Francisco Quiles, CEO of the Don Pancho Hotel Group, owner, among other businesses, of the iconic 256-room establishment on Benidorm’s Avenida del Mediterráneo, has been since the fateful March 15, when the confinement due to the pandemic began, with the hotel closed . What was presented as a great season – the hotel had 95% occupancy in January and February – blew up and it was all over. “We are studying reopening in the summer, but in the end, with so much uncertainty, we decided to remain closed, and already prepare for next year.” It had never happened to them, because Don Pancho is one of those hotels that until now was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in a city that never closes … or closed, Benidorm. And on top of that, it was recently renovated in 2019 to “achieve one of our goals: that customers have an experience here,” says Quiles.
P Have you ever imagined a crisis of such magnitude?
R Never. This crisis was unimaginable because, in addition, not only has tourism stopped, it has stopped the world and nobody knows very well when there will be a solution. We are talking about a pandemic that I think nobody could wait for. In our sector, on the Costa Blanca, in Benidorm, we have lived in recent years attentive to other possible crises, such as the fear that, because it is a very British destination, jihadism would choose us to commit an attack. More recently due to the economic consequences derived from Brexit, but this could not be imagined by anyone.
P With the hotel closed, is it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
A Very difficult, because for me the key is that tourists lose their fear of traveling and, for this, we must find the vaccine, of course, or, at least, a medical remedy. That people are aware that they can be infected, but not die. Light at the end of the tunnel? The truth is that right now we are closed, but we are getting reservations for Easter and the summer of 2021. We will go out. Traveling is something that is in the DNA of the human being, but it is clear that this must be worked minute by minute. Right now Jet2.com has announced that it will not return until February, but I am convinced that, if things improve, everything will be reactivated quickly.
P What visitor profile has the hotel lost to the pandemic?
A Basically, our winter client is the British adult, the so-called senior, who is part of the risk population group. We do not work with Imserso, but we do work with this very affected type of client at the moment.
P What is the daily life of the owner of a closed hotel?
A Our workforce is made up of between 100 and 150 employees, now the majority at ERTE. What we do is take care of them, watch over the team, training, help them in the event that the payment of the benefit is delayed. We have to have the equipment greased for when we open and we are not all wrinkled.
P ¿Should the crisis be used to change the model?
R Model? What model? It is true that there are areas, in the case of Benidorm, that are stigmatized, but many hoteliers decided a long time ago not to book groups, bachelor parties … Our clients are British and they have never given us any kind of problem. What everyone should be clear about is that you have to start betting on quality over quantity. Go towards excellence, that tourists not only have the perception that the hotel is a building with beds and a bar. Make your stay an experience. So we are sure to remove the labels.
P Tourism gurus assure that the recovery will be quick.
R Hopefully. It is clear that there is demand and our reserves say so for next year, but we must be prepared and on permanent alert, because it has been proven that this changes every day.