Do Not Disturb by Michael Matthews
An 'Amazing' Hotel Experience in Barcelona
June 25, 2015 -- When I looked for an advertising agency to handle our hotel company's account a number of years ago, only one of the many competing pitches stood out. One clever agency had taken a number of hotel ads and cut out the names. Then they asked me to name the hotels.

The point was well-made: The existing hotel campaigns looked much the same. Without the brand names and logos, you couldn't tell what advertisement was pitching which hotel.

The agency in question used the show-and-couldn't-tell game to make their own pitch: If I gave them our business, they would do something entirely different than our competitors.

I gave that agency--the creative team eventually ended up with Leo Burnett--our business. And they were as good as their word. They served up startlingly original ads with headlines like, How to avoid the red lights of Bangkok. (The point being that our hotel was in the heart of Bangkok and you wouldn't get stuck in the Thai capital's notoriously awful traffic.) Another was headed, The best grass in Kuala Lumpur. (Our hotel in the Malaysian capital had a pool area surrounded by grass, not concrete.)

Sadly, our ads didn't break the lodging mold. Hotel advertising today is still pretty much a cut-and-paste, same-old-story operation. Worse, hotels themselves are bland and boring now. If I were to blindfold you and lead you into a Hampton Inn, a Hilton Garden Inn, a Four Points or a Hyatt Place, could you tell one from another? And stupid advertising continues, including one I saw recently that urged you to Make an amazing experience the next item on your agenda.

That ridiculous headline was for Marriott Rewards. When was the last time you had an "amazing experience" at a Marriott? For that matter, when was the last time you had an amazing experience at any hotel? I've stayed at the full gamut of hotels, from super-deluxe to side-of-the-road Motel 6, but not one stay sticks out in my mind as being "amazing."

Which leads me to a recent visit to Barcelona that may actually fit into the category of "amazing" hotel stay.

Needing a four-day stay in the Catalonian capital, I did a little research and found a 30-room boutique overlooking the new yacht harbor and Mediterranean Sea. Located in the city's Gothic quarter, the small hotel is just steps from La Rambla, Barcelona's tree-lined pedestrian mall. It looked perfect, so I booked it online.

Just before my wife and yours truly left home, we had a call from the hotel.

"Mr. Matthews," the female voice said, "we look forward to welcoming you on Saturday and wondered if there is anything special we can arrange for you?"

Very nice touch, I thought.

On arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by the lady who had called us. She knew our name and was to prove the most helpful concierge/front desk employee of any hotel I've visited or managed. Nothing was too much trouble for her: sightseeing tickets, dinner reservations, even recommendations for the best local pharmacy.

She was always beautifully turned out in an immaculate uniform and she was always smiling. Now for the surprise. Rebecca is only 21 and originally from Romania. Her cohort, Carolina, is from Uruguay and was as young and helpful. I predict both of these young women will be general managers one day. In the meantime, they are working and learning from the hotel's Italian general manager who certainly seems to know what he's doing.

The hotel was perfect in every way. Our 400-square-foot room overlooked the Mediterranean and was outfitted with every possible accouterment. The bathroom was superb with a spacious shower and excellent, unscented toiletries. (My wife had a small complaint: the shower cap was too small, the only hiccup in an otherwise perfect stay.) Everything in the room functioned perfectly: thermostat, lighting, soundproofing, high-definition television and the free WiFi.

Food and beverage options at the hotel include a rooftop bar with a small swimming pool. It serves light snacks and drinks all day. There is a lovely street-facing courtyard where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. A mezzanine bar, called Le Nine, overlooks the lobby and the hotel restaurant called Informal. As it happens, Informal is a hot spot in Barcelona right now, not surprising given its fine food and excellent service. Hotel guests get seating preference.

The hotel is located where Picasso had his first studio at the age of 15. (You can stroll to his museum from the hotel.) And it has been designed by a team that may have visited every five-star hotel in the world and incorporated the best of what they found into this marvelous place.

The hotel is The Serras. Never heard of it? No worries. It only opened in January.

But The Serras is getting a reputation in a hurry. It's garnering media raves. It's also wowed the reviewers on TripAdvisor. It is already Barcelona's top-rated hotel, surpassing the well-respected Mandarin Oriental, the Ritz-Carlton-affiliated Hotel Arts and the city's well-loved roster of stylish independents. Of the 124 TripAdvisor reviews as of Wednesday (June 24), all but two were raves.

If you are going to Barcelona this summer, I think you'll be amazed by The Serras, too. And if you stay there, please be sure to give Rebecca a hug from Mr. and Mrs. Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2015 by Michael Matthews. is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Michael Matthews. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.