Antonio Catalán

President of AC Hotels

“Market concentration should be encouraged in order to resolve the battle currently under way with tour operators”

Tourism is making a decisive contribution to the exit of the crisis, but is the sector resting on its laurels?

Spanish hotels are the best in the world in terms of their price/quality ratio. It is clear that we are the motor that will drive the recovery from the crisis. Nevertheless, we should take advantage of these buoyant years to improve our product and increase prices. We are excellent operators, but our business groups are excessively small: market concentration should be encouraged in order to resolve the battle currently under way with tour operators.

What direction is your company looking to take at this time?

We had the good fortune of being picked up by Marriott—I’m global President of AC by Marriott—and more than fifty Marriott hotels join every month, and in many of these months they are accompanied by five AC hotels, so it’s safe to say our sights are set on the whole world. In our case, we’ve done Spain: we are still growing here but it’s not our prime target. At this moment in time, Asia is our priority and our development teams are already working on the Asian region.

What has changed since the advent of ICTs?

When the Internet arrived, I thought it was going to be fantastic because there would be no more brokers and everyone would enter into direct contact online. I was dead right! But, today, for every hundred brokers that existed in the past there are three hundred now, between traditional agents and all the modern ones. This is all the better for customers because they can access much more information. The Spanish tourism sector is the cheapest in the world, although Madrid is a bit of a disaster when it comes to prices and we are making a mistake there. In urban tourism, we believe that prices should be increased because the crisis has made everyone too nervous. Customers can pay more, and it is a mistake to go after customers with a very low budget.

Do we need to push experiential tourism as opposed to solely low-cost trade?

Customers are increasingly demanding, and Spain needs to specialize more. Nevertheless, there is a type of customer who comes to Spain who we would be better off giving five euros to at the airport and sending to another country, given the prices we offer. It is all about price/quality and price/occupancy ratios. Well, in Spain it is exactly the same: it’s about price/occupancy. At this moment in time, the tourism sector is making money and has the chance to refurbish hotels and make them more competitive, pushing prices up, because the season is very short. We have to focus on higher quality tourism. It’s not so much about doing luxury tourism, which is not very loyal. What this country needs is to raise the bar a little toward the mid-range in the case of the sixty-five million tourists that we already have.

Is tourism the sector with a smile?

Our customers are king, and our core business doesn’t depend just on the manager but on 100 percent of our staff. We never have problems with our managers, with our reception managers or receptionists; the people who have to be happy are our waiters, chambermaids, etc. That’s where our techniques come in. At AC everyone is on a permanent contract. We don’t have temporary contracts and we are not in favor of outsourcing.