Íñigo Berastain, manager of the Riu Plaza London Victoria

date_range 9 November, 2023 question_answer Leave your thoughts

A short while ago, RIU opened a hotel in London, which has been the main attraction of recent months. This is the chain’s first opening in the United Kingdom. It has not been easy. As with any new destination, a great deal of work has been done in order to adapt to the environment. A major challenge that has undoubtedly required a great team of people who have made it possible for RIU to have this hotel in the centre of the English capital.

Íñigo Berastain, manager of the Riu Plaza London Victoria.

Íñigo Berastain, manager of the Riu Plaza London Victoria.

To ensure the opening and proper functioning of the hotels there is a key figure: the manager. This is the person who takes care of the building as if it were their own home and who is in charge of putting all the pieces together to make the machine work. For the London project, Iñigo Berastain has been chosen as the captain who will take the helm of the new adventure. We had the pleasure of talking to him to learn more about the hotel and everything it has meant for the chain.

But first, we’ll tell you a little about him. Iñigo has a vocation for the hotel industry, it runs in his family and “since I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be a hotel manager”. That is why he studied Hotel and Tourism Management at the University of Sant Pol de Mar. In addition, he completed a Master’s degree in Business Management at the University of Deusto, jointly with the Nantes Business School. He has been with RIU for 11 years. He started out in Playa del Carmen, in Mexico, in the Bahamas and in Costa Rica as assistant manager. In 2015, his dream came true and he embarked on his adventure as a hotel manager in Mauritius and later in the Maldives, until this year, 2023, when he set off on his journey to London.

“I have always had a vocation for international management, I like working with other cultures, I have a great sense of adaptation and changes stimulate me”

You come from the hotels in the Maldives, how did you face the challenge of moving from the beach to a city hotel?

Before joining RIU, I worked in urban hotels in various destinations in Europe and Central America.  In fact, two of them were in the northern part of the United Kingdom. I have always held on to the idea of returning to these destinations even though many years have passed. I have been lucky enough to fulfil that wish. That’s why I’ve always been excited about this project.

“The pre-opening in London was attractive because it presented numerous challenges and a variety of organisational and planning issues”

At the management level, changing from a beach resort to a city hotel is a drastic change. When a customer comes to a beach resort what they are looking for is to fully enjoy the hotel and all its amenities from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. In addition, the stays are longer and tend to be between one and two weeks, which allows you to create bonds. In urban hotels, stays are generally shorter and the guests are traveling either to explore the city or for work, so they spend less time in the hotel. However, when the customer is in the hotel, everything has to be in perfect condition so that they can rest and we have to ensure that the check-in process is quick and easy. They are two totally different types of stays so you have to adapt and always consider the well-being of your guests.

The London pre-opening was also attractive because it offered numerous challenges and a variety of organisational and planning issues.

You have to keep in mind that at the city level the Riu Plaza brand has greater exposure. Each hotel is located in one of the world’s capital cities, in a prime location and with great expectations, both in terms of our company, as well as our partners and regular guests.

Is it very different to build a team for a city hotel versus a beach resort? How would you define the team you have?

In London, we have a team of department heads, some of whom already have experience in our company, coming from Dublin, Dubai and the Maldives. And there are other managers who are new to RIU, but who bring experience and know-how from London. This combination guarantees our ability to transmit our RIU culture and, at the same time, benefit from managers with experience in London who can contribute their knowledge of the industry in this city.

Although each destination has its own unique characteristics, at this stage, having been open for only a few months, we are focusing on staff training and engagement.  London suffers, as does the entire industry around the world, from a shortage of hospitality staff. It is a labour market with a lot of turnover and difficulties when it comes to finding trained personnel, so our human resources efforts are focused in this direction.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of managing the hotel?

The London project is a challenge in itself. Openings are always complex. You have to start up the operations in all the departments from scratch. Synergies must be created between departments, and all of this takes time. Added to this is the complexity of it being a new destination. We are beginning from scratch in our dealings with the suppliers and we have to develop and expand this relationship of mutual trust.

The construction phase and the start-up of operations in each department is a complex time that requires the utmost dedication and the ability to manage a wide range of situations. In fact, all the corporate directors arrived here from the central offices, and for weeks they trained the different teams in each department; the construction managers, and the operations managers came, and even Luis Riu, who made several visits during the project as well as at the end, to supervise the final details.

Luis Riu Güell, CEO of RIU Hotels & Resorts, together with his son, Luis Riu Rodríguez, and Íñigo Berastain, director of the new Riu Plaza London Victoria hotel, and the rest of the team in London

Luis Riu Güell, CEO of RIU Hotels & Resorts, together with his son, Luis Riu Rodríguez, and Íñigo Berastain, director of the new Riu Plaza London Victoria hotel, and the rest of the team in London.

At the customer level, we must position our brand in the market. We work a lot on on-line positioning so that people choose to stay with us, recommend our hotel and, in the case of business clients, choose us again and again.

What do you think London is going to teach you or contribute to you?

I always wanted to return to the world of urban hotels. After my time in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, I feel that now with the Riu Plaza brand I am taking a big step forward in my career at RIU. I am very grateful for the responsibility and trust that has been given to me by being chosen to manage this hotel. We have a huge challenge ahead of us, which involves consolidating the Riu Plaza London Victoria in this very competitive destination, and also making it a benchmark.

What would you highlight about your hotel?

There are several key aspects to highlight about this hotel as an urban product. But without a doubt our differentiating factor is the breakfast service. It is included for all our clients. It stands out because it is a quality product with excellent variety.

The location is unbeatable. Whether you come from the airport or you want to move around the city and do some sightseeing, you can get there on foot. The views, especially on the upper floors, are exceptional. You can see many landmarks.

In addition, we have a large number of family rooms for up to 4 people.

What kind of reception has RIU had in the area? And among the guests?

It has been great. As I mentioned earlier, we are currently working on positioning ourselves on the different online platforms and we are on the right track.

The guest response, in terms of occupancy, has been very good.  In the month of September, for example, we averaged 90%, and the forecasts are also optimistic. The reality is that our opening has generated a lot of interest among clients, partners and other companies in the sector. We are really happy.

What type of client did you expect to see when the hotel opened?

We have had a wide variety of guests. Both in nationality and in type of client. We are seeing how Spanish clients identify with the Spanish company, they recognise our brand and it generates confidence. This is largely thanks to the fact that the Riu Plaza España hotel has made us well known in the national market.

“Spanish clients recognise our brand and it generates confidence”

In addition, thanks to our presence in a variety of vacation and urban destinations around the world, we are known to customers in the Latin American, Anglo-Saxon, European and even Middle Eastern and Asian markets. In many other cases, these clients are new guests for RIU and we hope to build brand loyalty into the future.

What has the opening of this hotel meant for the chain?

It is the tenth hotel to join the Riu Plaza portfolio. Once again it is in one of the world’s great capitals and a destination that is giving us a lot of visibility, something we have seen before with other hotels like those in Madrid and New York. But at the same time this requires us to deliver a high degree of quality and results.

What does the Riu Plaza London Victoria have that makes it so special?

Personally, I find the hotel’s decoration very attractive. The common areas have spectacular natural lighting thanks to the large windows. This is also a feature of the hotel’s reception area, which looks very impressive. The colours and decorative designs of the lamps and furniture in the common areas have been chosen with exquisite taste, creating a very pleasant and cozy atmosphere, which is also modern.

And I have to say that the rooms are very spacious, which is a very important added value in a city like London.

Why visit London, what are its attractions?

London is a very fashionable city. It is a place where travelling with friends, family or your partner is always a good idea. Any time of the year is ideal for a visit. The hotel’s location allows you to walk to numerous tourist attractions. For example, Westminster Abbey is just a 15-minute walk away. Big Ben is 25 minutes away.  What is clear to me is that any guest who chooses RIU will find the service and quality that characterise the brand so they will feel at home.

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