Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry and no more so than the hotel sector. Marbella boasts some of the most luxurious and popular hotels in Europe, and the pandemic has forced a rethink in how they do business, as well as their relationships with their clients. Every aspect of the hotel business, from room service to restaurants, and catering even more closely to their guests’ needs, has had to be reconsidered.
It is not only the glamourous 5-star establishments that have had to adapt, however. Marbella is also home to several independent boutique hotels that have had to comply with the changes that Covid-19 has demanded.
Giles Brown checked in on three professionals to get their views on the post Coronavirus future for the Marbella hotel industry.
John Thomson is a man who knows the industry in Marbella better than anyone. Over the past decade he has seen the rapid expansion and revitalisation of the Marbella Club Group of Hotels and is currently General Manager of Nobu Hotel Marbella, arguably the most exciting and significant development in the Spanish hotel industry in the past decade. He reported little impact on business at the beginning of the pandemic: “Business was fantastic at first but after last June, once the UK Government added restrictions like quarantine, it slowed down the market and weddings and groups were cancelled or postponed until 2022”.
John had already noticed a change in the requirements of clients before coronavirus, with many preferring not to have full board (ie breakfast lunch and dinner included) as well as a growing trend for more healthy, well-being focussed holidays.
The need for a safe environment, with a wide chose of leisure and dining options within the hotel’s grounds, has also been an important factor. Having several outstanding restaurants including Nobu, Thai Gallery and Serafina located around La Plaza, one of Marbella’s most sought after gastronomic hubs adjacent to Nobu Hotel, has been proof of this. “Many of our clients like healthy options in menus and a choice of restaurants,” explains John “and they also prefer that they don’t need to travel out of the resort”.
Despite the current situation, Nobu Hotel Marbella has remained busy with offers such as the Nobu Experience – that can range from a complimentary meal in a Nobu restaurant, or booking three nights and paying for two in off-season months – and John is optimistic for the coming months. “Hopefully we will see borders reopen through vaccine passports, freedom of travel and no quarantine, and if possible travellers having no fear of contracting any Covid virus”.
Kempinski Hotel Bahia
At the Kempinski Hotel Bahia Estepona/Marbella, General Manager Axel Bethke is also optimistic about the future. One of the main reasons behind this is the perception of Spain as a safe destination. “After the media took Spain on a roller coaster ride as of June 2020, making it the main hot spot in Europe of the pandemic, Spain has recovered very well. By the end of 2020 it was among only a few countries that could provide a somewhat normal life with open stores, restaurants, sport facilities etc, while others were in a complete lockdown. The Spanish government has a plan in place to reopen for tourism, which accounts for a third of the country’s GDP. The ministry of tourism is working very closely with the industry to ensure traveling to Spain in the near future will be safe and exciting again”.
Axel also highlighted the importance of good client relationships “We strongly maintained the relationship with our customers by keeping them updated on the situation in Spain, as well as introducing the Kempinski Covid19 Hygiene Protocol to ensure they feel safe to travel to the Costa del Sol as soon as it was or will be possible. We are proud that we have a very good repeat guest base who are very loyal and book directly with us. In addition to this, the Kempinski loyalty programme ‘Discovery’ is vital and has developed very strongly over the past three years, ensuring direct bookings.
“Guests have also been very eager to understand what services the hotel provides to ensure their safety and that their health will be protected. Kempinski has, like others in the industry, developed a comprehensive hygiene protocol named “White Glove Service” to ensure that both guests and employees are safe.
Axel has also seen increased demand from clients for a wide range of gastronomic and activity options within the Kempinski itself. “Safety and security are key”, he explains, “guests are seeking excellent Food and Beverage offerings within the resort therefore avoiding having to leave the property which creates potential risk. Amenities like SPA, kids club and other entertainment (Sport, Culture etc.) are in higher demand for the same reason. This is an opportunity for us as a resort hotel to develop these services further providing a fantastic “in resort” guest experience.
With a scheduled opening in May, Axel is also optimistic for the future “We are monitoring the situation in Europe, which is our main target market for 2021, very carefully and waiting for the governments to share their action plans on how and when international travel will be allowed again. People are tired of living in fear and being controlled by this pandemic. It is almost a miracle that we have a vaccine available and, if the distribution picks up speed, we are confident for a good summer season here in the south of Spain. The desire to travel again is high and the Costa del Sol can be reached from within Europe in a short period of time, which makes it additionally attractive. Fingers crossed!” he smiles.
Jardines de La Reina
Los Angeles based couple Kirsten and Diego Selinger moved to Marbella in 2012, having sold everything. “We arrived in Malaga airport in 2012 with 2 backpacks and a dream, so cheesy but hey, it’s the truth!” laughs Kirsten. They found a gorgeous, if slightly rundown, villa that was formally owned by Duke and Jocelyn Meeks (of Duques Bar fame) and converted it into Jardines De La Reina Boutique Bed & Breakfast. “Diego and I reformed the place and built the business from the ground up to what it is today, a small eight bedroom green oasis. We have been described as quirky, boho, and unique as all our rooms are decorated differently and all around the property you will find many items that we have collected from around the world.”
So far, so good. But then came Covid. “It has been a true labour of love, and every year we have been fortunate to grow and improve our property and our services to our guests, and 2020 was fully booked and looking to be our best year ever. Like many business we have been hit hard, but on the most part have been blessed with our fabulous clientele who happily rebooked in the hope that 2021 would tell us a different story”.
Like many small businesses, the couple have found the past year a struggle, but being a boutique hotel also has its advantages, especially when it comes to creating a safe environment. “Being a small place we have always found it challenging to compete with the big guys. It has, however, proved easier for us to provide everyone with a safer environment. All of our rooms have their own private furnished patios, we have a lounge chair in the pool area assigned for each guest (no need to share), all meals are cooked to order and are served on our outdoor breakfast area or even on your own private patio in front of your room!”
They also took advantage of the restrictions to update the building. “Looking back on the past year it has been a struggle, however we have continued to welcome a few guests who have decided to travel, to concentrate on improving the property by refurbishing guest rooms, and are quick to adjust our business model to fit in with the current situation”.
Scheduled to open on March 1, Kirsten and Diego remain upbeat about the future, and even the lessons that Covid has taught us, “This year’s travel will not be the same as usual. But amongst the many things we have learnt from the past year is that if we all respect each other, and work together, we will be here happy to provide a lovely holiday experience in a safe and relaxing environment. We all must be willing to shift our expectations, go with the flow and simply be kind to one another”.