I will always remember back to the time when we first launched the Axel Buenos Aires. Soon after the grand opening, I received a letter from an Argentinian teenager, explaining to me that he had heard about our hotel brand when he was at home having dinner with his family. They were watching the news and it spurred an open discussion about gay people. He was expecting an awkward conversation, but to his surprise, his father said that he thought that it was a great thing for international businesses to invest in Buenos Aires, and furthermore that he was thrilled that a gay business was making a move to come to Latin America, to teach them a thing or two about inclusion and acceptance. When he had heard his father say that, it gave him the courage to come out and he wanted to thank me. It was from that point I knew that I do what I do for reasons beyond the commercial – I want to contribute towards a better world.
Ever since childhood, I have had a thing for hotels – to me, hotels are magical places, and moreover, gateways to magical places. So I guess it was a very natural thing to have wanted to start Axel Hotels. As part of this community, I always felt there was something missing, particularly in my home city of Barcelona – apart from bars and clubs, there just wasn’t a place for gay people to stay together, or to socialise as a community – in a way that part of the wider community as well as just the LGBT one. Being young and entrepreneurial, armed with a business degree and practical experience in marketing in the travel industry, it made sense for me to change that. The rest, as they say, is history.
Axel is heading towards a rapid global expansion – which is exciting and terrifying at the same time. We have 3 hotels opening this year Berlin, Ibiza and Madrid (just in time for World Pride), amounting to 10 new openings in the next 5 years. That’s in addition to the four hotels we already have in Barcelona, Berlin and Gran Canaria.
After more than 13 years of growing a brand leader in the niche, I want to challenge myself with new projects to develop the loyalty of my customers and to exceed their expectations. Generally, I feel we are at a time of major changes in the classic vision of hospitality. On the one hand, we’ve really benefited from the internet improving our interaction with customers. But on the other hand, the internet also brings more choice, and it’s more competitive than ever, particularly from the collaborative economy. Our success relies in our being able to adapt our service and products to the trends emerging in the market and to align them with these new expectations.
So I have plenty on my hands, but I’m passionate about what I do and that drives me. Axel is not just a way to make money, but it is also a way for us all to collaborate with society, with our community – to make it better and more inclusive and essentially, human. At Axel we strive to create spaces where diversity lives and is proudly visible for all to see. We still need these spaces where you feel free; many people have challenged me on the need for a gay branded hotel in a world that is changing to be more accepting of gay people – but for me highlighting gay travel in the context of mainstream tourism is extremely important. Our visibility as a community breaks barriers and like my experience with that teenager in Buenos Aires, goes towards creating dialogue and discussion, leading to greater tolerance of LGBT people across the world. It also creates an opportunity to talk about diversity as a whole, because discrimination occurs for many reasons, not just sexual orientation. Growing up gay “To me, hotels are magical places, and moreover, gateways to magical places.”
This is why I’m proud to be the new chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. This position means so much to me as it is a real recognition of my passion from my colleagues in the tourism industry. But accolades aside, it is really important for me because it puts me in a very unique position to help shape gay and lesbian travel and the wider travel industry as a whole, on a global level.
Outside of work, life is good. I’ve struck a healthy balance and found more time to enjoy hobbies, family and friends. And as if life isn’t busy enough, I have an ambition to create a foundation with my husband that will allow us to collaborate in areas of education, equality and a centre of spiritual development.
Juan is the founder and owner of Axel Hotels, a small, boutique hotel chain specialising in the LGBT community. www.axelhotels.com