History Lessons

The historic inn niche has made Quinta Real into an industry leader

By: Laurel Delp

One of Mexico’s most interesting hotel groups remains fairly unknown in the U.S., but should soon burst onto the scene as it continues to expand its luxury boutique properties. This summer, Grupo Quinta Real added its ninth property, in Monterrey, and has ambitious plans for the near future. Already divided between beach resorts, the colonial cities and Mexico’s business hubs, Quinta Real has plans for Mexico City, the Maya Riviera and Los Cabos.

The 20-year-old company is a pioneer in what, these days, would seem simply common sense the all-suite boutique hotel reflecting its country’s rich culture. But in the early 1980s, when Quinta Real’s founder was just weighing the possibilities, upper-crust Mexicans were still faintly embarrassed by their colonial and mestizo culture. Everything had to be either European or American to be good. At the time, Mexico’s hospitality industry was leaning toward large, international-style modern hotels.

Francisco Martinez was a successful Guadalajara businessman in the food industry who, like most well-to-do Mexicans, traveled often to Europe. He was particularly drawn to the smaller, family-run luxury boutique hotels he found there often in historic buildings, filled with antiques and rich in local culture and was convinced there was room for something similar in Guadalajara.

In those days, it was an unlikely idea, but in 1984 he invited several local architects to come up with plans for what they considered would be the ideal boutique property in Mexico. Two came up with European-inspired designs, but the Elias brothers presented Martinez with a quintessentially Mexican design, using stone, beamed ceilings, wrought iron, colonial arches and a courtyard. Martinez obtained financing and, already an art collector, began gathering antiques and reproductions, high-quality crafts and colonial paintings for the hotel.

In 1986, the first Quinta Real opened its doors. Martinez discounted the rooms just enough to lure a few people away from Guadalajara’s best hotels, long enough to discover his unique alternative. The Quinta Real quickly became a hit and is now a Guadalajara institution.

Next, the governor of the state of Zacatecas invited Martinez to come and look at possible hotel venues. The capital city, Zacatecas, had once been second in riches only to Mexico City, and was the first of the great colonial silver-mining cities. There were many beautiful colonial structures available, from monasteries to a governor’s palace, but Martinez was instantly inspired by what had been colonial Mexico’s first bullring (and only the second in Latin America) at the time, a dingy parking lot in the shadow of what remained of the city’s grand aqueduct. No one could talk him out of it. Exorcising the bullring of the detritus of bulls and horses (the hyper-romantic bar is in the old stalls) and shoring up the insecure aqueduct cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The stunning 53-suite hotel opened in February of 1989, and is absolutely one of a kind. The following year the property in Aguascalientes opened, again designed by the Elias brothers, built with such fidelity to a colonial monastery down to the bell tower it’s easy to forget it’s a completely new structure, holding not monks’ cells, but 89 spacious suites. In the years since, properties have been added in Saltillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Monterey, Villa Hermosa and in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Another jewel in the crown is the property in Huatulco, on Oaxaca’s still fairly sparsely developed coast. The dramatic Moorish- inspired Quinta Real Huatulco hugs a peak on Tangalunda Bay, with 28 suites spilling down the steep hill from the reception and dining areas to the creamy beach. Many of the suites are duplexes with plunge pools, and the Presidential Suite features its own swimming pool and a spectacular open-air thatched-roof living space.

Francisco Martinez has since sold his shares in the company to Jose Antonio Alonso of the Bancomer family. All the partners in individual properties have become equal shareholders in Grupo Quinta Real, now headquartered in Mexico City. The major shareholders are Alonso, the company president, and Martinez’s son, also named Francisco Martinez, the vice president. Last year revenues from the company’s 851 rooms hit $49 million.

It’s a success story that has led to a brand agents can book with confidence.