Posted in People on 5 October, 2015

Can Faik meets leading hotelier, Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, Vice Chairman and CEO at Meliá Hotels International to discover what Spanish passion brings to the global hospitality market…

Gabriel Escarrer Jaume worked in finance in New York before joining Meliá Hotels International, the company which was founded by his father, Gabriel Escarrer Juliá. Having successfully launched the company on the stock market in July 1996, he became CEO in 1999 and now oversees the ownership and management of more than 370 hotels in 40 different countries. MHI brands include ME by Meliá, Gran Meliá Hotels, Meliá Hotels & Resorts, Paradisus Resorts, INNSIDE by Meliá, Tryp and Sol Hotels & Resorts. The group remains family-run and HQ in Spain, although it is listed on the Spanish stock-market.

What is your background?

My first job was working as a hotel receptionist in one of my father’s properties when I was 14. Working from the ground up is important if you want to have a good understanding of a business and one of the most important things that experience taught me was how to understand the feelings and motivations of the people around me, people I would manage in the future. I went on to study at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (USA) specialising in “Finance and Business Management.”

What is your proudest achievement?

My greatest achievement, in terms of my personal life, is my family. Professionally, it’s my team at Meliá Hotels International. I’m surrounded by the most talented people in the industry.

Tell me about your new ME by Meliá hotels in Milan and Dubai.

ME by Meliá is the most avant-garde of our hotel brands and has been designed for travellers who are trendsetters, looking not only for quality but also for a personal, vibrant experience in a cosmopolitan atmosphere that reflects their professional needs and personal desires.

In May 2015 we launched ME Milan Il Duca, which is our first ME by Meliá hotel in Italy and has been hugely successful already. ME Milan Il Duca was designed by globally renowned late architect, Aldo Rossi, and has been renovated by Alvaro Sans Hotel Architecture (ASAH). The property occupies the site of the former l’Hotel Duca di Milano, and its interiors have been redesigned by Mortini’s Studio transforming it into a cosmopolitan hub with modern interiors. The hotel is a fusion of traditional and contemporary Italian design. Bespoke artworks by Milanese artisans are also on show throughout.

Another exciting project that we are working on is ME Dubai, designed by celebrated architect Zaha Hadid. Her architecture practice has created all of the interiors and the exterior of this new hotel in our luxury portfolio. Launching in 2017, it will have 95 rooms and 45 apartments, as well as Michelin star restaurants and some great international F&B brands.

What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?

The company has strengthened its offering with openings in prime locations across almost every continent, including Asia Pacific and the Middle East. In the last couple of years our commitment to expansion has allowed us to triple our portfolio, with iconic hotels such as Meliá Doha and Gran Meliá Xian, as well as a significant growth in Indonesia, a popular resort destination. Meliá Hotels International is one of the leading hotel groups worldwide, with 45% of the portfolio being resort hotels and 55% city hotels. Future launches include ME Dubai and INNSIDE Manhattan.

I am particularly proud of our “Calviá Beach” project, where our group has undertaken a significant investment (more than €120 million so far) and a huge commitment to renovate and reposition Magaluf, in which Meliá has a dominant position. In 2012 we joined forces with the regional government to transform Magaluf by raising its profile, giving the area the “second chance” that it deserves by highlighting its beautiful beaches and privileged location. The project is still in motion and has already attracted major international investors that believe in the destination’s potential and in the Sol brand relaunch. This year we announced the beginning of a joint-venture with Starwood Capital Group, whereby they acquired 80% of seven Spanish Sol hotels for 176m€. The agreement included the renovation and rebranding of the hotels, which will continue to be managed by Meliá. The partnership marks the start of a long-term collaboration to grow and strengthen the re-launch of the Sol Hotels brand, and in the next two years €30 million will be spent on the renovation of the hotels.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?

Hotel design is fundamental to guest experience and is arguably the deciding factor as to whether a guest will or will not stay at your hotel. The ME by Meliá brand is designed around four concepts; Remember ME, Experience ME, Energise ME and Dare ME. The aim is to create a stimulating atmosphere that connects with each guests’ Aura. This summer we re-launched Sol Hotels & Resorts which key properties include three Sol Beach House Hotels, in Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca, all of which are in partnership with DESIGUAL, the Spanish fashion brand, in customising some of the design and lifestyle elements of the Sol Beach House experience. Another example is Sol House Trinidad Mallorca, a leading property in the trend for connectivity. The hotel design is a reflection of guests’ desires to stay constantly connected via social media, including the tweet concierge and the tweet wall in reception, which is an ever changing art work showcasing guests’ holiday experiences in the lobby area.

What changes have you noticed in hotel design in the last decade or so?

The last decade has seen a major change in the way that we live our lives on a daily basis and connectivity is central to how we work and play, thus becoming an essential element in design. Traditional hotel lobbies are changing in terms of their layouts with the introduction of self-service check-in desks, communal multimedia library areas and more experience led environments. Art and functionality is fused in guest-rooms as hotels continue to become “social epicentres.” The nature of F&B outlets in hotels have adapted and now we see the integration of cocktail bars and restaurants into areas that were traditionally kept separate.

For Meliá Hotels International, the main focus at the moment is our premium and resort brands, including ME by Meliá, Gran Meliá, Meliá Hotels & Resorts and Paradisus Resorts. Currently, we are expanding into secondary cities, for example ME Miami will launch in January 2016. ME Miami will be the first ME by Meliá hotel in the USA. Located in Downtown Miami the hotel will have two rooftop pools, a luxury spa and the popular American STK restaurant.

Why do you think that hotel design is so important?

The design of a hotel is tremendously important as it sets the tone for a guest’s experience and is the principal reason a traveller will choose to stay at a hotel. The ME by Meliá brand is at the forefront of our design led offering. The key concepts for the brand are centred around experiences. ME by Meliá strives to work with the best architects and designers across the globe.

What would be your dream hotel project?

My dreams are realised through the aggressive expansion programme we are currently implementing at Meliá Hotels International. ME Dubai is going to be a feat of architecture and interior design in one of the world’s most affluent cities, where luxury and innovation is taken to new levels. It has been a pleasure to work with Zaha Hadid on this project; she is an inspiration and a leader in modern design. Working with people like her is what dreams are made of from a design perspective.

What is next for you and for Melia Hotels International?

In 2016 Meliá Hotels International will be 60 years old. My hope for the future is that we become even more global, and of course, profitable for all our stakeholders. Tourism is not only a business for me, but a passion as well. Travel is the best engine for the development of communities and a perfect way to unite people from all cultures and walks of life. The tourism industry represents a growing percentage of the world’s GDP every year, and is the largest employment sector worldwide. Meliá Hotels International is the leading Spanish hotel group with a rapidly expanding global portfolio, which puts us in a strong position to become one of the top international hotel management groups worldwide.

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