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Describing Gabriel Escarrer Julia as a typical 1950’s teenager is as off base as calling the Running of the Bulls exercise. While most Majorcan teens were engrossed with music and sports in 1950, the 15-year-old Escarrer was forging into Spain’s burgeoning tourism industry.
The sunrise at Paradisus Royal Suites Cancun
Industrious well beyond his years, Escarrer was equally observant. As travel thrived, he wisely opted to rent hotels and fill their rooms without the financial burden of ownership.
With six years of success under his belt, Escarrer finally took a well-calculated leap into proprietorship in 1956. The young entrepreneur was only 21 when he elevated his tourism passion by founding what is today Sol Melia Resorts & Hotels.
Escarrer dove deeper into the hospitality realm by leasing and managing the 60-room Altair Hotel in Palma, Majorca, the location from which he still presides over one of the largest hotel companies in the world.
Over the following years, Majorca boomed as a tourist destination. Escarrer jumped on the bandwagon by boosting the portfolio of his company, Hoteles Mallorquines. Expanding geographically over the next two decades, his flourishing enterprise acquired hotels in the Canary Islands as well as the other Balearic Islands.
In 1984, Escarrer renamed his company Hoteles Sol, before building it into the largest hotel chain in Spain with the acquisition of the 32-property Hotasa group. Three years later, Hoteles Sol merged with the up-market Melia chain to form Sol Melia — a deal that spread the company’s geographical scope across the Caribbean, Americas and additional European countries.
Then, in 2007, Sol Melia’s founder set into motion a gradual transfer of his executive functions to sons Sebastian and Gabriel, now co-vice chairmen and CEOs of the company. After a half-century of assembling his empire, the senior Escarrer had achieved one of his greatest dreams — passing the torch to perpetuate Sol Melia’s spirit.
Today, Sol Melia accommodates leisure and business travelers with 313 hotels in 30 countries on four continents. The company’s trio of Premium Portfolio brands — Gran Melia, ME and Paradisus — has a thriving presence in Mexico and the Caribbean. The Tryp, Innside and Sol brands are more prevalent throughout Europe, Latin America, South America, Asia and Africa.
Brand DifferentiationAccording to Tony Cortizas, vice president of marketing, U.S. agents are typically familiar with the Premium Portfolio properties, but cloudy on how all Sol Melia offerings stack up. Brand differentiation is nothing new for the company.
"Sol Melia actually grew by brands from the beginning," said Cortizas. "What can be confusing is that Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts is not actually a hotel or a resort. The name was created when Hoteles Sol merged with Melia in 1987. So, while the Sol Melia name has grown into the consciousness of the market, it’s really a portfolio of seven distinctive brands existing under the same umbrella."
Cortizas noted that each segment has been created to satisfy demanding customers who appreciate prime locations, quality amenities and personal service. Guiding this approach is "brand genesis," a strategic realignment and move toward maximizing individual brands so they succeed independently while holding equity to one another.
Brand by brand, the intensive process assesses the attributes that define Sol Melia’s clientele, how their preferences are evolving, how the company addresses this evolution and whether those efforts deliver the proper services.
"It is construction by deconstruction, one brand at a time," Cortizas said.
Retail agents benefit with Sol Melia’s reach to nearly every niche of traveler.
"In the end, we have complementary rather than competitive brands within the company," said Pete Zudyk, vice president of brand innovation and communications.
Sol Melia’s Premium Portfolio holdings, including the Gran Melia, ME and Paradisus brands, exist in closer-to-home destinations more familiar to the U.S. market.
A common thread among the three Premium Portfolio brands in Mexico and the Caribbean is the YHI Spa.
"We adapt the concept to the property’s region," said Cortizas.
At Paradisus Riviera Cancun, an extensive spa treatment menu focuses on Maya and Aztec rituals, while Temazcal is featured at ME Cancun.
Both Gran Melia and Paradisus also pamper guests with Royal Service, catering to couples with upscale touches such as Jacuzzi suites, butlers, pillow menus, preferential reservations and exclusive beach and pool areas.
In fact, several of the companies’ properties — including two Gran Melias and three Paridisus resorts — have earned a Leading Hotels of the World designation.
"This designation is extremely demanding in terms of what’s required," said Cortizas. "Using their standards guide as a tool, we created our own standards beyond their criteria."
Premium PortfolioThe crown jewel of the Sol Melia family, top-tier Gran Melia is made up of first-class properties in prime locations worldwide. The collection includes Gran Melia Cancun, Mexico City’s Gran Melia Mexico Reforma and Gran Melia Puerto Rico.
The spa at Paradisus Riviera Cancun
"Gran Melia is setting new benchmarks in the luxury set," said Guy Hensley, Sol Melia’s senior vice president of the premium portfolio. "Since these are five-star properties, consumers know they can expect the best in services and amenities."
Hensley added that Gran Melia is also the company’s fastest-growing segment with 13 properties worldwide.
"We just opened in Shanghai. And with Crete in July, we’ll have opened five new Gran Melias over the last year," he said.
Also luxe but with an all-inclusive twist, the Paradisus brand is exclusive to Mexico and the Caribbean. The five-star retreats are characterized by upgraded service categories for both couples and families.
Similar to the adults-only Royal Service, the Family Concierge is a carefree VIP approach linking parents to dedicated staff through all-day walkie-talkie access. Perks also cover private check-in, specially appointed Junior Suite accommodations and personalized activities.
"It allows family bonding to take priority since parents are relieved of the hassle of simple, but time-consuming, vacation tasks," Hensley said.
With its Leading Hotels status, Paradisus bucks what is often an all-inclusive stereotype.
"Many claim luxury in that segment, but few are delivering it," said Cortizas. "When you add the Leading Hotels of the World membership, it immediately places Paradisus at a certain expectation level."
Sol Melia has found success based on all-inclusive demand and an ability to deliver in uncompromising fashion. Only seven all-inclusive properties have garnered Leading Hotels of the World distinction, with three Paradisus resorts among them — Paradisus Riviera Cancun, Paradisus Playa Conchal in Costa Rica and Paradisus Palma Real in the Dominican Republic. The brand also includes the Dominican Republic’s Paradisus Punta Cana, with a fifth resort set to open in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
The most avant-garde of the Sol Melia hotel brands, ME by Melia, a fresh, personality-based concept where design, international cuisine, technology and cutting-edge music are all brand pillars. A contemporary interpretation of the Melia experience, ME fuses innovative style with local flavor to captivate travelers via psychographics rather than just demographics.
"ME is for travelers who live in the moment and expect their hotel of choice to be an extension of their lifestyles and a representation of their own individual rhythms," said Hensley. "It’s committed to bringing heartfelt, emotional service that engages and connects guests with both property and people."
"It’s based on who a guest is as an individual," said Cortizas. "Our Mexico destinations have never had anything like it. ME sees a completely different customer than they typically attract. And it delivers a different experience than those customers expect to have in Cancun and Cabo."
Zudyk noted that, with the lifestyle segment, there’s great emphasis on a property’s physical being. ME takes a different approach.
"In creating ME, we focused on making a connection with our target consumer," he said. "It’s almost a new niche of hotels."
He added that the ME staff clicks with guests because they’re on the same wavelength.
"A true barometer is that when I meet people who have stayed at a ME, they’ll remark about someone who works there rather than about some physical aspect of the property," he said.
Aimed at business travelers, couples and families, the Melia brand provides innovative experiences evoking the Spanish tradition of warm hospitality.
The four- and five-star brand is currently undergoing a thorough renovation injecting fresh energy through a series of new attributes — design, guestroom comfort, "The Level" adults-only floors, contemporary culinary concepts and a fresh vibe in its health and beauty facilities.
Especially ideal for families, the all-inclusive beach-resort Melias feature the Flintstones Land program with theme areas showcasing popular Warner Brothers cartoon characters. Properties include the Melia Puerto Vallarta, Melia Cabo Real Cozumel, Melia Azul Ixtapa, Melia Caribe Tropical and Melia Santo Domingo.
The OutlookDespite the current economic environment, expansion remains on Sol Melia’s radar.
"There’s a lot of interest in Gran Melia," Cortizas said. "We just opened two in Spain and have one set to open in Crete this July."
Destination-wise, the company is looking to enhance its portfolio in Mexico and the Caribbean.
"It’s no secret that these regions are extremely suitable to all-inclusives," Cortizas said. "And we deliver that experience well at Paradisus. So all-inclusive is an attractive value proposition for us right now."
Zudyk added that ME’s uniqueness makes it a natural for growth as well.
"It’s so well delivered," he said. "It’s not about lifestyle. It’s about experiences, and the promise to connect emotionally and on every level with the customer."
He added that, across all the brands, the Sol Melia experience is based on value.
"Agents can book with confidence and know they’re delivering a good value to their clients," he said. "Travelers today want value that’s not defined by price but by money well spent. And they can expect it with Sol Melia."
Gran Melia Hotels & Resorts www.gran-melia.comINNSIDE Premium Hotels www.innside.deME by Melia www.mebymelia.comMelia Hotelswww.melia-hotels.com Paradisus Resortswww.paradisusresorts.travelSol Hotelswww.solhoteles.comTryp Hotelswww.tryphotels.com
U.S. Corporate Headquarters:800 Brickell Avenue, Suite 1000Miami, FL 33131888-956-3542www.solmelia.com
1956: Gabriel Escarrer Julia leases the Altair Hotel in Majorca, Spain.
1984: Hoteles Mallorquines changes its name to Hoteles Sol. With the acquisition of the Hotasa hotel chain, it becomes Spain’s leading hotel group.
1987: Hoteles Sol opens its first international property in Bali. The Melia hotel group is acquired, and the company name is changed to Sol Melia.
1996: Sol Melia is split into Inmotel Inversiones (hotel ownership) and Sol Melia S.A. (hotel management). Sol Melia begins trading on the Madrid Stock Exchange.
1998: Sol Melia creates Melia Inversiones Americana (MIA), which is then launched in a public offering as part of an expansion in Latin America.
1999: Inmotel and MIA are integrated into Sol Melia.
2000: The acquisition of Tryp Hotels ups Sol Melia to the third largest European hotel group and tenth in the world.
2001: Sol Melia rebrands its hotels under four groups - Sol, Melia, Paradisus, and Tryp.
2003: The first Hard Rock Hotel is opened in Chicago in partnership with Rank Group. Two Spanish hotels are converted to the new Sol Flintstones hotel brand in partnership with Warner Brothers
2005: Sol Melia launches a renovation for a Hard Rock Hotel in New York City. A third hotel is opened in the Dominican Republic.
2007: The Innside brand is launched in Germany.
Click here for a photo tour of Sol Melia properties and a company timeline