Pamplona El Toro Hotel & Spa adapts to attract new guests

Pamplona El Toro Hotel & Spa adapts to attract new guests

—– Driving traffic to partnering hospitality businesses in the process

Enduring one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns, locals in Spain have felt the impact of COVID-19 deeply since March. At the time of writing, Spain ranks 10th among countries with confirmed coronavirus cases, and current fears of a second wave have prompted quarantine measures from the UK.

For Spain’s tourism industry, which makes up 12 percent of the country’s GDP, the virus has ensured an ongoing summer chill and unprecedented calm in locations normally bursting with wide-eyed sightseers.

In the northern region of Navarre, the home of the Pamplona El Toro Hotel & Spa, the week-long San Fermín festival was cancelled this year, for the first time since the 1930s Civil War. Yet, despite this, the property’s 62 newly-refurbished rooms have enjoyed a steady increase in foot traffic since reopening. Sitting peacefully in the Navarre countryside, just ten minutes from the centre of Pamplona and an hour south-east of coastal San Sebastián, the property still embodies the rustic charm of when it was initially built more than 400 years ago.

A hotel for over half a century, the locals even have a saying about it: “A citizen of Pamplona only gets married if the San Fermín chapel and the El Toro Hotel’s restaurant coincide”.

We spoke with Raúl Casanova Gracia, Commercial Director at Events Hotels (the parent company of Pamplona El Toro Hotel & Spa), to gain an understanding of his team’s experience through this difficult period and how they’re riding the waves of change as they come out the other side.

How did the hotel first react when the impacts of COVID-19 became clear, Raúl?

Well initially, we decided to put our hotel at the disposal of the Regional Government of Navarre, in case it was needed as a field hospital through the beginning stages of the outbreak.

However, after weeks of waiting, it wasn’t deemed necessary for this type of use and we were authorised to open early, on May 4, to serve workers from companies that provide essential services. For example, health personnel in transit, maintenance workers at essential companies, people from the forces and the family members of those hospitalised. Many people don’t realise that Pamplona is also known as a health destination, having one of the most reputable hospitals in all of Europe: the Clinica Universitaria de Navarra.

Opening for those guests, what were the key changes that you made?

Resuming business while Spain was still being heavily impacted by the virus meant that we needed to quickly adapt to ensure that our hygiene measures were exceptional. We created welcome packs for our guests with the protective items they would need, and we introduced strict cleaning procedures. We were also the first property in the region to acquire special UV lamps for room disinfection.

Initially, guest numbers were quite low, but they allowed us to gain the advantage of experience and build our confidence – something that took time.

Until the beginning of June, our Pamplona El Toro Hotel & Spa was one of the few establishments open in Pamplona.

Are you discovering that most of your guests right now are locals from Spain, or are international guests also returning?

Due to the sense of ongoing uncertainty, it’s mainly locals from Spain at this stage, yes. They are mostly people from nearby provinces, but that’s slowly beginning to change as more international guests return.

Are there any methods that you’ve put in place to attract these domestic guests?

Our strong reputation helps us to create interest with those from neighbouring provinces, however we’ve also been increasingly engaging with various local tourism initiatives, which has been positive for all involved.

We’re part of the Cómete Pamplona campaign, available until August 31, for example. A campaign which seeks to connect hotels with restaurants that have designed a special menu based on local Navarrese produce, as part of a deal that includes a guided tour of the town. It’s one way that we’re all working to drive more traffic to Pamplona hospitality businesses as a whole, and it’s been good to come together.  

As you look at new ways of attracting guests, how important is ensuring that your technology is also being maximised through this period?

Very. As a business we used the months of April and May to make an evaluation of our technology, and we’ll be implementing a series of specific new solutions that for our organisation will make a considerable difference.

For me, being active on social media is also an increasingly central part in the process of promoting and marketing our services. Nowadays, any commercial action that we design always has an accompanying social media plan as part of the go-to-market strategy, and so we have been workshopping new ideas through this period around how we could approach social.

What have been the keys to the team remaining strong and united in recent months?

We’re lucky. At Events Hotels we have a president who is always available, with enviable enthusiasm and drive. His presence has a strong influence over the whole group and is key in pulling us together. 

Beyond that, it’s ensuring that we are all making the time for personal connections to ensure that everyone is doing okay.

The tourism industry accounts for 12% of Spain’s gross domestic product. Do you think that the government has done enough to support you to date with the initiatives introduced?

You’re right, the tourism industry of Spain is a very important part of GDP.

The Government has made and designed aid and actions, but they are insufficient to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In the end, it is the companies and entrepreneurs who are supporting this situation, and there are going to be many companies in the sector that are going to be left behind.

Thanks, Raúl.

Thank you for letting us contribute a small grain of sand to this new situation. Let the circumstances be a little different when we next speak.