The Hilton Barcelona, a familiar presence on the busy Avenida Diagonal, just closed for 6 months of works, on November 1st. It will reopen in May, 2012. But why the works? Is it simply renovating itself - in which case six months of full closure may seem like a lot? Or is it changing in a fundamental way? A recent mailing from the hotel told us that they are "building the Vibe". …The Vibe? What does it mean? To find out, we asked the hotel Director, Frank Breuker. Having been in charge of hotels and resorts all over the world, including South Africa, and being married to a Spanish lady, Frank knows a few things about "Vibes" and hotels.
Well, let's explain. The "Vibe" is an atmosphere, or a vibration. It is an undercurrent, a beat that people can hook on to. It's very emotional,
the Vibe. So, no we are not building a new
hotel or another unit attached to the hotel; but the hotel itself with its full new upgrade, its totally new image will merge with the avant-garde beat and vibe Barcelona is
internationally famous for. Hilton Barcelona will recreate this Barcelona Vibe. We will build the Vibe through the image of the new lobby, the rooms, but most importantly the innovative
services and quality... and with much more to be revealed as we move into the works. The Vibe will be a living part of the hotel Hilton Barcelona, you will be able to breathe it,
like fresh air.
Born in Amsterdam, a Dutchman, left Holland for the first time in 1991 for France, Paris, to work on the opening of Eurodisney, which is now called Disneyland Paris, a place that creates a very special vibe of its own. My background is very much in "Food & Beverage", as it is called in the Hotel industry. After that I went to Sun City, which has been called "the Las Vegas of South Africa"; worked in this gigantic resort as Food & Beverage manager and had a great time creating a special Vibe there (very different form the Barcelona Vibe!), with, among others, surprise black-tie dinners in the bush (real surprise, as in being driven blindfolded to an unknown destination!), or pirate songs in a cave restaurant.
Then I went to Egypt, where I did the first hotel opening for Conrad Intl Hotels in Sharm-el-Sheikh, creating a special atmosphere of exclusivity and security in the hotel that attracted
the top political and entertainment players of the area. Then I helped launch a project in Canouan island, opening a luxury golf resort - Canouan is in the Caribbean; it is part of St
Vincent in the Grenadines. Again, from a funky jazz surf and turf beach restaurant concept, to exclusive villa catering and dining for the rich and famous, this was a truly exclusive type
of vibe. From there I went to Spain, to the Costa Brava, where I set up a local chain of 5 hotels for a private owner, including the communications, procedures, policies, structure… creating
the chain's own culture, its own Vibe, so to speak. Then I went to Djerba, to open a five-star hotel. From Djerba, I went to Southern Spain, La Cala, which is for the moment the largest
golf resort in Europe. There I worked for three and a half years, before moving on to Beirut, Lebanon. In Beirut I took over a big - really big! - resort in Broumana, a beautiful mountain
area outside Beirut - yet another, completely different Vibe managing to attract the young jet set and top entertainers of the area. Having done that for three years, I went back to Spain and
managed the Barcelona Airport Renaissance hotel which had just opened. After that, I was offered a position in the Le Royal hotel chain, a chain that has five hotels in Luxemburg, Jordan,
Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco. There I was CEO, in charge of making it a stronger brand, including its operations. After that, Westmont, the new owner of Hilton Barcelona, asked me to come
to Barcelona, to close the old property and reposition it, with the same Hilton brand, in 2012.
So, that's my background in short. Did I build up a Vibe? Yes, most of the time, these openings, managings, repositionings are first and foremost about building a Vibe.
The best example I can give is the Grand Hills resort in Broumana, Beirut. Broumana is outside of Beirut, in the mountains. There, there is a beautiful, truly stunning resort, with top international restaurants, a majestic hotel and apartment complex. The problem was to bring life to this resort. It was dead. Nobody was coming, everybody thought it was a very expensive, exclusive, private resort. People did not even dare get in there, and we could not even begin to fill the twelve (twelve!) restaurants.
So, what I did was, I brought the Vibe. We organized special events, built a Vibe. And we took that Vibe down from the mountains and into the city of Beirut, building awareness of the
fact that we had a wonderful village of Food & Beverage outlets up there. I had entertainers passing through the restaurants throughout the day and the evening; we had magicians doing
card tricks with guests as they were having dinner, we had fire-eaters, unicyclists in the resort… we brought the whole thing alive. We had all different kinds of theme restaurants, with
something happening all the time, every day something else, and the themes were not only with food, but also costumes, entertainment, music… We brought in a Jazz Festival and in three years
it built up to be a big festival, with international guests. So we brought life, we built that Grand Hills Vibe, and this Vibe caught the attention of Beirut. People came in from the city
not just for the hotel but for the restaurants, for the entertainment, coming for the vibration, for the atmosphere…coming for the undercurrent beat, the Vibe that we made happen there.
The result: We went from an empty resort to a full, bubbling place, with local Beirut people passing through all the time, coming to eat, to do their business dinners and lunches there, and spending the weekend as well.
Then Hariri! The Prime Minister of Lebanon was assassinated, with 1000Kg of TNT detonating as his motorcade was driving through Beirut. This of course brought down Lebanon's spirit, and we had to start over again. To bring the Vibe back, I organized the Happy Hours Bus. It was a bus branded Grand Hills, our resort, that was constantly driving through Beirut, stopping in front of the office buildings that host Beirut's largest companies, inviting business people in for the Cocktail of the Day, with an entertainer inside as well, a Chef making crepes… We brought the Vibe back, promoted it. Result: We filled up the resort once more. For New Year's Eve that year, all our twelve restaurants were fully booked, we could not fit all the people inside.
This is an example of building a Vibe around an existing atmosphere. This is what we will do in Barcelona. Barcelona has its own Vibe, we will extend it into our hotel.
You have lived in Barcelona, and in several other exciting places in the world as well. What is, for you, the Vibe of Barcelona, what makes it special?
Barcelona is an avant-garde, cosmopolitan city. It is a place with culture. With ambience. The new trends come to and from Barcelona, which give this vibration. It is a great melting pot of culture, art, history, entertainment - not to mention food, sports, and just pure fun. More and more, you hear people saying "Besides New York, you have Barcelona".
For the lobby and the new "Vibe" space that we will be creating there (more on that in a few weeks…), the architect is Matteo Thun. He is a big name in Architecture and Design, one of
the founders of the famous Memphis group in the 80s. He was chosen, obviously, for his creativity - his portfolio is extremely beautiful and inventive - but also because of his holistic
vision mixing architecture and design:
This is a man who has designed hotels, resorts, public spaces as well as the Hugo Boss New York concept store… or the iconic Illy coffee cup - and who has been an architect, as well as Art Director for Swatch. Last but not least, we have chosen Matteo because, to quote him "Architecture means designing the soul of the place", and his project for the Vibe certainly lives up to that promise, it is an idea with a surprising twist that will be right at home in Barcelona. I wish I could show you, but it's too early…
Today, we have stripped the whole hotel. Everything that what inside is now gone. It is now an empty shell. We are going to do all the rooms, starting with deep work, isolate them
better, put in double walls with special material, make them completely sound-proof, new carpeting, new decoration, change the furniture completely - in particular the new Hilton beds will
be coming in soon. The bathrooms will be totally rebuilt - basically, new bathrooms are coming in. We will renew the air conditioning system.
The lobby will be totally - I mean totally - changed. We will turn it into an impressive multipurpose area, "The Vibe", which will be first a wonderful, crisp, trendy bar, but which will deliver much more than that, for businessmen as well as for people who want to experience the Barcelona Vibe. The Vibe will include a lunch area, a private lounge, a fireplace, a WiFi laptop lounge… and a few innovative surprises to come.
We are recreating the hotel decor, furniture, reinventing its image. And it is not just a facelift, we are modernising the structure of the hotel from the inside, improving systems like the air conditioning, its acoustics and soundproofing, its space...
After 6 months, we will come back with a brand new Hilton Barcelona hotel in this great location. It will then be able to build an image worthy of Hilton. The six months of "Vibe" building will end up in a powerful reopening: The Vibe will boast unbeatable modern atmosphere, and besides, the Hilton will be a leading business hotel. The concept here is to create this great place for business people to do business, will all the special and up to date technology services and facilities they need... but with the added advantage of being able to truly taste the Vibe of Barcelona from their hotel. This is the idea we will create with "The Vibe".
In the beginning of next year, we will start having something which people can touch and feel, to see what our "Vibe" will be like in Barcelona. Meanwhile, we will keep you posted as we build it.