Interview conducted by Manuel López Torrents and Silvia Morcillo.
In 1956 his father, Gabriel Escarrer Juliá, founded Meliá when he saw the potential that Spain had, and specifically the Balearic Islands and Mallorca as a receiving market for all European tourism. “Our model and that of holiday tourism in Spain is based on a middle class that in the 50-60s and even 70s, the first thing he did was buy a house, then a car and his third option was to go on a trip ”. At that time, Spain, due to its climate, culture, gastronomy … was the natural destination to welcome all those people who came from the center of Europe ”.
The history of Meliá, linked to enthusiasm and perseverance, was learned by Grabiel Escarrer (son) from a young age, accompanying his father and managing to soak up his passion and vocation in it. “My father was a visionary thinking that the Meliá model could be transferred to other continents. He went to Bali (Indonesia) in 1982 and built what was the country’s first five-star hotel. At that time, with a local partner with 51% of the capital but who was a success and realized the importance of highlighting culture, heritage and being extremely respectful of the towns where you settle. Meliá Bali was a success from the beginning, the return was less than 3 years and it was made with a partner who 35 years later is still permanent in the same company, with which they have already opened 9 hotels in the region ”. In the end it is the project of two family companies with a long-term vision and that share a common project, reflected in the income statement, and of values. This has been extrapolated to other places and we were the first chain to settle in Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, in the Mediterranean Basin, … and we have contributed to the development of many communities and many countries ”.
This until it became the first Spanish company, the third in Europe and one of the 17 largest in the world. But something that makes us unique is that Among the 30 hotel companies worldwide, the only one that started as a vacation company is Meliá, the rest started as urban and that differentiates us from our competitors.
And after that comes the IPO, also the first hotel company to go public on the Spanish Stock Exchange. Escarrer draws attention to the underrepresentation of such an important sector in the Spanish economy on the stock market. The tourism sector, represented, at least before the pandemic, between 15-15% of GDP with a very similar volume of jobs. “What our sector needs to be competitive is transparency in economies of scale and that reflection on the stock market of what it represents for the country’s economy.. And that has also meant a professionalization and acceleration of the governing bodies ”.
In 2009, Gabriel Escarrer occupies the position that his father had held until then in a succession “very beautiful but with a tremendous load of responsibility. I had worked abroad for many years training, I think it is good to learn from mistakes and opportunities outside the family business and in other sectors to try to extrapolate that knowledge “. But, since 2009, when he was appointed CEO, “it has been a story of great passion, rigor, being accompanied by a great management team and I have had to live the two most important crises that the tourism sector has suffered: in 2009, the most important crisis that Meliá had in its history and, ten years later, the most important crisis that the tourism sector has suffered and, just as we came out of the previous one, we will come out of this stronger ”. In this sense, Meliá has taken the opportunity to highlight the strategic plan where there are three fundamental vectors: digitization, commitment to ESG and commitment to talent management. “And that means that, with a very clear strategy and the commitment of our 49,000 employees, we have been strengthened and that it becomes a very important growth strategy in the coming months.”
On whether he is concerned that the new variants could harm the sector’s figures, Escarrer acknowledges that “What worries me is the health and the personnel of the company, but the other occupies me a lot of time. We come from a tsunami that has weighed on the tourism sector and there is too much scaremongering. We have to learn to live with the virus, taking all kinds of precautions, but we have to start leading a certain normal life. Scaremongering is not good, the closing of borders is not good – we must take precautions, PCR, Covid Passport, mask … – but for the good of the economy, society and employment we have to learn to live with the virus ”.
This expert highlights the need for national or supranational regulation that creates valid and common rules of the game for all. “I think that a pandemic law would help clarify the situation, especially in Spain where each Autonomous Community has certain measures, because in the last year our reservation center has been an information center to know what restrictions users had when traveling to other communities ”. There has been a lack of coordination and lack of knowledge that has made tourism the one that has suffered the most because people have opted for the position of not traveling until the pandemic passes. And that has a devastating effect on the economy, because 13% of GDP and 14% of employment is linked to the tourism sector ”.
“The great challenge we have is to ensure that the tourism sector is competitive in the next 20 years.”
Regarding the lower dependence on foreign tourists, this expert does not believe that it is good because it is what has allowed that in previous crises it has been the sector that has left before and in 2019 the sector that grew the most above the national GDP was tourism, especially due to its dependence on international markets. It is clear that in 2021 the national market has saved us but we have an extremely competitive market that in recent years (except in 2020-2021) has grown above GDP and created more jobs than any other sector. “The important thing is that, due to a conjunctural issue such as covid, we provide the necessary medicine for that patient to recover and take advantage of next generation funds to ensure that he continues to be competitive in the next 20 years.”
What has not changed is the desire to travel and that is extremely positive but habits have changed. The client wants above all security, flexibility in reservations, sensitivity to the environment … In this scenario, “Those companies that have been fairer with their shareholders, starting with their employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers … are those that will be more strengthened because in general, shareholders have the sensitivity to prioritize those companies that have valued the stakeholder ”.
If you want to know what the trips of the future will be like or how an issue such as the aging of the population will affect the tourism sector, see the full interview.