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Silken Hoteles: shaping the future

Are big chain hotels standardized and impersonal? We know this is less and less true. But Silken is pushing the quest for originality even further by making architectural design and innovation the number-one motor behind its strategy.

Already eleven years ago the “arty” chain revolutionized the Spanish mid-scale market. In 1995, under the impetus of the companies Escampa and Grupo Hotelero Urvasco S.A, a new brand emerged that quickly drew attention in the hotel industry as well as the design world. From the start the core value has been evident: a passion for excellence. While this might be fairly common on the segment, Silken also enters the resolutely unique character of each of the hotels it manages into the equation. This originality lies first and foremost in architecture and design. “Clients must feel even better than at home,” explains Marta Lacalle, spokesperson for the group. In other words, Silken is trying to develop 3-, 4- and now 5-star hotels that are both original and perfectly operational: the search for this balance has lain at the core of its strategy since the beginning. On a competitive and vulnerable market, the Spanish brand chose to make the difference by developing a very strong visual identity that is immediately recognizable. The concern for coherence, aesthetic homogeneity is omnipresent (even the web site was designed by the same team that designed the uniforms for personnel!).Nonetheless, Silken refuses to plan too far into the future as it prefers to concentrate its energies on keeping with the times, and sublimate its most avant-garde aspects. “Our expansion plan is just for the next five years because the tourism market can change very rapidly.” After a decade, the chain wants to enter a quest for new territories, but not sacrifice the very essence which has allowed the company to get where it is now: its unique identity.Unique design is a key element to the instantaneous identification of a Silken hotel. Thus the Gran Hotel Doline Bilbao, the brand’s first 5*, is the work of Javier Mariscal and Fernando Salas who created absolutely all the plans for the property, from the arrangement of the walls to the subtle decorative details. This integral and immersive approach fully surrounds guests with the universe created by the architect/designer so they live their stay as a full-fledged sensorial experience. Moreover, aesthetic research concerns both the interior and the exterior of the property. Once again there is a balance between the avant-garde and perfect integration within the architectural style of the city in which it is located. This is the case, for example, at the Gran Hotel Havana in Barcelona (the first hotel to enter the chain) refurbished by Josep Juanpere in a historic building dating from 1872.It is thus the alliance of a purely strategic approach (create a new niche on the Spanish hotel market) and a more artistic quest (stretch the limits of design in the hotel environment) that make up the soul of the brand. The formula has found its public: Silken experienced steady growth since its inception and today includes 5,800 rooms in 30 or so hotels and 1,700 employees. The growth rate of its inventory is an average of +30% rooms per year for a turnover of 94.3 million euros in 2004. The brand’s primary target has historically been corporate clientele, but the flexibility of rates authorized by online sales prompted the chain to develop its leisure sector during holiday periods. “Our guests are mostly between 25 and 50/55 years of age. They are sensitive to culture and art,” resumes Marta Lacalle. “47% of our guests are foreign and 53% are Spanish. 60% are travelling on business and 40% are on holiday. While we don’t disregard any segment, our priority is to attract businessmen from around the world.”In order to further establish its very 21st-century positioning, Silken endeavours to keep ahead in all areas that are “hot” at the moment: for example it was the first chain on the Iberic peninsula to sign a contract to outfit its hotels with Wi-Fi connections. Also, environmental issues are another a core value: it favours recyclable materials as well as architectural design and surveillance systems that limit energy waste.The most recent opening at the brand (September 2005), but also the jewel and flagship for its supply, the Puerta America in Madrid with its 342 rooms represents an achievement for Silken because no less than nine of the top architecture and design studios worldwide worked on their conception: a great name worked on each floor (Zaha Hadid, Gluckman, Vittorio & Luchino, Isozaki, Norman Foster...) while Jean Nouvel did the façade, Liaigre the restaurant, Bell and Isometrix Lighting for lighting... “The Puerta America is the hotel that most clearly defines our efforts in a search for excellence,” comments Marta Lacalle. “We hope to make it a landmark for the brand, a communications and public relations tool.”It is true that Silken never lightened its efforts to develop brand awareness and promote its vision. In particular it maintains a constant presence at fairs and international conventions, including Fitur in Madrid, one of the biggest tourism events worldwide. Things should intensify over the next two years, with increased international visibility thanks to Puerta America and a certain number of projects in Silken’s pipeline, including some outside Spain’s and even Europe’s borders...“We just opened Silken Ciudad Gijón in Asturias in July, and the Silken Rio Santander in April. The Silken Zero Zaragoza, meanwhile, will be operational by the end of the year,” explains Marta Lacalle, before going on to mention that the brand does not plan to stop now while on such a good track. “Our expansion will continue in Spain’s main cities, and in certain consolidated cities in Europe, such as London and Berlin, following our presence in Bruxelles. We have also planned a hotel in New York.”Nonetheless, Silken refuses to plan too far into the future as it prefers to concentrate its energies on keeping with the times, and sublimate its most avant-garde aspects. “Our expansion plan is just for the next five years because the tourism market can change very rapidly.” After a decade, the chain wants to enter a quest for new territories, but not sacrifice the very essence which has allowed the company to get where it is now: its unique identity.

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