Why hotel brands are headed to Marbella

(Hotel brands head for Marbella, Spain.)

Marbella is marvelous—according to some top hotel companies.

Back in March, Marriott International announced the debut of the W brand in Marbella in 2021, making it the fourth W Escape in Europe. Meanwhile, sushi-nirvana-cum-hotel-brand Nobu has also announced plans for the destination in 2018, as Marbella, which came to prominence as an exclusive luxury resort in the 1970s, looks to reclaim its image.

According to Marriott, W Escapes are “a newly-created portfolio of W Hotels that make the traditional 'resort' a last resort.” 

“Located on one of the most glamorous beaches in Southern Spain, W Marbella will infuse the brand’s signature style and innovative programming into this coveted destination,” Anthony Ingham, global brand leader, W Hotels Worldwide, dutifully said in a comment dripping with flowery praise of the destination.   

According to Roshni Mohinani, chairwoman of the hotel’s developer, Platinum Estates, the W brand was "the perfect fit for this location," believing that "W Marbella [will] emerge as the most sought after and admired resort in Spain.” It's a bold statement, but a simple Google search shows that there is a dearth of U.S.-branded hotels in the destination, giving W much opportunity to fill a gap. (Marriott currently has two properties in Marbella: the Marbella Beach Resort, part of Marriott Vacation Club, and The Westin La Quinta Golf Resort & Spa.)

Ahead of the W Marbella, Nobu will open a restaurant in Marbella in May this year, with the Nobu Hotel Marbella to follow in spring 2018 at the Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa. The resort is described as “a spectacular next-generation lifestyle resort.” 

The Westin La Quinta Golf Resort, Benahavis, Marbella

Moving On Up

Marbella became a fashionable destination in the 1960s, with the opening of luxury hotels, which sported visitors including Grace Kelly and the Aga Khan, but has seen its image sullied in recent years by association with the so-called Costa del Crime: the region of Spain favoured by fugitive British criminals. Reality TV series "Life on Marbs" also took some of the lustre from the resort’s image.

But Spain has seen a recovery in performance in recent years. Christie & Co’s Business Outlook 2017 spoke of the “sustained unrest” in Turkey and North Africa, which has seen visitor numbers to countries including Spain “ramp up.” 

Inmaculada Ranera, the company’s managing director, Spain & Portugal, said: “In 2017, the interest will be balanced between sun and beach and urban destinations. Previously, with vacation areas being seasonal, investors were reluctant to look at them, but this has changed and investors now realise how resilient these areas can be, and how attractive the returns are.”

RELATED: Resort development in Spain will be a topic of discussion at this year's Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum (MR&H), Oct. 16-18, in Barcelona. 

According to a study on the residential market by Knight Frank, luxury is back, with rising sales volumes suggesting confidence returning to Marbella’s property market. Prices are slowly rising, especially for new-built modern villas in good locations, and interest from Middle Eastern buyers is increasing “significantly."

Philip Camble, director of Whitebridge Hospitality, a London-based advisor to investors, developers and operators in the hospitality industry, said, in reference to events in Turkey and the surrounding region, “With tourism moving west, the Western Mediterranean is a good place to be and if you’re going to do something, it would be a good idea to do something that makes a statement, as with the W or Nobu. If it makes business sense for the owner, that’s great, but it’s also great for the destination.”

Camble pointed out that the fortunes of Marbella mirrored the fondness of the incumbent King of Saudi Arabia for the destination. From the 1970s onwards, King Fahd used to visit with an entourage in the thousands. (Upon his death, Marbella declared three days of mourning, so great was the loss.)

Abdallah Ibn Abdelaziz, who came to the throne in 2005, did not share his passion, but his death in 2015 saw Salman Bin Abdulaziz take the crown. The new king owns the Al Riyadh, a luxurious palace on Marbella’s Golden Mile. Golden times may well beckon.

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.