless, chain.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?

My three favourite places are New York, Ibiza and Cartagena de Indias. NY is the center of the world, where everything happens; Cartagena de Indias is a magical place in Colombia and Ibiza is the place where I relax and enjoy my free time, it is a paradise.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

Anywhere of the previous places mentioned rank the highest

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?

Sometimes, with this work, it is difficult to have the best work life balance, but every day I try to put aside some time to spend with my husband and children; my moments with them are the best of my life. It is important not to lose sight of the importance of family.

Join our mailing list

Click here to Join
  Join our mailing list
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.Update my browser now

×