BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Virtual Event - 21 April 2021
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“MAKE THE BASICS BRILLIANT,” says Federico González Tejera of his hotel philosophy. We’re in the CEO’s office at NH Hotel Group’s Madrid HQ, and we’re talking showers. “For example, there are hotel showers all over Europe that are tiny. It’s even worse in the US: narrow ones that haven’t been changed in 20 years. People look at our showers and say: ‘Wow, I’d like that in my home.’”
Fair point: the rain-shower/waterfall combo, in my room at the nearby NH Collection Eurobuilding hotel, is excellent.
However, we’re here to discuss weightier matters: from distribution to investment to the ‘sharing economy’. But don’t use the s-word around González Tejera. “We should not use empty or confusing words,” he says. “When I was 18 and visiting Barcelona, my friend said: ‘Come to my home and stay in my spare room.’ I did, and it was great, but I didn’t pay. If he’d asked for £50 per night – that’s a selling economy, not sharing.” And it would be clearer and simpler for the industry if we recognised it as such, he says – and apply a level playing field to all operators in the market. “The economy operates on logic: if I don’t need to implement fire controls, disabled access, minimum staffing levels and so on, then I can sell my rooms much cheaper.
“If, as a society, we want these safeguards, great – but you shouldn’t then only apply them to part of the accommodation business.” However, he is optimistic that at different points in different countries, “common sense” legislation will eventually be brought in to regulate the market.
I’m in Madrid for the launch of the brand’s first executive club product, named VIP Level, at its flagship Eurobuilding property. The day before this interview we enjoyed a splendid launch party that took over the whole 15th floor – complete with musicians, opera singers and cutting-edge canapés and cocktails.
The team were keen to demonstrate the hotel’s focus on meetings technology. This includes telepresence suites with inter-active electronic whiteboards and Microsoft Lync Online technology, where delegates – here and at remote locations – can share notes and comments across all participants’ mobile devices. The hotel’s headline-grabber is its 3D hologram technology: earlier this year Sony Pictures hosted a press launch of the film Chappie, with star Hugh Jackman appearing ‘virtually live’ onstage in Madrid, interacting with the audience and answering questions. The physical Jackman was actually at the NH Nhow hotel in Berlin.
So is this significant investment in meetings tech driven by demand? “Yes and no,” says González Tejera. “We’re always trying to look for things the consumer may not be asking for, but that are very relevant to them.” For example, he says, when he was heading up sales and marketing at Disneyland Paris, “I was working with all the different country heads, and I was having to travel to meet all of them – or they’d have to travel to Paris for meetings. I didn’t ask for a holographic system to enable less travel, because I didn’t know it was possible. And think of a company president visiting every region’s sales team, spending two day’s travel to give a ten-minute speech... So yes, we’ve installed the hologram system without a proven business case – but with a conviction that it will work. What makes it work is if it’s relevant.”
González Tejera joined NH in 2012, when the company was in a “tough situation” and undergoing financial restructuring. Spain was hit particularly hard by the global financial crash in 2008. “At the moment of crisis, Spain was a significant part of NH’s profits, and it took prices down by 25-30 per cent – that takes away everything you’re making.” The group’s survival was thanks in part to its large business units in Germany and Benelux, which fared better during the crisis.
But now, he says, NH is in pole position to take advantage of the “gradual economic recovery” because “we’re making significant capex investment – renovation, product experience, innovation – and we think we have a chance of getting more of the cake”. The group continues to grow – earlier this year NH announced the acquisition of Colombian chain Hoteles Royal, adding 20 properties in South America to its portfolio.
González Tejera says his group’s primary focus on business travellers is what differentiates NH in a fiercely competitive market place. “We’ll give you competitive rates and service, but we want people to say: ‘For my business meetings I need to go to NH.’ Many brands offer you a bed, meeting rooms and breakfast, but they haven’t made the decision to have best-in-class business solutions.” Not to mention best-in-class shower solutions...
Federico González Tejera is CEO of NH Hotel Group, which operates nearly 400 properties in 29 markets around the world, mainly in Europe and South America. Prior to joining NH Hotel Group, he worked for leading global firms, including 16 years at Procter and Gamble and eight years at Disney, where he served as deputy general manager of Disneyland Paris. González Tejera has published several books on cultural differences between countries and his experience of working as a manager abroad. He studied economics and international trade and finances, and is married with three children.