What's New with Riu

It was 1950. Hollywood hero John Wayne was fiercely battling the Apaches as Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke in the epic “Rio Grande.” And far away in the South American country of Venezuela, 17-year-old Luis Riu Bertran was one of “The Duke’s” biggest fans.

By: Donna Ray

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Luis Riu Guell
It was 1950. Hollywood hero John Wayne was fiercely battling the Apaches as Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke in the epic “Rio Grande.” And far away in the South American country of Venezuela, 17-year-old Luis Riu Bertran was one of “The Duke’s” biggest fans.

In fact, Bertran was so passionate about Wayne’s action-packed films that, in 1980, he named his family’s newest Mallorca hotel the Rio Bravo. As one thing led to another over the next few years, Bertran began tagging his family moniker onto all Riu properties even the Wayne-inspired Rio Bravo.

Fast forward to 2008. Riu Hotels & Resorts is a brand recognized throughout the world for its quality beachfront resorts owned and operated by three generations of the Riu family. The Spanish company launched by Bertran’s parents in 1953 is now overseen by his children.

And while Riu’s roots are firmly planted on prime European beaches, its emerging story lies just south of the Rio Grande in Mexico.


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Guestrooms Carmen Riu
“The Shoe Box”
For Luis Riu Guell (aka Luis G.), half of the sibling duo serving as chief executive officers of Riu Hotels & Resorts since the 1998 passing of their father, stepping outside the box never crossed his mind. Today, Luis G. oversees operations, sales and construction, while his sister Carmen handles the financial and administrative side.

“I never doubted that I’d work with our family business,” he said.

Their love for the hospitality business runs as deep as that motivating their grandparents, Juan and Maria Bertran Espigule, to sink their life savings into the modest 80-bed Hotel San Francisco on popular Playa de Palma in 1953. Acquiring a taste for the holiday accommodations business as hoteliers in Venezuela from 1950 to 1953, the couple nicknamed their premier Mallorca investment “The Shoe Box” for its small rectangular shape.

The beachfront property still stands today, although it has evolved to four-star status and expanded to 133 rooms.

“Of course we still have the property,” said Luis G. “Never loose your roots!”

Now known as the Riu San Francisco, this family flagship remains a popular hotel that sees an impressive 80 percent repeat business.

Growing up in the Riu world was exciting for both Luis G. and Carmen.

“During the summer months, we had a lot of friends to play with from France, Germany and other European countries,” said Luis G. “The winter season was a little more boring for us due to the higher average age of the hotel guests.”

Even as children, the business was in their blood. So it’s no surprise that Carmen and Luis G. contributed early. Carmen arranged tables and Luis G., at the age of 7, reviewed client-satisfaction inquiries with his father every Sunday.


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Luis Riu Bertran
“It was a great experience for me when we went to visit the general managers of our hotels to discuss the results,” he said.

Luis G. feels that, in their particular case, learning hotel operations at such a young age reaped positive payoffs.

“If you work hard and stay close together, two things may happen,” he said. “You develop a strong common family spirit in favor of your business or you risk some alienation. In our case, we succeeded to act always with a strong common determination. Decisions were made together and no one had a problem working harder and longer if necessary.”

Catering primarily to German clientele drawn to warm coastal environs, Riu grew its Mallorca operations by targeting guest satisfaction with emphasis on quality and personalized service. The company analyzed markets and client attitudes, defined its philosophy and negotiated with German tour operators to make Mallorca a full-year destination.

One operator in particular, TUI (Touristik Union International), became Riu’s strategic business partner. The team vaulted Riu’s business during the 1960s and 1970s as more and more European travelers flocked to Spanish beaches.

Setting its sights even further, Riu went international as a chain in the 1990s with the opening of the hotel Riu Taino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Following the move, Riu and TUI became equal partners by establishing RIUUSA SA in 1993. Managing all hotels with a Riu logo, the company continues to reinvest all profits into future growth.

Riu’s expansion to Mexico in the late 1990s was a natural next step, and Luis G. spearheaded the process.


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A suite at the Hotel Riu Vallarta
“Destinations mature and clients look for new experiences,” Luis G. said. “Mexico fascinated me from the beginning. It offers great potential and enormous diversity to meet a broad variety of client preferences.”

The excitement of opening the Riu Yucatan in Playa del Carmen was dampened by great sadness, however. Luis Riu Bertran passed away in 1998, leading to Luis G. and Carmen taking over operations.

“Our father was an entrepreneur and a real personality,” said Luis G. “He was respected and appreciated as a visionary leader in the tourism industry. And he always wanted us to continue his work. So for my sister and me, it was absolutely clear to continue our common family business, developing further the philosophy and policy he created.”

A Dream Match With Mexico
Opening an average of two to three new properties a year primarily in Mexico, Europe, the Dominican Republic, the Canary Islands and the U.S., Riu Hotels & Resorts strives to differentiate itself in each market with its high standard of service and attention to detail.

Especially in Mexico, the U.S. market has proven receptive to Riu’s all-inclusive concept and its service tiers. Riu currently uses a two-tiered brand identifier. Its Classic resorts are more for families, featuring sports and plenty of activities, while its Palace resorts are a bit more upscale. Regardless of this designation, however, a five-star Riu Classic property is still designed as a very high-quality product.

In November 2007, Riu further satisfied its niche focus in Mexico with the grand opening of the $135 million Riu Santa Fe in Cabo San Lucas. The company’s 13th Mexico resort, the 902-room property is Riu’s largest single capital investment to date.

“Riu Santa Fe opens this destination to a whole new type of client who has never visited Cabo because it offers mainly luxury accommodations,” said Fernando Dragonne, Riu’s director of retail channel, marketing and business development. “With Palace Cabo San Lucas and Riu Santa Fe, Riu Hotels & Resorts covers the needs and wishes of families, couples and luxury accommodation clients in Cabo.


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Exterior rendering of the
Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas
“We’ve found that opening our service to satisfy a wider range of market has been a very enriching process, considering our roots go back to serving mainly the European market,” said Dragonne. “We are now in the process of making some adjustments to our product geared to Americans, like adding room amenities such as coffee makers and ironing boards.”

Riu continues to make strides in Mexico with the Riu Palace Pacifico, set to open in October. This newest Riu venture will debut the company’s Palace level in Puerto Vallarta. Located just nine miles from downtown Puerto Vallarta near Riu’s two other hotels in the region Riu Vallarta and Riu Jalisco the Riu Palace Pacifico will feature 484 luxurious junior suites, a sprawling beach and an array of all-inclusive amenities, facilities, restaurants, bars and activities.

“Puerto Vallarta is a truly vibrant and wonderful city ideal for leisure vacations imbued with fun, festivity and excitement,” said Luis G. “When complete, the Riu Palace Pacifico will provide a new level of sophistication and elegance to travelers selecting this dynamic destination.”

Rounding out Riu’s Mexico portfolio are three properties in Cancun and six in Playa del Carmen.

As far as Riu adjusting its marketing strategies to U.S. travelers, Dragonne views it more as an opportunity than an obstacle.

“The main issue in the American market is that customer expectations are higher than in any other market in terms of the variety and quality of food and beverage, as well as entertainment, activities and sports options,” he said.

Riu finds that its increasing demand in Mexico merits even further development there. In fact, plans call for construction of a 750-room, five-star all-inclusive Riu in Mazatlan that will open in 2009. Over the next few years, four additional projects will open along Mexico’s Pacific Coast.


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Guestrooms Lobby of Hotel Riu Vallarta
“Right now, 40 percent of our business is generated from Mexico properties,” said Luis G. “And 60 percent of that is from the U.S. market. So we have a big commitment to Mexico and U.S. travelers even to the point of adapting our philosophies to better accommodate the mind-set of those travelers.”

With Riu, agents can also count on opening dates that stick.

“One of the things my father taught me was that when we set an opening date, we open on that date or before, not even one day later,” said Luis G. “Based on that, I’ve opened 59 hotels in my life all on time. It makes me proud that we’ve done this from so long ago.”

Luis G. is certain his father would be quite impressed with Riu’s progress and plans.

“I think my father would be pleased with the fact that 40 percent of our profit is generated from a destination that’s only 12 years old for us,” he said.

Linked by a Common Philosophy
While much has changed over the past 55 years, Luis G. and Carmen still maintain the family’s passion for their business and commitment to delivering the highest possible service.

What began at the Hotel San Francisco in 1953 set the stage for Riu Hotels & Resorts maturing into one of the largest and most solidly established of Europe’s great hotel chains. From 80 beds on Mallorca’s Playa de Palma to 36,000 rooms in 100 hotels scattered across 17 countries, Riu today stands as the second largest hotel chain in Spain and 27th largest in the world. It boasts 20,000 employees and greets 2.7 million clients a year. Stats aside, Riu perpetuates its value based on a philosophy maintained generation after generation.

“My father and his father dreamed of creating a brand that stands all over the world for a well-defined content. They did everything to build up the confidence of travel agents to motivate clients to choose Riu for their holidays,” Luis G. said.

Repeat business is a Riu cornerstone.


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Rendering of the Riu Palace Pacifico, set to
open this October in Nuevo Vallarta
“My father and grandfather realized early on that only a satisfied guest will become a repeat guest,” said Luis G. “They made us feel it was our obligation to justify the trust set in us. And while there are always new challenges, the roots our grandfather and father set for Riu will always stay. We will never forget why we are where we are and who was working hard with us to get us there.”

Void of fanfare but high on emotion, Riu Hotels & Resorts’ 50th anniversary in 2003 was a modest celebration held in the place where it all began.

“Several of our managing directors tried to convince us to have a major public event,” said Luis G. “But Carmen and I were not able to handle it that way for a simple reason our father was not able to enjoy this great moment with us.”

Instead, the occasion was marked with an intimate ceremony for those guests in the Riu San Francisco who had known Bertran and wanted to honor his memory. As for the next 50 years, the Riu family looks forward without losing sight of the past.

“We’re preserving the philosophy passed on to us that defines the way we think and act,” said Luis G. “We want to be entirely at our guests’ service, offering them an opportunity to enjoy their vacations in comfortable hotels alongside some of the world’s best beaches.”

Riu Hotel & Resorts




Riu Velaris
Island of Brac, Croatia
Four stars with “All Inclusive by Riu”
125 rooms

ClubHotel Riu Guarana
Four stars with “All Inclusive by Riu”
500 rooms

Riu Montego Bay Jamaica
Five stars with “All Inclusive by Riu”
701 junior suites and suites

Riu Palace Pacifico
Five stars with “All Inclusive by Riu”
484 junior suites and suites

ClubHotel Riu Karamboa
Cape Verde Islands
Five stars with “All Inclusive by Riu”
750 junior suites and suites



Los Cabos
Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas
Riu Santa Fe

Riu Palace Las Americanas
Riu Cancun
Riu Caribe

Playa del Carmen
Riu Palace Riviera Maya
Riu Palace Mexico
ClubHotel Riu Tequila
Riu Yucatan
Riu Lupita
Riu Playacar

Puerto Vallarta
ClubHotel Riu Jalisco
Riu Vallarta
Riu Palace Pacifico (October 2008)


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Luis Riu Guell was born December 30, 1960, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. He obtained a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Barcelona, Spain in 1983 and initiated RIU’s expansion to the Canary Islands in 1985 (currently 25 hotels).

Guell led RIU’s international expansion and which resulted in him becoming company president in 1991 and he was named CEO of Riu Hotels & Resorts with his sister, Carmen, in 1998. In 1998, Guell was also named “ Best Entrepreneur in Tourism” in 1998 (Grandes Viajes)

He is married, with three children and has a special interest in music and sports.

Born October 15, 1955 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Carmen Riu Guell has a Masters in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Barcelona, Spain.

In 1976, Carmen was appointed general manager of the Hotel Riu Bali Playa de Palma, and became the director of the human resources department of the Riu Group in 1977. She was then made director of finance and administration in 1981. In the same year she completed post-graduate studies of Business Administration in Human Resources and Finance at the Instituto de Empresa, Madrid.

With Luis Guell, Carmen was named CEO of Riu Hotels & Resorts with her in 1998. Like her brother, she is also married and has three children. She likes literature, music and dancing.


Key years in blue


1953 The Riu family acquires the San Francisco Hotel in Majorca.
1955First charter flight to Majorca.
1962The hotel opens during the winter in agreement with LTU and the wholesaler Doctor Tigges Fahrten.
1963Expansion in Majorca.
1976 Riu Hotels SA is created with two partners, the Riu family and the tour operator TUI (Touristik Union International)
1985 Expansion in the Canary Islands: opening of the Riu Palmeras in Gran Canaria.
1988Expansion in Fuerteventura.
1989Opening of the emblematic Riu Palace Maspalomas in Gran Canaria, the first Palace category hotel.
1991 International expansion: opening of the Riu Taino in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic). First hotels in Tenerife.
1992Opening of the Riu Canela (Huelva), first hotel in Andalusia.Expansion in Lanzarote.
1993 The Riu family and TUI create RIUSA-II SA, the hotel management corporation, with a 50% of the shares each. RIU acquires the Iberotel hotels. Expansion in Florida.
1994Opening of the emblematic Riu Palace Macao in the Dominican Republic.
1996 Acquisition of the Belhaven hotel chain (9 properties), the hotel division of the British company Ascott in Spain. Opening of the Riu Palace Meloneras in Gran Canaria.
1997Acquisition of the emblematic 5-star Grand Palace Riu Maspalomas Oasis
1998 Don Luis Riu Bertrán passes away on April 7. His son and daughter Luis and Carmen- succeeded him as Chief Executives (the third RIU generation) RIU announces the acquisition of 20 hotels of the Iberotel chain in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus and Bulgaria. RIU opens a Sales Office in Madrid.
1999Opening of the Riu Palace Tenerife.Opening of the Riu Palace Mexico. The hotel chain reaches 10,000 employees in staff.
2000PREUSSAG (TUI’s owner) acquires THOMSON and becomes the leading European tour operator
2001Opening of the Riu Palace Madeira.Opening of the first hotel in Jamaica, Riu Tropical Bay.
2002Principe Felipe Award for Business Excellence.
2003 Opening of the ClubHotel Riu Chiclana, the property number 100 and the largest of the hotel chain. November ’03: The chain’s 50th Anniversary, 106 hotels and 15,000 employees in 13 countries.