On first glance, you might not assume that Only YOU Atocha and Only YOU Boutique are of the same family. The former has a cool, modern vibe with a barber shop and a bakery in its lobby and exposed-brick in its bedrooms, and the latter a more classic kind of luxury with plush lounges set inside a historic mansion.
There is one consistent factor, though: the service. “We are only a four-star hotel, but we offer five-star services,” explains International Sales Director, Julio Portillo, over a breakfast of cooked-to-order dim sum and fresh green juice served in lightbulb-shaped glasses. “We really try to surprise guests, and so far that’s worked out really well.”
Lobby at Only YOU Hotel, Atocha
We’re in the rooftop restaurant of the Only YOU Atocha, the second hotel to open under the Only YOU brand, where there’s an impressively diverse breakfast spread (honey pollen yoghurt pots, anyone?) in the mornings and a pop-up restaurant by night (most recently, it was the much talked about Barcelona-born Spoonik duo with their Colombian-Mexican fusion food and theatrical serving style).
Standing out from the crowd
It all began in 2013 with Only YOU Boutique. After the European financial crisis loosened its grip on growth, a slew of new hotels opened up in the Spanish capital, including Only YOU. When I ask Portillo what set Only YOU Boutique apart from all the other hotels opening in the city at the time, he nodded to the design.
Barcelona-based interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán transformed the 19th-century mansion into the elegant, striking boutique hotel it is today, in which each room takes on an entirely different feeling, from the lush lounge with its cosy fireplace, to the fabulous atrium which, on a sunny day, is almost impossible to leave.
The design is what helped us be a point of interest in the beginning - Julio Portillo, Only YOU Hotels
“The design is what helped us be a point of interest in the beginning,” he says. “But the service is what made us stay at the top of the wave.” With top ratings from travellers online, it’s clear the all-day à la carte breakfasts, guaranteed early check-in and the new Thai spa are a hit with guests.
The brand’s second property, Only YOU Atocha, is equally well-designed, but in an entirely different way. Being next to a train station offered new challenges – “train station hotels are rarely associated with something cool” says Portillo – but they embraced it and the new clientele it could bring.
“We wanted to make it a very dynamic space. We didn’t want it to feel like you’re in a hotel, but rather like you’re in a really cool, hip place where you can have a drink or stay for a coffee. We wanted to be a point of reference for the locals and that’s worked out really, really well for us.”
But how do they keep consistency across the brands when the two hotels have such different atmospheres? “The team,” answers Portillo almost immediately. “We had a long selection process. The HR team select people based on personality rather than their CV. It’s about the vibes and whether they’re going to fit into the team. You go down to the office and it’s all about the teamwork, that’s how we give the consistency across the brands.”
Patisserie Only YOU Hotel
Portillo exudes confidence on behalf of Only YOU, which you’d expect from a sales director, but I wanted to find out if this boldness was well-founded, and what kind of market there is out there for what they’re offering.
Catering to a new breed of traveller
According to the Head of Digital for Up Hotel Marketing Agency in the UK, Richard Plant, there is a new breed of traveller, who is looking for a unique experience above all else, with hotels like Only YOU catering to this need.
“They grew up in the generation where cheap air travel became the norm and they are more at ease with finding their own path on a vacation. This generation are prepared to pay more and take a risk in the search of something unique,” he says.
This generation are prepared to pay more and take a risk in the search of something unique - Richard Plant, Up Hotel Marketing Agency
“Also, business travel has changed and many industries realise that the big chain hotels are an antithesis to the creativity and productivity that they require, so are looking for creative places for their staff to stay.
“Places like Only YOU were once a niche in the industry, but for many travellers and business bookers they are becoming a staple in reinvigorating the pleasure and creativity of travel,” he adds.
Only YOU has big plans in store for the future: not only is it looking at Spanish cities like Valencia, Malaga and Seville (Barcelona is over-exploited, Portillo tells me) but also London, New York and Miami.
For the next properties, “the design will be a key factor,” he says, as well as “the team, service and then the food and beverage offering”.
“Those are the iconic things for us in order to keep the quality and the soul of the Only YOU brand,” Portillo adds confidently.
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Lottie's diary: my guest experience at Only YOU Atocha, Madrid
Arriving at Only YOU Atocha, it's not entirely clear I've walked into a hotel on first glance. It's 1am so the barber shop and bakery are closed for the night, but the last few stragglers – locals, I gather on hearing their accents – from a Friday night out are lingering at the bar, saying slow goodbyes over their final drinks.
It's a striking lobby, not least because it hardly feels like a hotel. The flooring is bold, black and white tiles and there's a central seating area that looks plush enough to lounge for a few hours with coffee and good book.
Tucked away in the corner, I find the check-in desk and am greeted by two members of staff who are alarmingly cheerful for this late hour. Do I want a glass of cava while they check me in, or would I prefer water? I opt for the latter, but appreciate the option for bubbles – it's these little luxury touches that come to define my stay.
My room (a junior suite) is that New York loft style interior, all exposed brick and upcycled furniture, but has elements of luxury that make it feel a little cosier. A tartan throw is neatly folded across the bed and the mirror has that Hollywood dressing-room lighting all around it.
I head to the bathroom, clock the Rituals toiletries and rain shower, and put on the bespoke zebra-print gown. My main takeaway from my stay with Only YOU? Simple little touches make all the difference to guest experience.