GABRIEL ESCARRER JAUME, EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF MELIÁ HOTELS INTERNATIONAL
As CEO of Spain’s leading hotel group, with a workforce of 45,000 and ambitious plans for growth, we were delighted that Gabriel Escarrer Jaume took time out to give SPACE an insight into Meliá Hotels International.
What was it like growing up in the industry?
My father was one of the pioneers of tourism in Mallorca and I experienced it as an ‘adventure.’ In the afternoons he would pick me up and take me with him to visit the hotels in Palma, the Magaluf area, or in Calviá, and similarly many weekends instead of going the cinema or to a theme park, our father would, again, take us to visit hotels. That is how he instilled the passion for service within us, and it is something which I still carry today.
As a family-based company (even though it is listed on the stock market), I have a sense of double-commitment; with the company, its employees and other stakeholders, and at the same time, with the family project which shares long-term values and objectives. As a famous Italian businessman once said, “Great families make great companies, and great companies make great families.”
Was it a forgone conclusion that you would follow in your father’s footsteps?
My father educated us so that we could choose where to take our careers and as a result we had a very well-rounded education in finance and business. In my case, it was always clear to me that the world of hospitality was where I wanted to develop my career. It’s for this reason that I felt very honored that my father trusted me to continue the family project, always under the advice and supervision of a professional and mostly independent Board of Directors.
As CEO what does your day look like?
My life as CEO is intense and extensive, since you are the CEO 24/7, but it is entirely for this reason that I have recognised the importance of reconciliation, and I try not to miss important moments in my family’s life – although due to my many trips (I have spent 160 nights away from home in a year!), this is often a utopia. When I can maintain the routine of course, I try to do some exercise before having breakfast with my family, and after an intense morning of meetings, I also try to have lunch with them.
What is Meliá Hotels International approach sustainability?
We are hoteliers at heart which means that hospitality is not just a business for us, it is our passion, and that passion motivates us to respond to the global challenges of our planet and our society. As a result, we view sustainability as a fundamental means by which we can create a positive legacy.
We face several priorities and to give order and consistency to all our initiatives, we have approved our new Sustainability Strategy, with the claim: ‘Travel for Good’. We like to say that we want to be a company: Good for the planet, Good for our people, Good for the Community, and that respects a Governance for good.
As this approach must necessarily include all the ESG criteria set by the UNO at the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, it would be too long to summarise the entire strategy, but I’ll tell you the five strategic lines we prioritise against climate change, as aligned with the Climate Summits COP21 and COP25:
Sustainable construction and maintenance of 100% of the projects we undertake.
Energy efficiency in accordance with our goal of reducing emissions by 70% by 2035, we are committed to technological innovation for efficiency, and we have had our own environmental management system since 2007.
Water management with 100% of our hotels assessed at risk of water stress.
Circularity with a commitment to eliminate single-use plastics, recycling (with a recycling rate of 60% of our waste globally) and reducing food waste.
Biodiversity where we are committed to the conservation and cleanliness of destinations: 54 of our hotels are located in protected natural areas, and to this purpose, we work by simultaneously training our employees and raising awareness among our customers.
This is a brilliant opportunity to also tell you that at the end of July we are launching our hotel Villa Le Blanc Gran Meliá – our first goal of a “net zero” emissions hotel, on the beautiful island of Menorca which itself is a Biosphere Reserve. It will also be the first Grand-luxe Hotel in Menorca, which demonstrates the calibre of this milestone and how significant our commitment is to sustainable hospitality.
With a hotel group the size of Melia International, do you have your own supply chains?
The truth is that for many years at Meliá Hotels International, we did create and maintain our own supply of many products, both food (meat and sausages) and agricultural products, laundry services, etc. We also supplied other hotel chains, but after some time we realised that we had to dedicate all our efforts and our excellence to our core-business, managing hotels. We are committed to having and maintaining the best suppliers in each field, and to forging the best relationships with them.
Again, to this trust and cooperation with suppliers, we are currently introducing a new practice of ‘circular economy.’ We developed prototypes such as the one at the Palacio de Congresos and hotel in Palma de Mallorca, in which we offer composted waste to farms and producers in the primary sector so that they can cultivate their organic products. We then buy back from them, in an exemplary completely ‘circular’ cycle.
Following the pandemic, if the world is traveling less, in the long term how do you attract global visitors?
It is evident that the pandemic caused an absolute disruption in the travel industry. However, the strength and resilience of tourism has not diminished at all. We are currently witnessing a strong recovery which in just one year, could recover the tourism GDP prior to the pandemic worldwide, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. As an organization, we predict an average annual growth of tourism activity of 5.7% per year – more than doubling the general GDP’s growth of the world economy.
Instead of a problem of demand, I believe that the post-COVID tourism industry faces the challenge of transforming itself; by digitalising companies and destinations, by being sustainable, and with a higher component of experiences and authenticity. As today’s travellers have evolved and now travel with new morals and a purpose, we are very aware of how the new generations of travellers are very eco-conscious and do not want to generate a negative impact whilst traveling. Faced with ‘over tourism,’ the answer is ‘slow tourism’ and ultimately needs to be a responsible tourism.
Where do you see current opportunities for expansion?
At a general level, Meliá Hotels International is a leading group and benchmark in the resort or holiday hotel sector, and consequently, our Expansion Map for the next 10 years prioritises growth in what we call the “vacation axis”. It ranges from the best destinations in the Caribbean and Latam, to Southeast Asia, passing through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and East Africa. These destinations will concentrate 80% of our expansion in 10 years, while the remaining 20% will be urban hotels in cities with a high component of tourism and leisure, since we also specialise in the so-called ‘bleisure’ hotels (business plus leisure.)
More specifically, we envision a great opportunity for expansion in several destinations in Southeast Asia, and fundamentally Vietnam (where, after our recent agreement with the Vietnamese group, Vinpearl, we have incorporated 15 hotels and more than 9,000 rooms, making us the 2nd largest hotel company in the country) as well as in Indonesia and Thailand. In each of these countries, our strategy involves development hand-in-hand with large local companies, normally family groups with whom we share vision and values.
In addition, we are looking for opportunities and alliances in other markets, such as Saudi Arabia, which is betting heavily on future tourism, and where we have just signed an MOU to create three large hotels for the time being, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar, which are part of the Saudi National Development Plan.
These destinations and partners particularly value our travel and hospitality leadership and presence in so many destinations. Meliá has launched in all tourist destinations worldwide, starting with Bali, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, all of Spain, the Mediterranean basin, as well as destinations such as Croatia and Albania, where we were before anyone else.
Not forgetting Europe of course, in our current pipeline two years from now we have 22 hotels across both city and non-urban locations, in preparation in Europe: four in Albania, three in Italy, seven in Portugal, four in Malta, one in the UK, and two in Spain.
With around 45,000 employees, what do you see as your key responsibility to your staff?
We have always been very aware that Meliá Hotels International is responsible for the income of more than 45,000 families. We also believe that employees should also be considered, in a way, as ‘part of the family’ and that they should be our priority. As my father (Founder and Chairman of the company) often says; “they are the most important asset that Meliá has.” Therefore, the training and development of people, and their wellbeing, are fundamental aspects of our management, and this has earned us being certified as ‘Top Employer’ in Spain, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
I would like to emphasise that this importance of people was demonstrated even more strongly during the pandemic where we had to ensure the health and safety our team, as well as the preservation of jobs. This constituted an unprecedented challenge which, fortunately, we emerged from triumphantly, thanks to the effort, commitment, and talent of our team.
Where is your favourite place and what is your favourite view?
I don’t want to sound too local or ‘chauvinistic’, but I still stick with my island of Mallorca, and specifically, a high place on one of the cliffs that surround the north coast of Mallorca that fascinates me. Without a doubt, it has the best views in the world, in my opinion! Apart from this, there are destinations that I’m absolutely in love with, such as Cuba, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
Where do you go on holiday and why?
Every year we make a trip with my father and brothers – a reunion of great importance that we cannot miss. After this, I usually go by boat with my family around the Mediterranean, through the Balearic, Greek, French or Italian islands, because we love sailing and life at sea.