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Photographs & Memories - Fernando Vives - The elaborate hotel hoax

A man whose passions are quite clearly his family and hospitality, our next memory maker ditched a future in Computer Science for a life in hospitality and has never looked back. Fernando Vives spent his childhood obsessed with building computers, however a summer before heading to the States to study, he had a change of heart.



With hotels very much in his blood, Fernando’s mother was a defining influence on his decision to head to university to study tourism and hospitality. “I knew I would never die of hunger if I worked in hospitality”. But he has continued to connect back to technology and science in his role.


Fernando reflects on the learnings he received from his mother, and the importance of making travel time for his kids and wife: “If you get the kids used to different souvenirs, you’ll face a nightmare - it’s not like traveling for business and having time to shop for gifts. “ He explains the significance of a white hard hat.


And, in Fernando’s Fawlty Towers moment he explains a moment where he almost fell hook line and sinker for a very expensive hoax involving the entire 9th floor, £100,000 and a Louis Vuitton bag. “We were so excited to have such spend at the hotel, all this revenue. Everything seemed perfect.”


Now CCO, Fernando joined NH Hotel Group in 2014 as Senior Vice President Commercial Strategy & Pricing after occupying various positions at the Le Meridien, The Ritz, Hesperia, and Meliá Hotels International. An expert on revenue management, commercial practices and distribution with experience both in the urban and resort arena, in 2018 he was recognised as one of Europe’s Top 20 Extraordinary Minds and Commercial & Revenue Optimisation Leaders.


Being a passionate hotelier, Fernando established the Master's Degree “Expert on Revenue Management “ at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, the most prestigious RM Official education in the Spanish language. He is also an associate professor at IE Business School on their MBA programs. He also co-founded the revenue management & distribution firm Xotels and is co-founder of The Cool Food Company, a successful F&B operator


Fernando lives in Madrid, Spain with his wife and 2 kids.


Each episode we invite an industry professional to share 2 photographs and a treasured souvenir from their travels representing moments particularly important to them. Join us as we go on a journey through time to explore the significance of each.


A Travel Market Life series, Photographs & Memories is a Haynes MarComs production, hosted and sponsored by Atomize.


For more episodes and details of the series Photographs & Memories, visit https://www.haynesmarcoms.agency/travel-market-life


Program Notes


Michael McCartan:

My memory maker today is Fernando Vives. Welcome to Photographs and Memories with me, Michael McCarton. Each episode. We invite an industry professional to share three photographs and a treasured souvenir from their travels, representing moments particularly important to them Join us as we go on a journey through time to explore the significance of each. Check the podcast description to view the images of these treasured memories,


Michael McCartan:

Fernando is the Chief commercial officer of the NH Hotel Group. Before joining NH in 2014, he held various positions at La Meridien, The, Ritz, Hesperia, and Melia Hotels. He is an expert in revenue management and distribution with experience in both urban hotels and resorts. In 2018, he was recognised as one of Europe's top 20 Extraordinary, Minds and Revenue Optimisation Leaders Being, a passionate hotelier. He established the Expert on Revenue Management Master degree at University Dud Ray Juan Carlos in Madrid. And his co founder of The Cool Food Company, A successful F and B operator.


Michael McCartan:

Fernando lives in Madrid, Spain with his wife and two children,


Michael McCartan:

Fernando Villas. Welcome to Photographs and Memories.


Fernando Vives:

Thank you very much, Michael. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me here.


Michael McCartan:

Please tell me how you came to work in hospitality.


Fernando Vives:

Well, that's a, that's a very good question. It's, well, I consider myself a hotelier and it's, it's funny because when I was very young, I had a thing for computers. So I was actually, I build my first computer when I was just nine years old. There was no internet, nothing around. So I was basically, I have an older brother who's 10 years ahead of me. So I was always taking his computers when he was living. I remember the first spectrum, then the Commodor 128 and playing these games. And then as I was always with computers, I basically decided to, to build my own computer. So I was always with computers and up to a point where I even enrolled before, yes, for university, for to study computer science.


Fernando Vives:

But it's through that my mother, who has a great influence, always have had a great influence, or I would say me, but in my entire family, she's very influential. She was raised in a hotel. So my grandfather, who I never had the chance to meet him as he passed away when my mother was only 17 years old, he was a hotelier. So he owned two hotels in Alicante, which is on the east side of Spain. But I was raised always with some kind of these hotel stories on the people she was able to meet when she was at the hotel, where how she was having breakfast with clients.


Fernando Vives:

And then the place was very popular with bull fighting. And I have to say that I was raised as well with, with a lot of norms on how to behave when we were eating. You know, I never had lunch or dinner with my pyjamas. Always drinking glass water with, with glass wines, even if there was water, because this is the way she was raised. And always being like very polite, even if it, if it was informal because this is the way she was raised. So I always had a thing about hotels up to a point where I, you know, I was always thinking, okay, what to do in my theatre.


Fernando Vives:

But as I was spending so much time with my friends, building computers and with computers, I said, on all computer science, this is what I wanna do. I wanna dedicate myself, yes, to be in front of a computer and, and I sign up for computer science in a US university. I always thought that the way I was looking at the studies on how computer science was, was what was done in Spain was not the traditional way that I liked to, to learn computer science. You know, it was an India, five years of engineering. First year was transversal to most of the engineering careers. So basically you wouldn't touch a computer until you were like the second year. So I said, I mean, that's gonna kill me because I really liked to, to, and program and be in front of the computer and tow the computer.


Fernando Vives:

So during that summer, I basically would change my mind and then I said, Okay, now going to the us now do I see myself really being in front of a computer 24 hours? It's, so I started having a, a change of heart during that summer and I was starting university going to the US in September, and this was probably July and August I finished high school. That's all that stuff. And then one week I, you know, I started thinking very, very strongly about changing how I would redirect my, my career, my studies.


Fernando Vives:

And then I finally said, you know what, I always had a thing about hotels, which is true. I mean, every time we were travelling to cities with my, with my family, before going to museums or restaurants, I worked visiting hotels and looking at, you know, the, the, the brochures of the destinations. There was no internet there. And then I said, Listen, if I live in Spain, tourism is the first industry of the country. So I know that I may make a, a mistake, but for sure I will never die of hunger if I dedicate to hospitality. So I decided to, to change.


Fernando Vives:

And then instead of studying computer science, I studied hospitality. So I went to hotel school in Madrid. I studied, at that point it was called tourism. So I went through the entire course and then I finally did a Master degree in hotel management as well. In Madrid.


Michael McCartan:

Yeah, amazing. Yeah. And I was gonna, I was gonna sort of draw the, the parallels with your career in revenue management. So that sort of brought the computer science and the, and the hospitality together in a very elegant way. I suppose.


Fernando Vives:

We have a same Spain that says the cows, they go all, they always face to the mountains, you know, which basically means that in the end, I mean I wanted to become a hotelier. I became a hotelier. But then I had this background and this passion about computers, the internet, I remember I had my first mode, I think it was like 1,440 bites. It was like with all these noises. And then you had to connect because there was no service in Spain. So in the end I think that I always found a way to be connected to technology, to science, and then applying that to my passion, which is as well hospitality and hotels.


Michael McCartan:

No, amazing. Good stuff. Well, let's take a look at your first photograph. It's of your wife and, and you selfie taken on a building with, I think it's the Empire State Building in the background. Is that right?


Fernando Vives:

Very close. Very close. This is, this is a picture of taking, actually one month ago. It's, I wanted to choose pictures from 2022 cause there is, there is life before Covid and life after Covid. And it's through that after Covid, I don't know about you, but I had this need to travel as much as we could for, as a family with my wife. And then of course professionally in my career at an age where I'm mostly dedicated every single week I'm somewhere in the world. And so I took this picture in May, it's at the Summit Center, which is at 101 Vanil Building.


Fernando Vives:

This is one of the new observator that there is in New York. That opened, I think, Yes. Before the pandemic or during, or yes, after the pandemic So. It was one of the observator that we hadn't been in New York. New York is a city that we normally, before the pandemic we visited between two to three times a year. My wife and myself. And then many other times if I had to be there professionally. So New York is a city that has always inspires, I think the, the vibe, the level of creativity that this city has. It's, it's incredible. And I was quite sad to see how the city was, yeah, when we just visited the month of May.


Fernando Vives:

So we've seen a city that has changed a little bit, not a lot. And many people will say, Oh, New York is completely different. Well I think New York is, is and we always be New York, but you can tell how the city has suffered on all these people living, I just read that it's over close to 400,000 people that left Manhattan during the pandemic. And then of course you are missing around 2 million commuters on a daily basis. So this has had an impact in the, in the island that it's, that has affected everything. Restaurants, let's 200


Michael McCartan:

People, permanent residents that have left.


Fernando Vives:

Wow. Yeah, yeah. This is what I read. And it's so, but you know, it's still the city's vibrant. It will, it is New York, it will always be New York and I'm sure that the city will recover extremely fast and you can still see new places come in and then all these new concepts and restaurants and say, Wow, how this guy had the idea and the guts to, to open this concept So. It, it's, it's always very inspiring. So this is a destination that we often go last but not list, We just opened our hotel last year in age collection Medicine Avenue in May, 2021. So we were in the midst of the, of the pandemic.


Fernando Vives:

So it's a very, you know, a very rough time to open a hotel in Manhattan with over 300 keys. And, and it was another excuse to to travel to, to New York to see our hotel, which is incredible. Great location, 38 and Madison. And we truly enjoyed a fantastic weekend with great weather and, and of course in our hotel and looking at all these different places that we have on the list, you know, like checking, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.


Michael McCartan:

Amazing. You know, it's interesting you say about that, about cities sort of losing their, their sparkle a little bit. I live in London and I can definitely sense that as well and I wonder how long it's going to take before cities like New York, London, Tokyo would ever recover and be, you know, become these destinations again.


Fernando Vives:

I think there is the opposite example on some other destinations. If, if I look at my hometown Madrid, it's incredible how the city has been able to transform itself and grow during the pandemic. And I think the, the openness that we have had during the pandemic, which basically means that after three months of lockdown we have been able to leave the city and go outside. Restaurants have always been opened with less capacity, more capacity than we had this policy of being able to for all those restaurants to open terraces and, and the economy has been moving very fast in Madrid. So you really see actually the opposite cities that were fantastic that has gone through the next level to the next level probably thanks to the pandemic or to the different measures that some smart politicians have have made at during the pandemic.


Michael McCartan:

Yeah, makes sense. So talking of another, another city, I think your second photograph is of your children, but this time in in London. Please tell us about this one.


Fernando Vives:

Well that's a great city Michael. So I've been there like four times since the pandemic and I do not see losing the spark, but it's true that you were missing, some people were missing and now we are seeing the business unfortunately not recovering cause we have two hotels in London and we have suffered a lot, but now we see that again, occupancies are very high the are coming. But it's through that London, we love the city and, and again as New York of course a little bit closer to Madrid, we've been there like four or five times per year, always on personal trips. But we never took the kids to London. And, and this was one of the missing things that we wanted to do during the pandemic through of my kids.


Fernando Vives:

When we started with Covid, my oldest daughter was four, my youngest kid was two, so now they were six and four. So we had a chance to do a family trip together at the beginning of the year. So we took a few days of holidays during the Easter time and we spent Easter in London and it was absolutely fantastic. They behaved very well in the plane, you know, after two years without travelling and not being in the plane. So they were again surprised to fly and look, see the, the clouds and and you know, on plane, in the plane and then of course in London getting to the tube and doing all the different attractions that you can do in, that you can do in London.


Fernando Vives:

And, and one of the greatest things, and that's why I chose the picture because we did everything you can do in London for four days. And when we asked them, Okay, what has been your favourite picture and your favourite attraction in London? They said, Oh for sure visiting the statue of Peterman because of course we read all these stories just before going to bed and they've read everything about Peter Pan, they've watched all the movies, all the TV shows about Peter Pan and then they failed that Peter Pan was actually real when we were at Hyde Park and taking this picture and of course enjoying Hyde Park and the, and the Peter Pan statue. It was fantastic and we were very lucky.


Fernando Vives:

We always bring the san from Spain us when we travel.


Michael McCartan:

You should come more often. Well, I mean, I mean they must be very fortunate. You sort of been in hotel has, you know, with, you know, the NH collection and, and with with minor hotels around the world. I mean they're in a, an enviable position to to to really at some point go and visit lots and lots of exciting places. I think as a child that must be, you know, a great opportunity and and something that you must enjoy sharing with them.


Fernando Vives:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and you know, it, it is through that at one point you try to bring souvenirs and from all these different trips that you do, but when you travel on a weekly basis, if you get them used to different souvenirs or presents, then you are, you will face a nightmare. Cuz then you are at the airport. I mean, you are travelling for business, so it's not like you have the time to shop for Xotels souvenirs or presents. So you get at the airport and then you have this pressure not missing the plane and the same time getting something for the kids. So I stopped at the beginning of the year, so guys, I started travelling September back from Covid, September, 2021.


Fernando Vives:

So I was bringing presents and souvenirs, but then since January said, listen, this is over. So do not expect anything from these trips. But you always share these stories with them. I FaceTime with them if I can before taking off or yes, when I land from the plane. So you try to share all these experience with the kids and I connect them to the world of travel, which is, which is fantastic. Awesome.


Michael McCartan:

Yeah. Good. And talking of souvenirs, this is a, your souvenir is, is related to your business. It's, it's a hard hat with the NH logo on it. Tell me why you've chosen that.


Fernando Vives:

Well it's, this is coming from a trip to Amsterdam when I first joined NH Hotel Group in 2014. So we were transforming the Organization, we were transforming the company like 180 degrees. And one of the things that we did is we created a new brand before when I guess joined in 2014, we only had two brands, which was NH Hotels, actually was in Spanish NH Hotels. And now then we were running Hesperia Hotels as well, Hotels and resorts, which now is no longer part of the portfolio. But then we had this project to transform the company and, and we created another brand, which was NH Collection.


Fernando Vives:

And our flagship, our flagship NH collection was gonna be the NH collection, Grand Hotel CREs Nepal Scheme in Amsterdam. So when you look at the presence that NH has in such a wonderful city as Amsterdam with over 13 hotels, we are the first operator in Amsterdam with all these different brands. And having the kresky at the dam square going through a huge reform, it was, it was very encouraging and it, so we went, we visiting the works and then after visiting the works, looking at the mock up room via new lobby, the new venues looking at this Winter garden, which is unique for over 400 people in the middle, Precent Amsterdam at D Square.


Fernando Vives:

They just gave me this as a souvenir. And then people were saying, Hey, what I gonna do with this? I said, Oh, I know I'm gonna keep it. I know I'm gonna keep it and I'm gonna have it on a very important space in my house and I keep it. Now the beauty or the beauty is that thanks to Minor, when they acquired NH group in 2000, at the end of 2018, they are bringing new brands to NH and we are bringing our brands to the markets in Asia Pacific and the Middle East or Africa. And now we have transformed and we have rebranded the Crespo to an so this, so this head say it's no longer valid, it's for my memories as an NH collection. But now this hotel went through another reform movement, huge investment, and now has been rebranded to an Hotel Alki, which is our luxury brand.


Michael McCartan:

Yeah, yeah. And I it it it's part of your journey. It's part of that story and, and, and a story of the hotel as well, which is, which is fascinating. So as a hotelier you would've experienced many strange and unusual things happening, particularly on property. So before we wrap up, because we rapidly getting to the end of the, the conversation, please tell us, tell me about your Fawlty Towers moment as we call it.


Fernando Vives:

Oh my God. I mean I would have a few of those and I have to say that most of them, they are, when I was working at property, so it's true that I've been working since, I think it's 2004, 2005 headquarters in different companies and organisations. But it, but my first years I started at the hotel re in Madrid and then I moved to the hotel Hesperia Madrid, which was the first contemporary five star hotel in Madrid. While we had, we had an amazing experience, pretty bad, pretty bad experience I actually have to say where we were, almost big team of a huge fraud So. It was a family, it was a guy that was coming from London, sorry Michael, that was coming from London.


Fernando Vives:

And he booked basically the entire ninth floor, which had all the PR, the presidential suites, both of them, the two executive suites and then some superior standard rooms because there was a family, one of the royal families from Saudi Arabia coming to, coming to Madrid. And they wanted to basically take over one floor and do many things. We had all the details. They were flying on a private gear to Madrid, which was real because we checked and everything was confirmed with the private gear cetera. And then one of the things that they were saying is, is that we had to invest in the PR suite. We had to do some changes because when they would come to the hotel, they would need something special.


Fernando Vives:

I think it was in the terrace like Sam Furniture and some other staff avoid having the sand facing it. And, and then one of the requirements was that we had to buy for the father of the family, we had to buy Vuitton back and we had to add 100,000 units into the back because he would need pocket money for his personal, for his personal buying. And there was a point, now it sounds like, okay, we are crazy on how, how would you do it? And actually, of course we didn't do it, but we almost did it. We almost did it cuz everything was so real. And this guy was coming in one hour and he was gonna spend so much money in the hotel and of course spraying everything with American Express Sentium.


Fernando Vives:

So everything was in theory backed up. And we were already, actually, we got the money and it was on our safety box at the, I mean the main safety box at the hotel. But of course we always said, okay, we bought the purses by the way, and we PR I went with the guy personally because I was in charge of service management. And, and then hopefully we were smart enough in the last moment to read that something was, was wrong and that we were being victim of fraud. And, and we finally didn't do it. But it was two days of first great motivation being able to have such spend happening at the hotel. So you, I mean you were looking forward to having this revenues coming to the hotel with this abr and then of course then you had the hassle saying, Okay, should we do it or should wet.


Fernando Vives:

And everything was perfect. I mean the flight was confirmed, we talked to the airport, the flight was coming, but it was everything fake, So, it, whole thing. The whole trip was a hook, whole thing was front. So from one moment to the other, we stopped listening to this guy. He didn't come to the hotel, the one who was organising the trip, he took the Louis to purse. It was mad after looking at the, at the expense and the, the 100,000 that we would have lost. It was nothing So. It was a horrible experience, I have to say. But big lesson because big


Michael McCartan:

Indeed, indeed. Wow. Well it's, it's almost, I mean, in hindsight you look back and you can, you can laugh at these moments, but I'm sure at the time it was, you know, terrifying. Horrible. Yeah. But well, Fernando, we, we, we've come to our very short, short conversation together, but it's been absolutely brilliant, absolutely fascinating. And just wanna thank you one last time for being on Photographs and Memories.


Fernando Vives:

Thank you for having me. Next time we see each other in Madrid.


Michael McCartan:

Absolutely. That's the deal.

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