Josep-Anton Grases, the CEO of Ona Hotels, is a true veteran of the hospitality industry. Having led a number of leading hospitality organisations around the world, has a unique perspective on hospitality strategy, and how to rebuild after the crisis.
He believes in the importance of getting back to basics and fostering creativity to find new and innovative solutions to any challenge. Having steered organisations through past crises and economic down turns, Josep-Anton also stresses the value of positivity, strong leadership and embracing a refresh of the industry to welcome a new future for the hospitality sector.
A Passion for Hospitality
Having started in the insurance and finance sector, Josep-Anton found his true passion in the hospitality industry when he began his career with TUI back in 2002. A talented hotelier and businessman, he spent thirteen years with TUI, becoming the regional MD for the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean is the main destination for the European tour operators. I was managing around 10 million customers per year in the different countries where we had our operations, spanning regions from Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey and all the countries in the South of Europe.
Eager to gain as much experience as he could in the industry, Josep-Anton took his career around the world, working with Spanish hotel chain Catalonia in the Caribbean and Spain and joining Australian brand, Flight Centre, to grow their operations in the Americas.
Having spent close to twenty years in the industry, Josep-Anton has brought his talent and experience to the Spanish hotel chain Ona. In the last year he has moved back to Barcelona and taken up the mantle of CEO of this young and vibrant organisation. Josep-Anton believes that rethinking old business models and drawing on the unique strengths of this brand is vital for prosperity in the current climate.
Ona Hotels is a young hotel chain, that has had a strong development in the last five years and we have the intention to push things forward. This was the craze before Covid and it’s something that now is being rethought in order to adapt to the new circumstances.
Back to Basics – The Importance of Clear Priorities & Alignment
In discussing how the leadership team approached handling the current Covid crisis, Josep-Anton’s energy, experience and passion for the industry were a driving force behind his vision for the future. He is not one to hide from the challenges the industry is facing, but instead faces them head on and rallies his team together to create the best path through the storm.
One thing that Josep-Anton emphasises when doing this is the vitality of strong leadership paired with clear goals and strategies to guide the organisation in the right direction.
I think that in the business right now it’s always about change. You cannot stay where you are otherwise you lose sight and you lose perspective and you lose relevance.
There is no income and when you are under those circumstances you need to be tough, clear and back to basics… now more than ever, you need to be clear on what is needed. You are under time pressure and because of that you need to, in a very short period of time, align everybody in the same direction. Try to explain to them what’s the rationale behind the decisions that have to be made, but everything needs to be practical and you need people to be really resilient and open minded.
When asked about the importance of leadership and any advice he would give to young leaders in the industry, it was clear his experience and his emphasis on the value of his team is a large factor behind the philosophies of Ona.
I think that leadership is going to be, and it has always been, about people. You need to find the right way to connect with people to try initially to build a strong leadership team because this is not a one-way show. This is about, from a team perspective, properly fixing the objective, establishing the priorities, sharing with the rest of the team and aligning everybody in the same direction.
Embracing Different Revenue Models – A Resurgence of Timeshare?
Having gained experience in so many different areas of the hospitality industry, Josep-Anton knows that rethinking old strategies and embracing what makes Ona unique is so important. A refreshed approach to vacation clubs and timeshares, with their apartment formats, are one growth area that he and his team are exploring to cater to clients that are hesitant to stay in traditional hotel environments. Through the crisis, these have offered a more resilient revenue source while business and leisure demand have been at record lows.
We are not in position to compete with the traditional players in the market or big leisure hotel chains. I think that our other value is in a different field, in a different area, where these people are not going to compete with us and because of this, I think that we are going to have this kind of competitive advantage.
While the idea of vacation clubs was something Josep-Anton and his team were discussing the relevance of a year ago, he explains that with the current leisure demand, they now fill a need in the market and provide an opportunity for growth.
We do not have, for the time being, the huge volumes of customers arriving to our properties as was the case in the past, but with the vacation clubs… it’s really crystal clear that it’s not only something that currently has a relevance but also that we have the capabilities to build on top of.
I think that there is a place that has not yet been properly fulfilled in the Mediterranean from the leisure perspective. I think that we have a huge opportunity and that if we really leverage our expertise in the future of running a vacation club, this is going to make a clear difference and it’s going to facilitate our development in the future.
When talking about the way forward for Ona, the expansion of vacation clubs and timeshare apartments are an example of the creative solutions that also embrace what makes Ona so special.
The Critical Nature of Technology
The hospitality must finally adopt much-discussed technologies to improve guest engagement and experience that also support leaner operations, and Josep-Anton believes in the importance of embracing technology in the hospitality sector without losing what makes his brand so unique and personable in the marketplace.
I think that technology is obviously critical, it’s a key factor for success, it’s not something that is going to make you different, I think it’s something that is going to make you relevant.
For Ona, this strategy will involve a simpler, interactive guest journey supported with digital tools before, during and after the hotel stay. This needs to be supported with a modern CRM system to establish and nurture customer relationships all year round. Finally, they’ll integrate tools that deliver service the customer expects, but be more efficient in how they are providing, and this integration is critical so a modern PMS remains a core critical component.
I think that through digital technology, we are going to be able to better understand the customer and be in a better position to offer them what they really need when they think that they need it. I think that you need to invest in technology every single month in order to make this capability grow and to leave you in a position to properly compete.
A Recovery Requiring a Refresh of Strategy – and of Mindset
Understanding the challenges of the current circumstances, he believes that the industry must adapt and refresh to survive.
This refresh needs to cover the way the industry thinks about its revenue and cost models and needs to be led by a new type of hospitality leader focused on open values and a learning mindset.
People are going to look for authenticity, people are going to look for people that are really reliant and trying to make the vision, with the mission, with the values fit. I think it’s going to be the core of the leadership and I think that the old fashioned leadership days of relying on charisma is no longer going to be a thing of the present, it’s going to be a thing of the past.
It is welcoming the spirit of learning, creativity and innovation that Josep-Anton thinks is the way forward and encouraging this mentality for flexibility and change at all levels of the organisation. Right now, he encourages the industry to be developing skills in these areas.
I think that you need to be clearly openminded. You have the chance to learn not only from your boss or not only from people that are on top of the company, you have the chance to learn from suppliers, you have the chance to learn from partners, you have the chance to learn from people in your team.
Understand that you do not have the solution for everything and you always have the chance to learn things that you didn’t know before. I think it’s a kind of mindset, it’s a kind of mentality.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Josep-Anton’s passion for the tourism and hospitality sector, his wealth of knowledge and experience and his optimism for the future of the hospitality industry is the foundation for the path he wishes to carve out for the future of both Ona and the wider industry.
The name of the game is about survival but at the same time, at least part of your time, has to be dedicated to thinking to the future because there is going to be light at the end of the tunnel.
It is about embracing a changing world and staying flexible in an uncertain environment.
The belief that we all can learn from one another and the vitality of teamwork and strong leadership, is important now more than ever. There is light at the end of the tunnel and embracing and adapting to this new and exciting future is the way we will prosper in it.
As Josep-Anton says,
This current situation is going to have an end, at this point, we don’t know exactly when this end is going to arrive but you need to be ready because sooner or later this time will arrive.
James Lemon, Founder of The Growth Works – A strategy consultancy for hospitality focused on unlocking clearer strategies; priorities & plans for growth and resiliency – spoke with Josep-Anton as part of The Growth Works Leadership Series in August 2020. For support to shape your strategy, future priorities & plans, visit www.TheGrowthWorks.com.