Room Mate's founder blurs the lines between hotels and apartments

(Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum)

Kike Sarasola, founder and president of Room Mate Hotels, launched his company 10 years ago. Today, Room Mate has 1,500 guestrooms open across Europe and America, and another 1,600 slated to open in the next 18 months.

At the upcoming Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum, Oct. 17-19 in Athens, Sarasola will participate in the CEO panel, "Re-imagining Leisure Hospitality for Today's Market," which will focus on how hospitality groups can review their strategies to meet the changing needs of both their teams and their guests. The panel will touch on innovating, differentiating and creating a unique experience in Mediterranean resorts; identifying the right brand for a resort; and how to maximize resort return on investment given the multitude of amenities, seasonality and traveller trends.

Ahead of the forum, Sarasola discussed the changing role of hospitality in the Mediterranean region and how shaking things up can be helpful for both hoteliers and guests. 

1. How would you characterize the overall state of hotel investment and development in the Mediterranean region?

In the last couple of years, we have definitely seen a constant growth in all main destinations, which is very good news. In the particular case of the Mediterranean region, it is important to take into consideration that we are talking about a very mature market in which traditional development has sometimes been overwhelming. 

Nevertheless, we are especially seeing new opportunities that come from restructuring and changing the activity of buildings in the center of most European capitals. 

This old building recovery shows perfectly how tourism can help bring new life to cities and neighborhoods, helping the most traditional part of Europe become part of the innovation in hospitality.

2. In what markets (regions, cities, countries) are you seeing the most amount of activity and why?

Kike Sarasola, founder and president
of Room Mate Hotels.
Photo credit: Room Mate Hotels

In the case of Room Mate Group, our growth will take place mostly in Italy. It’s a market to which we are naturally linked and in which our brand has had great acceptance. Nevertheless, we are always looking at all possible opportunities all throughout Europe and the Americas. We never disregard a particular city or country if we believe travelers will love it.

We still have a lot of margin to grow in Mediterranean markets such as France or Greece. Croatia, Malta and Cyprus are also possibilities, especially for leisure travel. Also, Montenegro deserves a very close look, with the country joining the [European Union] and a good tourism base in the south.

3. You are a vocal champion of serviced apartments. Why is this class of products so attractive, and how does it fit in the leisure market in the Mediterranean?

Currently, we live in a hyperconnected world where technology has changed the way we live and, therefore, the way we travel. Technology has given us a wider range of options and today we like to choose our stay depending on where, how and who we are traveling with. This is why we decided to create Be Mate, our serviced apartment brand.

Serviced apartments have become a very comfortable and attractive traveling option specially for families, large groups and corporate clients. So, when creating Be Mate, we decided to combine the best of both worlds, offering the freedom of an apartment with the security, services and quality standards of a hotel.  

We have been the first hoteliers to sell apartments on our website, and it perfectly complements our business model. Indeed, we are sure that in less than five years all the hotel chains will have their own apartment division. 

The main Mediterranean cities are huge leisure destinations for travelers all over the world. While some prefer hotels, every day there are more groups and families that search for serviced apartments in these destinations just because they provide more space, a kitchen, certain appliances or just because they want to enjoy the city as if they were locals. The important thing is that people have the ability to choose their type of accommodation when they travel, independently of the destination or the travel purpose.

3. Where do you find your inspiration for future projects, ideas, concepts?

First of all, I always open hotels in cities I love, so inspiration usually comes easy. I’m also an art collector and a design fanatic, both of which give me new ideas for hotels every day. The architecture of the city, its essence, the neighborhood... Everything is considered.

For ideas, I also have my team. Roomies are always innovating. It’s in their nature. Actually, one of our best innovations has been offering free Wi-Fi throughout the city and this disruptive idea came from a hotel staff member.

4. Where do you see Room Mate, and yourself, in 10 years?

I always locate people at the center of all my business plans, therefore, in 10 years, I surely will be trying to give them what they need at that time. We started creating hotels to give people what they wanted when they travel; we created a brand of serviced apartments to continue to fulfill their needs; we came up with the idea of creating X-Perience, a consultancy brand that shares our know-how and technology, to help independent hoteliers; so, in the future, we’ll keep providing people with the products and services they need.

In the short term, we’ll open 11 more hotels by the end of 2019 in destinations such as [Rome; Naples, Italy; Milan, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; Canary Islands; Majorca, Spain; and Paris].

5. What are you most looking forward to at MR&H this year?

MR&H is specially exciting for Room Mate Group since we have a start-up soul. We are always in beta, always changing and always looking forward to learning from others in order to be sufficiently inspired to foresee traveler needs. We are always restaging, rethinking, reconsidering, reforming, reinventing, revolutionizing and MR&H is, without a doubt, a great place to do so.

We are definitely looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting news ones, talk, discuss, benchmark, work with others and, most importantly, compile ideas to take home and continue making Room Mate Group better.