Kike Sarasola, Founder & President, Room Mate Hotels joined the CEO Panel: Reimagining Leisure Hospitality for Today's Market at MR&H 2018, which explored how the change in consumer behaviour, from the way the consumer searches and purchases through to the type of 'experience' they want, is impacting the hospitality businesses strategy and how they forecast and plan for the future.
1. How would you characterize the overall state of hotel investment and development in the Mediterranean region?
In the last couple of years, we have definitely seen a constant growth in all main destinations, which is very good news. In the particular case of the Mediterranean region, it is important to take into consideration that we are talking about a very mature market in which traditional development has sometimes been overwhelming.
Nevertheless, we are especially seeing new opportunities that come from restructuring and changing the activity of buildings in the center of most European capitals.
This old building recovery shows perfectly how tourism can help bring new life to cities and neighborhoods, helping the most traditional part of Europe become part of the innovation in hospitality.
2. In what markets (regions, cities, countries) are you seeing the most amount of activity and why?
In the case of Room Mate Group, our growth will take place mostly in Italy. It’s a market to which we are naturally linked and in which our brand has had great acceptance. Nevertheless, we are always looking at all possible opportunities all throughout Europe and the Americas. We never disregard a particular city or country if we believe travelers will love it. At the end of the day, our main purpose is to make people happy. Therefore, if we truly believe a traveller will be happy visiting that city or country, we’ll make it possible for them to stay with us in the particular market.
We still have a lot of margin to grow in Mediterranean markets such as France or Greece. Croatia, Malta and Cyprus are also possibilities, especially for leisure travel. Also, Montenegro deserves a very close look, with the country joining the EU and a good tourism base in the South.
3. You are a vocal champion of serviced apartments:
A) Why is this class of products so attractive?
Currently, we live in a hyperconnected world where technology has changed the way we live and, therefore, the way we travel. Technology has given us a wider range of options and today we like to choose our stay depending on where, how and who we are traveling with. This is why we decided to create Be Mate, our serviced apartment brand, to satisfy people’s needs, since, at the end of the day, that’s what our business is about.
Serviced apartments have become a very comfortable and attractive travelling option specially for families, large groups and corporate clients. So, when creating Be Mate, we decided to combine the best of both worlds offering the freedom of an apartment with the security, services and quality standards of a hotel. We have been the first hoteliers to sell apartments on our website, and it perfectly complements our business model. Indeed, we are sure that in less than five years all the hotel chains will have their own apartment division.
B) How does it fit in the leisure market in the Mediterranean?
The main Mediterranean cities are huge leisure destinations for travelers all over the world. While some prefer hotels, every day there are more groups and families that search for serviced apartments in these destinations just because they provide more space, a kitchen, certain appliances, or just because they want to enjoy the city as if they were locals. The important thing is that people have the ability to choose their type of accommodation when they travel, independently of the destination or the travel purpose.
4. The Room Mate brand has a very distinctive personality: how do you make it work, and ensure it is translated well in each property?
Room Mate is more than a hotel chain, it is a philosophy of life based on the idea that the best way of travelling is visiting friends. For that reason, all our hotels have different names and personalities, always adapted to the city and neighborhood where the hotel is located.
People working in Room Mate also share this philosophy. As a matter of fact, we proudly call ourselves “Roomies” and we are more than colleagues, we also share the same objective, make people happy. That is what guarantees success in everything we do.
Also, our business model is truly consumer oriented. Our hotels are your friend’s house in the city, with a personalized design following a unique creative process. We use innovation as a shift, but not as a goal itself: late check out, breakfast until noon, WiFi all throughout the city…
5. Where do you find your inspiration for future projects, ideas, concepts?
First of all, I always open hotels in cities I love, so inspiration usually comes easy. I’m also an art collector and a design fanatic, both of which give me new ideas for hotels every day. The architecture of the city, its essence, the neighbourhood ... Everything is considered.
For ideas I also have my team. Roomies are always innovating. It’s in their nature. Actually, one of our best innovations has been offering free WiFi throughout the city and this disruptive idea came from a hotel staff member.
6. Where do you see Room Mate, and yourself, in 10 years?
I always locate people at the center of all my business plans, therefore, in 10 years, I surely will be trying to give them what they need at that time. We started creating hotels to give people what they wanted when they travel; we created a brand of service apartments to continue to fulfill their needs; we came up with the idea of creating X-Perience, a consultancy brand that shares our know-how and technology, to help independent hoteliers; so, in the future, we’ll keep providing people with the products and services they need.
In the short term, we’ll open 11 more hotels by the end of 2019 in destinations such as Rome, Naples, Milan, Lisbon, Canary Islands, Majorca and Paris.
7. What are you most looking forward to at MR&H this year?
MR&H is specially exciting for Room Mate Group since we have a start-up soul. We are always in Beta, always changing and always looking forward to learning from others in order to be sufficiently inspired to foresee traveler needs. We are always re-staging, re-thinking, reconsidering, reforming, reinventing, revolutionizing and MR&H is, without a doubt, a great place to do so.
We are definitely looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting news ones, talk, discuss, benchmark, work with others and, most importantly, compile ideas to take home and continue making Room Mate Group better.