How important was an early re-opening of the property, as the pandemic has been easing?
We didn’t want to rush the re-opening of El Palace Barcelona and wanted to ensure we had everything in place and ready to go. We analysed the market, kept a close eye on the restrictions, and regularly reviewed our re-opening strategy and plans accordingly. During Summer 2020, we didn’t open the hotel rooms due to the ongoing travel restrictions, and instead decided to only open our 1500sqm Rooftop Garden with several exciting pop-up experiences such as the open-air rooftop cinema with Grey Goose, the Black Forest Hut with Monkey 47, a Christmas Market throughout December, and the second edition of our “Chalet El Palace” in partnership with Ruinart.
We used the time to refurbish our ballroom and event spaces and started our room refurbishment program concentrating first on our Junior and Superior Suites. We also recently launched our new website and hotel app and updated some of the technology and digital infrastructure in the hotel with interactive TVs and new operating systems for different areas of the Hotel. On April 1st, after having our rooms closed for nearly 13 months, we decided to welcome overnight guests again. We are delighted to be able to welcome back so many of our regular and new guests through our historical revolving doors and do what we enjoy most, looking after our guests.
Which are the challenges which you expect to remain even as the overall context is improving? Do you also see any opportunities?
Urban hotels will sadly take longer to recover than coastal hotels in Spain, as we are predicting more people will be looking for seaside getaways following the easing of lockdowns. While things will start moving and this is very positive step for our industry, hotels in Barcelona will likely not go back to 2019 tourist numbers before 2023.
With the reopening of international borders, we will see the business start to come back, but we will likely not see a drastic change and dramatic increase in numbers. There is a positive to this, in that it gives us the opportunity and time to analyse our strategies, key feeder markets and what really is important for the hotel and our guests. It will also allow Barcelona as a city to address some of the challenges it faced previously as a popular tourist destination, and work towards making the city shine again as it always did and deserves.
What has been your approach to flexibility when targeting a changing consumer profile? – especially because of the volatility of the market.
Flexibility is one of the new norms and expectations we are seeing from guests booking to stay with us, and we quickly adjusted our plans. The booking windows have become shorter, and we know that plans can change at any minute these days due to changing restrictions, possible exposures, and flight schedule fluctuations. We want to ensure our guests that we know and understand these challenges too. We want to always create and build long lasting relationships with our guests, so they feel comfortable and want to come back again and again.
Has the perception of luxury changed? – if in any way. Do people have different expectations?
Luxury is about creating experiences and ensuring guests have all they need at their fingertips while receiving a true local experience. The modern traveller is now also looking for transparency and strong sustainability initiatives. Our Guests want to know that we are contributing to fighting climate change and protecting our planet and that we have the measures in place to do so. For example, we have been certified by “Barcelona Biosphere” as a sustainable hotel. As part of this accreditation, we are consistently reviewing our procedures and products to reduce our use of plastic throughout the hotel and use local products as much as we can to support local suppliers. For me, it is very important that we support our local community in every sense, and we therefore have numerous exciting projects in the pipeline, all with their own contribution to our local community, which I am positive our guests will enjoy and appreciate.
Some travellers perceive the implementation of additional safety and hygiene measures as a factor that impacts the standard of service.
We have always had comprehensive hygiene, cleanliness and safety standards in place which allowed us to quickly receive three different safety labels / certifications (Verified by Forbes, GBAC Bio Risk, Hosteleria Segura Española). We adapted many procedures in line with the latest government recommendations due to COVID-19, and these are all easily accessible to our guests. We have also gone a step further and are offering complimentary airport / train station transfers to all guests who book directly with us to only provide them with this extra service, but most importantly ensure their safety and comfort. We are currently the only hotel in Barcelona to offer this service.
What are the competitive advantages of El Palace Barcelona? What is the comp set?
We are proud to be the oldest luxury hotel and first five-star hotel in Barcelona, dating back to 1919 when we opened our doors as the former Ritz of Barcelona. We have a rich heritage and history which no one else has in the city.
We pride ourselves in remaining true to our origins (our heritage and history), while at the same time we understand the wishes of the modern traveller, and therefore the need to adapt our services and offers. When guests arrive and stay at El Palace Barcelona, they feel like they are taking a little tour through time – you have our magnificent historical lobby where we serve traditional afternoon tea together with classical piano and jazz music, our cosy speakeasy Bluesman Bar transports you to the glory days of the 50s 60s and 70s, and then you move to our rooms which feature our neoclassical-inspired signature style but without being claustrophobic.
Finally, we arrive at our panoramic roof top terrace and garden where we are continuously changing our offering and experiences. I always like to compare El Palace Barcelona to a stick with cotton candy – the stick is our history and heritage which should never change and what we hold on to, while the surrounding cotton candy around this stick must change constantly to remain attractive and relevant to guests and clients.
What are the novelties we should be expecting this year?
This Summer, we are partnering exclusively with Tropical Gava Boutique Hotel, located on the prime beach area about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona. Our guests will be able to use the beach beds, infinity pool and all other facilities during the day, and we will be arranging private transfers with our hotel cars to and from the beach club for their security and convenience. We will also continue with the refurbishment of our entry and middle level suites, but one of the most exciting upcoming projects is the opening of our new restaurant which we will be hopefully launching in Q4 with its own pastry shop and spectacular wine cellar.
Two other points I would like to mention is our Pet Relations Manager Lulu who welcomes and looks after all the dogs who stay at the Hotel (we are a pet friendly hotel), and our artist in residence which highlights the connection this hotel has always had with art and artists
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