May 24, 2024

Marugal CEO Pablo Carrington says the Hotel Industry Needs a New Approach

Hospitality visionary and founder of the hotel management company behind some of the best boutique hotels in Spain. A sustainability pioneer who believes that hotels should focus on protecting the destinations in which they operate. Meet the founder and CEO of Marugal, Pablo Carrington.

Marugal: luxury boutique hotels

When Pablo Carrington first entered the hotel business, he wanted to introduce a new standard of boutique accommodation to the Spanish market. Two decades later, as CEO and founder of Marugal, which manages some of the best hotels in Spain (and additional properties in France, Portugal, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), he believes it’s time for hoteliers rethink their approach.

“Our responsibility is to help protect the destinations we work in, not contribute to their destruction,” he says.

Born in San Sebastián in the Basque Country, the son of a Californian father and a Basque mother, travel has been a big part of Carrington’s life since he was young. But it didn’t occur to him to make it his career until later.

“I studied in the United States, then I went into banking in Paris, before switching to strategic consulting. I had a great time, I went on the fast track, but I remember looking at my bosses and thinking ‘ I don’t want to be with you’, ” He recalls.

When an opportunity arose to help manage the family’s former home in San Sebastián, which had recently been converted into a hotel, Carrington grabbed it with both hands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Some of the best boutique hotels in Spain

In 2003, Carrington founded Marugal, after identifying a gap in the Spanish market for something “unique, different and personalized, that did not follow the formula of a big chain”. And, while ‘Margual’ may not be a household name, many of the hotels in the group are: from the ultra-stylish La Zambra recently opened in the Costa del Sol, to one of URSO Madrid’s best hidden boutiquesto kick barefoot Gecko Hotel & Beach Club in Formenteraand, last but not least, the jewel in Marugal’s crown, the beautiful and romantic set Cap Rocat in Mallorca more often than not on lists of the best hotels in Spain.

“Set her own”

“Marugal has brought so many unique properties, each with its own character, unlike anything you might find in a well-known hotel chain,” says Andrés Galisteo, a Spanish journalist based in Madrid who specializes in luxury travel and gastronomy for the likes of Esquire and Time Out Madrid.

“Marugal is in a league of its own, creating hotels for cosmopolitan travelers with one-of-a-kind design and excellent services and gastronomy but, more importantly, always staying true to the essence of the destination,” continues Galisteo.

So how did Carrington go about creating such a unique concept?

Isabelle Kliger: What does Marugal mean and what does it stand for?

Pablo Carrington: The name Marugal is the country house that I originally wanted to convert into a hotel, but I could not convince the rest of my family. So instead, I did the hotel company Margual. My vision was to create hotels with a distinct identity that could be marketed independently, without the name of a chain behind them.

Kliger: How has your multicultural background helped you?

Carrington: Despite being so big as an international tourist destination, Spain used to have a very inward-looking hotel industry; hoteliers were not traveling abroad to see other luxury hotels. I think that was one of the secrets to our success – at least in the early days. My background encouraged me to think about what I could take from other places I’ve been, like Asia, the USA, France, and how I could create something that would appeal to people who visit us from those places.

Kliger: Can you tell us about a moment when you had to change and rethink your strategy?

Carrington: I have to say Covid, of course. Because it made us change our mind. With countries opening and closing on a daily basis, we had to focus less on strategy and more on tactics. While we have always continued to invest in building long-term brands, we have also started using tools such as social media to attract potential guests who may book a room for tomorrow or next week.

Kliger: What do you think should be done differently for modern hosts in light of the challenges we face as a society today?

Carrington: Today, the first thing guests decide on is the destination and the second is the hotel. They come to Gecko, not because our hosts are sexy, but because of Formentera and its wonderful beaches; they come to URSO, not because of the number of languages ​​spoken by our staff but because of the cultural life of Madrid. This is why I think hoteliers need to change the way they interact with the place they are located.

If you chose the location first and then my hotel, I need to make sure that the destination maintains its attractiveness so that you will want to come here. I need to help clean the beaches of Formentera; I have to help ensure that the 100 year old mom and pop shops near the URSO in Madrid continue to exist. The reason people are coming is because the destination has an identity, be it nature, be it culture, and I believe hoteliers need to be much more involved in that.

Kliger: What are some examples of what you are doing to preserve the locations where your hotels operate?

Carrington: In Formentera, we provide financial assistance to initiatives to clean the beaches and protect marine ecosystems. At Cap Rocat in Mallorca, we support three initiatives each year—one ecological, one cultural and one related to heritage. We collect money by charging three Euros per night per room and then matching that amount ourselves. This year, we are supporting the protection of Mallorca’s endangered sea turtles, funding the restoration of the island’s historic windmills, and funding the museum dedicated to Frey Junipero Serra, the Mallorcan missionary honored in the Capitol in Washington as ‘ the founder of the island. California’.

Kliger: If you could only stay in one Marugal hotel this summer, who would it be and why?

Carrington: Gecko Hotel & Beach Club in Formentera. Because part of my job is to go to a hotel and see all the faults, but that is the only hotel where I can relax. And if I can relax there, I have no doubt that our guests will be able to completely disconnect.

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