The General Manager of the hotel chain, Javier Villanueva, tells FITUR about Silken's challenges and forecasts for the year 2023

Silken Hotels, a bridge between Spain and Morocco

PHOTO/ATALAYAR/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ - Javier Villanueva, general manager of Silken Hoteles

Silken Hoteles has experienced the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) in Madrid with a new vision to boost the tourism market by promoting digitalisation, sustainability, commitment to the customer and good neighbourly relations with Morocco and Portugal. This is what its general manager, Javier Villanueva, has told us.  

What is Silken Hoteles offering at this FITUR? 

We have come to show what we are, what we have and how we treat our people in our establishments. We have had a fantastic year, we didn't believe that the recovery in sales would come so soon. We are at 2019 figures, which is a satisfaction especially after having heard the experts talking about small growth in v or w. It is true that the cost level and the CPI rise is a barrier because we are energy intensive in the whole industry. Nevertheless, we are very excited about the year we have had and the year we are facing with new openings. 

Costs have gone up, and they have gone up quite a lot. Do you have to pass them on to the price or does Silken make an effort to maintain the same offer? 

We are making an effort to contain costs because we are aware that the CPI has risen, and food is up 15%. In two years, the direct CPI is over 12%, which is also caused by the war in Ukraine, beyond the drama of human lives. However, we have to take care of our customer, and somehow we absorb the costs and try to make savings where the customer does not notice. We can't save on service or quality, in that respect the customer can be perfectly at ease.

Silken employees continue to offer a good service and are involved in the company's objectives. 

That is the best thing we have. We, who have built hotels with Norman Foster, with Zaha Hadid, with Javier Mariscal and with the best architects in the world - we have three Pritzker prizes -, can say that the best thing about Silken is our people. Silken is nothing without its human capital. They are the ones who smile, who make things easy for our customers and who help them. We are a great company because we have great human capital. 

What is the Silken concept and what differentiates it from other hotel establishments? 

The Silken hotel experience is different because the locations are premium. Earlier I was talking about the architects who have designed our hotels. It is a different architecture, a singular comfort, premium locations. Mr. Hilton said that for a hotel to work, it had to have three characteristics: location, location and location. We meet these three characteristics. 

We are in a process of digitalisation, transformation and sustainability. We invested almost 5 million euros in making our hotels more sustainable and we are more convinced that we have to improve our CO2 emissions until we become CO2 neutral. We provide good service, a great price, and we are also environmentally conscious, which I believe is fundamental. Giving back part of what society gives us. 

Among Silken's plans, there is an expansion to neighbouring countries as important as Portugal and Morocco. 

Yes, they are neighbouring countries and friends. We are very close, even though they are very different cultures. Next year we will open a hotel in Oporto, Portugal. Then we have an exciting development and growth project in Morocco for us, in Tangier, Dakhla and Marrakech. Three projects that are being built following the Silken DNA with magnificent locations. We have great faith in this growth because Morocco is a country with enormous possibilities. 

Despite the fact that Spain is geographically close, I believe that for the national client it is an unknown country in terms of tourism. We can give a great boost to this relationship between the two countries. 

In Dakhla, the former Villa Cisneros, the Spanish are waiting for us Spaniards with open arms. Silken's commitment is even more important than political issues, because the potential there is extraordinary. 

Of course, Dakhla is a magical place. For all those who do not know this city, I invite you to visit it. I got to know Dakhla two years ago, I have been there two or three times and the truth is that it has impressive possibilities for tourism. I think that, forgetting about political issues and conflicts, you can enjoy the environment, the people and the beaches more. I think it has tremendous possibilities and I am convinced that hotel and tourism development in a place like Dakhla will be exponential. 

Sport and gastronomy is also something this country has to offer. 

Yes, Morocco offers many possibilities, for juniors, for seniors, for people who want to enjoy gastronomy, the beach, nature and sport. We have in mind Marrakech, Casablanca or Tangier, a city that is experiencing a brutal explosion of development. There is a boom in Morocco that I think we have to take advantage of and enjoy. We at Silken Hotels are going to do our bit to bring more movement to Morocco, to generate jobs, to generate wealth and for tourists, both Spanish and international, to enjoy Morocco.  

There are a lot of possibilities in Morocco. In recent years, things have been done very well, the country has become very internationalised and they are semi-finalists in the World Cup. They have made progress in all areas. The Royal Court has been the great driving force and it is very noticeable when a monarchy like the Alaouite one transmits from the top down the desire for the country to grow, to modernise it and for its people to be better off.

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There are many people who talk about Morocco without having travelled there. From the respect and equality that they are demanding and the experience that we Spaniards have, we can do good business with a joint inventor in that country.  

That's right, we have been neighbours, clients and mutual suppliers all our lives. We have a lot of common interests and I think we have to join forces in all aspects. I invite everyone who sees us to visit this country because, just as I invite you to live the Silken experience, it is not the same for me to tell you about it as it is for you to live it. The Moroccan experience is the same: you have to go, you have to get to know them, you have to treat them, enjoy them, enjoy the places they have, the gastronomy and I am sure that those who go will repeat. 

Within the Silken concept, modernity, together with location and tradition, am I exaggerating if I say that nowadays wifi is more important than the bed in a hotel? I'm thinking about business tourism. 

It is as important as the bed and the shower, no doubt about it. And it can be as important as other elements such as television. It is an indispensable service. 

A service that also completes the experience with the hotel's own gastronomy. 

We wanted to change the mentality that in hotels you eat badly and expensively. We have had agreements with Martín Barasategui and with different prestigious chefs. Our partner from Valladolid has won the award for best sommelier in Castilla y León. We wanted to evolve from the "club sandwich" and offer a quality restaurant. We are even getting people from our cities to come and enjoy our product, beyond our own customers.  

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We are talking about a chain with 32 hotels in Spain. 

We are going to continue to increase the Silken family. This year, in May, we are going to open a hotel in Puerto de la Cruz, in Tenerife, and another hotel in Playa de Aro, with which we are going to diversify our offer a little, because we were mainly urban hotels. Now we are going to promote more the holiday market with a hotel in Ochagavía, next to the Irati Forest, to promote the sport and gastronomy of the area, and we are going to operate a hotel in Llanes, Asturias, for national tourism. I say that we have two types of clients, those who come in through the door and those who want us to look after an asset for them. 

People want to recover those two years that have been lost during the pandemic, they are going to places, they are travelling. Do you expect this trend to continue? 

There are many doomsayers who are betting on recession and crisis, something that doesn't seem to be happening because the data are magnificent. We have spent two years practically unable to go out and the fear that this could happen again is causing people to go out, travel and enjoy themselves. And the strength that Silken offers to do all this is magnificent.  

Which clients are you looking to promote the most? 

Due to the type of company we are, we have had clients from national companies. For the last three or four years we have opened up the market a lot and we now have 30% of international clients. Within the business topology we now have 65% of our clients who are leisure. 

The new concept that has changed the mix between leisure and business, I think we are leaders and experts in that mix between work and enjoyment. 

How would you attract a client? 

I would tell them to come and live the Silken experience to see how people treat the facilities we have, how we promote digitalisation and how we are environmentally aware. The experience is how you repeat yourself afterwards. 

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