Luis Riu: “How the Riu family surname became the chain’s brand”

date_range 30 March, 2023 question_answer 6 Comments

When I was chatting with some colleagues recently, we started to reminisce about how RIU hotels used to be Río. Yes, it’s no joke, Río. Río San Francisco, Río Obelisco, Río Concordia, Río Sofía, Río Caballero, Río Bravo, Río Grande and Río Chico. These were RIU’s hotels in the early 80s, and there’s an interesting story behind their name: my father’s passion for classic western films. I’ll explain this better later on. This conversation got me thinking about when we started using the Riu name for all the chain’s hotels and how the process was carried out so I could tell you about it in our blog.

Luis Riu, CEO of RIU Hotels & Resorts, explains the history of the RIU brand and how it became the name of their hotels

Luis Riu, CEO of RIU Hotels & Resorts, explains the history of the RIU brand and how it became the name of their hotels.

The RIU brand: how did it make the leap from corporate name to hotel name?

Nowadays, the brand has an incalculable intangible value. We strive to ensure that there is a recognised and recognisable quality service behind the RIU logo. We work day in, day out to reinforce our company values, the values that reflect our employees, that guide our actions and that are recognised by our customers and all our partners. But many, many years ago, these principles were not considered to be so important because the focus was on the product and management. That’s why for decades the RIU brand—which identified the company, figured on all contracts and was directly represented by the family—coexisted alongside the names of the hotels, which were not initially united by a common name.

Riu branding as it appeared in the 1970s from a photo taken at the Riu Centre, Playa de Palma.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Riu Center hosted evening events filled with dancing and live music for all RIU clients in Playa de Palma.

From Río to RIU Hotels – How Luis Riu created the brand

It all started in 1980 with the opening of the Río Bravo. My father, Luis Riu Bertrán, gave the hotel this name because he loved the classic John Wayne film. And from then on, one thing just led to another. The Río Bravo was expanded with the opening of the adjacent Río Grande, another John Wayne classic set in the Wild West. And the next hotel we opened was smaller, so logic told us that it should be called Río Chico, as chico means little in Spanish. With three Ríos in our portfolio, we decided to unify all our hotels under the Río banner. Why? Because it was short, catchy and sounded like our family name. And since three of our eight hotels already had this name, we just had to add it to the other five.

News about the inauguration of the Rio Bravo hotel in 1980, published in the Spanish newspaper "Diario de Mallorca"

The inauguration of the Hotel Río Bravo in May 1980 became a great event attended by many personalities and executives of RIU Hotels & Resorts.

And we carried on like this until the opening of the Riu Palace Maspalomas in 1989, a name that has a story of its own. When I was working on the opening of the future Maspalomas hotel, my office was at the Río Palmeras. The architect, Mr. Andino, made a beautiful drawing to show what this hotel, which was set to raise the standard of the RIU product, was going to look like. I liked it so much that I hung it in the hotel reception, and it was also a good way to create excitement about the project. And one day, a German customer came up to me and said “Wie schön, es sieht aus wie ein Palast!”, or, “how beautiful, it looks like a palace”. And yes, it really was reminiscent of an elegant European palace. So much so that I suggested to my father and Mr Rullán, the general manager at the time, that we should call it Palace.

Image from the 1980s of the former Río Palmeras hotel before the changing of the names of the hotels to the new Riu brand

Image from the 1980s of the former Río Palmeras hotel before the changing of the names of the hotels to the new Riu brand.

We thought about the possibility of a conflict with the Palace Hotel in Madrid, but my father was quick on this point: there will be no conflict, no suspicion of plagiarism, no confusion, because ours will not be just a Palace, it will be a Riu Palace. And that’s how it happened. After the opening of the Riu Palace Maspalomas, logic told us that we should use the family name, the brand that already operated as a company, for all the chain’s hotels. And in the meantime, Río had continued to grow. We had opened the Río Palmeras, the Río Papayas and, lastly, the Río Ventura Maxorata in 1987.


With the change to the Riu brand, Luis Riu Güell (center) and Félix Casado (right) at an opening of a newly named RIU Hotel

Luis Riu Güell (center), along with executives of the chain who were by his side when the Riu Palace Maspalomas was inaugurated, the first hotel to carry the RIU brand.

RIU brand, a distinctive company and hotel name for 34 years

I’m sure that this story will come as a surprise to many. I remember the conversations we had at that time. “It will be hard at first, but we’ll get used to it”, my father said. But the Bravo was the most difficult. To make sure we called it the R i u Bravo, we really had to concentrate on each letter. And not long after, now that everyone both within and outside the company is used to this change, what we don’t remember is that the name Río presided over our hotels in Mallorca and the Canary Islands for years. Aren’t our memories fickle?! Because to dig up the information I’m giving you today, I have had to talk to many professionals that worked at our company during those years, including some who are now retired. And it was no mean feat!

Félix Casado has his picture taken with one of his teams at RIU Hotels

Félix Casado, together with the Riu Palace Maspalomas hotel team.

Even my sister Carmen had forgotten that all the hotels used to have Río in their name. The puzzle is now complete, and we have a well-established brand that has been the banner of our hotels for 34 years. The day we decided to unify the name of the company and our hotels under our family name was a key moment in the history of the company. At the time, we didn’t realise how important this decision was going to be.

If our surname were more common or complex, we would have had to decide whether to create a new name for our hotel brand or keep using Río. Fortunately our surname is short, catchy and unique, so it was an easy decision. The most interesting thing is how the brand has already transcended the family and, in many countries, people are surprised when they find out that Riu is the surname of the family that founded and owns the company. This makes us very proud.

The Evolution of the RIU brand through 5 logos

The evolution of the Riu logo since 1953 when the hotel chain was founded

RIU Hotels & Resorts logo has undergone an evolution adapting to the times from its founding in 1953 to the present day.

The first RIU logo was created in 1976 and can still be seen at the Riu Centre, the complex that today houses RIU’s corporate offices in Playa de Palma. It’s on the plaque commemorating its inauguration that same year. Logically, the visual representation of the brand has undergone many changes over the years in step with different trends. In total, there have been five RIU logos up to the current one, which was presented in January 2018. And we can’t forget the Dolphin, the logo that the Hotel San Francisco had when we bought it, which still stands over the entrance in honour of those first years in the hotel business.

Today, RIU is the banner that represents everything. Our hotels, the service we offer, the employees who make it possible, the way we do business, the way we relate to the environment and all our stakeholders. RIU now has a life of its own, one that began in 1989 as a global brand, but which was actually born in 1953, forged by the character and hard work of my parents and grandparents. It is both a great responsibility and honour to be at the forefront of this today!

Fdo. Luis Riu


  • Steve

    Great reading, love to hear these things about the Rio…. I mean Riu chain of hotels do keep them coming Luis.
    My wife and I have only this week come back from the Riu Palace Palmeras, your first hotel in not only Gran Canaria but the first in the Canary Islands, loved it so much returning in September.

  • Inmaculada santana Alonso

    Fui componente de la plantilla Riu Palace para mí la inauguración más bonita que he precensiado en Riu y muy buenos recuerdo hasta mi salida al Riu Palace Lanzarote.

  • Bozenna Cichecka

    Wow! What a story! Fascinated by the history of the name!
    Riu stands for Quality,! Love to stay at Riu’s in Playa del Carmen as I live in Chicago. Totally fell in love with Riu’s Resorts!

  • Gurd Malda

    An interesting read! I’m here in RIU Funana Cape Verda reading this and enjoyed the article. We have stayed at many RIU hotels including Dubai and always found the service excellent. Keep up the good work!
    However I feel as a guest there are a few changes that could be incorporated that would make the RIU experience exceptional.
    Feel free to contact me

  • Christine Dunn.

    We have been going to the Ruivistamar in Puerto Rico for 18yrs now. Food, Staff and Hotel excellent

  • Jane Allen

    stayed as a family age range 90 to 2 at riu Dubai absolutely fab something for everyone can’t wait to go back

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *