Meliá Hotels International Charts A Sustainable Course For The Future

with Kerry Sharpe

Tony Cortizas, VP of global strategy for Melia Hotels International.

The newly-opened Melia Serengeti Lodge in Tanzania, the benchmark for sustainability for the rest of the company, across all brands.

Tina the Travel Agent also attended the Melia luncheon.

On the final leg of a cross-country media tour, Meliá Hotels International VP of global strategy Tony Cortizas took a Toronto audience on a deep dive into the company’s future plans. From new hotel openings and travel trends (think “bleisure”) to a far-reaching sustainability effort, it’s an ambitious blueprint.

Cortizas describes the company, created in 1956, as “the best and worst of both worlds, because we are a family-run, publicly-traded company.” That makes for an interesting dynamic, to say the least, when the family passion for the business butts heads with shareholders. 

Based in Palma de Mallorca – along with many other major resort chains – Meliáhas adopted what it calls the millennial-driven “bleisure” trend – a portmanteau to describe the mixing of business with pleasure.

“It’s a term that’s getting used a lot because people’s habits of consumption, working, are all changing,” said Cortizas. “The young, millennial group that travels to London on business, don’t want to just go to the meeting, don’t just want to do their work, they want to go to the hottest bar, the gallery, they want to wring every drop of their time in London because, for them, that’s part of business travel.”

With that trend in mind, the hotelier has adopted a model that captures that market well – dividing its portfolio equally between resorts and urban hotels – along with the tagline “Leisure at heart, Business in mind,” which, according to Cortizas, “captures the essence of who we are.”

With 380 hotels in 43 countries, business is going well for the company. It reported $2 billion in earnings last year. The Americas accounted for 44% of the overall revenue, making this side of the Atlantic “massively important” to Meliá.

Currently, 66% of the company’s portfolio sits in Europe and the Middle East, 23% in the Americas, and 11% in Asia Pacific. Meliáalso has an additional 60 hotels in the pipeline, 17 of which are in the Americas, which is, according to Cortizas, “a fairly rapid pace of growth and we expect that to pick up because we’re really, aggressively pursuing expansion.”

But Cortizas says it was the opening of one hotel in particular late last year that sets a benchmark for all new-builds going forward, across all of the Meliá Hotels International brands. That property is the Meliá Serengeti Lodge.

With a goal to one day be listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the company had to take a good look at what it will take to get there. “It’s not so easy to get to because our industry doesn’t move that fast,” said Cortizas. “We are actually burdened with bad decisions and bad heritage that goes back to the 50s, and earlier, in terms of how some of our hotels were built, where they were built, and how the energy was sourced… it’s not the simplest thing to do.”

However, when it comes to the Meliá Serengeti Lodge – which opened its doors late last year – that difficulty didn’t exist. “The storytelling on this project is the opposite of what I was talking about with the challenge of trying to retrofit and comply to sustainability,” said Cortizas. “This is a brand new build – this is “how do I want to build my story” as opposed to “how do I try to make it work afterwards?” The project is really fully sustainable; it’s a flagship now within our organization, and has set a gold standard for what we would like to achieve.”

Located in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the hotel was built sourcing all local materials, including the stone, wood and fabrics, which come from the local indigenous tribes. Powered by the sun, it is almost 50% self-sufficient in terms of energy consumption, and has been built in such a way that all of the guestrooms and open spaces can utilize the breeze off the savanna as a means of cooling the property, thereby reducing the need for A/C and fans. 

There is on-site incineration, so all of the waste from the kitchen is immediately eliminated instead of being dumped, and there’s even a bottling plant at the hotel, where all the water – sparkling and still – is purified and bottled for consumption. Bathroom amenities are produced locally and there are no plastic containers, everything is refillable. 

What’s more, the local Masai people provide all of the security for the resort and created all of the safari trails into the savanna. 

“This project is really the gold standard of what we’re trying to achieve when it comes to sustainability,” said Cortizas, though he does admit it is not possible to achieve this everywhere. But they have certainly made inroads – with the new-builds, and with a directive to eliminate all single-use plastics from every resort under every brand by the end of 2018.

“The more you think about plastic, the more insane it is that we have been such avid consumers and users of it,” continued Cortizas. “This is not a hospitality thing – this is an all-industry way of life thing. The shifts are profound and they’re changing and they’re feeding in to a much bigger picture around sustainability.” 

Before wrapping up his presentation, Cortizas hinted at more big news coming soon from the company and made a point about working harder at communicating more – and more effectively – with the agent community in getting their message out. “We would love for them to take more time to get to know us, and we have to make it easy for them to do that. We have work to do.”

Kerry Sharpe

Kerry Sharpe Columnist

Having worked in travel for the last 16 years, Kerry has experience covering the industry as media, as well as being under its lens when she worked for Thomas Cook, TravelBrands and itravel2000. A new mom, Kerry recently returned to the workforce and when she’s not chasing after her daughter, you’ll see her out and about covering industry events alongside her new BFF Tina the Travel Agent.

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