| HUSA group
History of Spain's leading family hotel chain, part 2
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Article added on November 1, 2003
Juan Gaspart Bonet met his wife, Pepita Solves, in a hotel of the HUSA chain in 1940 when his father, José Gaspart Bulbena, asked him to step in for the manager of the Hotel Reina Victoria, who had fallen ill. Juan and Pepita married in 1942. Their son, Joan Gaspart Solves (*1944), is the present president of the HUSA group.
The large investments that HUSA had to make in order to undertake the reconditioning of its hotels brought about a depletion of the company's capital and new partners had to be admitted. Before, during and after the Spanish Civil War, part of the payroll was paid in company shares.
Besides El Cortijo, HUSA opened a second night club, La Bodega de Calderón, in Barcelona. Since Europe was at war, it was easier to sign up international stars who performed in the group's nightclubs.
In 1952, the HUSA group opened its first Grand Hotel, the Avenida Palace in Barcelona, in association with the Gimferrer family. According to Joan Gaspart Solves, it was the best hotel in the city at that time. The following year, George Francis Train, Chief of the Mission for the Mutual Assistance Treaty between the United States and Spain, lodged at the Avenida Palace. In other words, with a certain delay, the Marshall Plan made its appearance in the hotel.
On August 17, 1961 José Gaspart Bulbena died at the age of 76. The HUSA group continued to flourish under the leadership of his son. In 1968, his grandson, Joan Gaspart Solves, married Marita Bueno, taking up residence at the Hotel Oriente.
Joan Gaspart Solves decided to establish a presence in Madrid. HUSA was very strong in Catalonia and was present on the Costa del Sol and on the Levante coast, but it did not own a hotel in Spain's capital. In 1970, HUSA bought Hotel Serrano in the heart of the Salamanca quarter, Madrid's most commercial area. Later, the group also bought or managed other hotels in the capital: HUSA Princesa, Chamartín (besides the railway station), Miguel Ángel, Emperador, Velázquez and Menfis, which was sold in 1986.
In 1972, the HUSA group set up the first national booking center, installed in Hotel Oriente. Besides the hotel business, the group is also active in complementary business activities such as restaurants and places of entertainment, but almost exclusively in the Barcelona area. Among the first important restaurants were Mi Burrito y Yo in the historical center, La Oca at Plaza Francesc Macià and La Atalaya on Avenida Diagonal.
Around 1975, HUSA began a large-scale expansion throughout Spain, adding some fifteen new hotels to the group in a short period of time. A company as dynamic as HUSA had also to face crises such as the financial one in 1976 and 1977. Serenity was required and giving up was excluded.
In 1978 HUSA came to operate the discotheques Zacarías and Charly May in Barcelona and, little by little, as many as ten discotheques in the rest of Spain. That same year was marked by the inauguration of the Princesa Sofía, the first five-star hotel situated in the upper part of Avenida Diagonal.
Hotels on the Canary Islands were bought or built in Las Palmas in 1978, later in Lanzarote and Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife. As a result of the big tourist boom that began to take place in the mid-1980s, HUSA decided to leave the islands since the group could not compete with the low prices entailed by mass tourism.
In July 1978, Joan Gaspart Solves became part of the Board of Directors of F.C. Barcelona. He served as Vice-President until July 2000. Subsequently, until early 2003, he became president for two and a half sportingly and financially unsuccessful years. By the way, F.C. Barcelona was founded on November 29, 1899 by Hans Gamper (1877-1930), a Swiss born in the city of Winterthur (just as the writer of these lines).
The Menta group brings together all of HUSA's activities in the restaurant sector. It is named after the restaurant A la Menta, a classic in the upper part of the city of Barcelona. In 1986, the group acquired Prats Fatjó. Founded in 1917, it is one of the most prestigious companies in the restaurant field in Spain, specialized in catering. Prats Fatjó served the European royalty at the Barcelona wedding of Infanta Cristina.
In the 1980s, HUSA bought the Hotel Ritz in Barcelona. For Joan Gaspart Solves, who was the first Spaniard to be elected President of the prestigious International Hotel Association (IHA) at the end of the 1980s, it was the achievement of a life's dream when he took over the management of the Ritz in 1987. It was considered the best urban hotel in Spain in 1999.
In 1989, with Josep Gaspart Bueno (*1972) and other family members, the fourth generation of the Gasparts became involved in the hotel business. After training at the World Trade Centre in Brussels, Josep worked as a waiter during the summers and at the weekends, before his father sent him to work at the reception at Hotel Real in Santander, another magnificent Grand Hotel bought in 1987, and Hotel Son Vida in Majorca, both members of the Leading Hotels of the World.
In 1990, the offices of the HUSA Group were transferred to Torre Rodona, one of the few ancient farmhouses still preserved in Barcelona. It was originally a round fortified tower defending a farmhouse, built in 985. It underwent various reconstructions, mainly in the 14th and 15th centuries and still conserves its Gothic structure from this period. Today's appearance of Torre Rodona was further shaped in reconstructions between 1610 and 1849.
In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympics. At the recently inaugurated Hotel Juan Carlos I, HUSA received presidents, chiefs of state and kings. In this year, several other hotels of the group opened.
After the euphoria of the Summer Olympics, the HUSA business in Barcelona was hit hard by the cooling of the world economy. Hotel prices plunged and so did the profits of the group. HUSA disinvested in order to stabilize its income statement. But the greatest setback during this period was the death of Paco Martínez, HUSA's Expansion Director, in 1995.
In 1996, HUSA Service was organized, bringing together 100 hotels under the franchise system both in Spain and the rest of Europe. The aim was to transfer the group's experience to individual operators who lack sufficient resources and structure to carry out effective commercial management.
In 1997, HUSA Unique was created. It is a brand with some ten hotels in buildings of historical character. The most famous hotels of the brand are Hotel Santo Domingo in Lucena (Córdoba), which occupies an ancient convent-house of the Order of St. Francis of Paola, and the Hostelry of the Little Church of El Cid, an 18th century building in Teruel.
In 2003, HUSA Group operates over 150 hotels with over 12,000 rooms in Spain and, therefore, is the country's leading 100% family-owned hotel chain. Besides HUSA Hoteles, the group also includes Prats-Fatjó and Menta, two brands devoted to the restaurant business.
History of the HUSA group, part 1.
Masía Torre Rodona, the 17th century head quarter building of the HUSA group.
Photo copyright: HUSA group.
The present president of the HUSA group: Mr. Joan Gaspart Solves.
Photo copyright: HUSA group.
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This article is based on 1930-2000. GRUPO HUSA 70 años. Una empresa, cuatro generaciones, muchas vidas/One company, four generations, many lives. By Josep Gaspart Bueno for Grupo HUSA Barcelona, December 30, 2000.
About the Hotel Oriente check the book by the retired hotel manager, the late Francisco Martínez Díaz: Hotel Oriente, Historia Viva, Editorial Labor, 1992.