BARCELONA, Spain -- It should come as no surprise that yet another
avant-garde "lifestyle" hotel has opened in cosmopolitan,
style-conscious Barcelona, Spain's chic capital of architecture,
couture and design.
But the new Hotel Axel here put a unique spin on the term when
it opened this July as the city's first higher-end property
specifically targeted to gays and lesbians -- an
"alternative-lifestyle" hotel, if you will, that also cheekily
markets itself as "hetero-friendly."
Even more cheekily, the upstart Hotel Axel is taking on the
competition in the higher-end and boutique -- and lower-end but
gay-friendly -- hotel segments by courting travel agents with 20%
commission on bookings at least through Dec. 31.
Juan Julia Blanch, owner and general manager of the $12 million
designer property, said that as a result, his 66-room hotel is
siphoning guests, both gay and straight, from exclusive hotels,
such as the Hotel Arts, as well as from budget properties like the
Hotel California that are popular with gay travelers.
"Since opening, our clients have been 85% gay and 15% straight, and
we even have had families with children staying here," he said.
"This is a hotel where you'll find gay people, and if you're
comfortable with that, you're welcome," Blanch added, noting that
the point of opening a gay hotel is not to exclude heterosexuals
but to provide a safe and accepting environment for gays and
"I would love it if this type of hotel weren't necessary, but
other properties can claim they're 'gay-friendly,' yet their staff
still may not be comfortable with gay clients," he said.
The generally youthful staff at the Hotel Axel, which is
centrally located in the trendy Eixample district, is a mix of male
and female, Spanish and foreign, gay and straight. And on a recent
visit, clientele appeared to be a similar hodgepodge, although
younger gay men predominated.
According to Blanch, the hotel is experiencing about 50%
occupancy, which he expects to rise to 65% by year's end. U.S.
travelers make up about 30% of guests. Those figures exceed initial
expectations, he said, given that he hasn't marketed to mass-market
tour operators or retailers in the U.S., relying mainly on
word-of-mouth and advertisements in gay publications.
"People are booking because a friend stayed here," he said.
"I've even had people pop in to take a look, and then go back and
check out of another hotel to stay here."
And why wouldn't they? On a recent one-night stay, I found the
Axel a jewel of a hotel, if still a bit of a diamond in the
All the promised avant-garde touches were there, including
high-end furniture; luxurious bedding on king-size beds;
hydro-massage baths; mosaic tile flooring; and custom in-room art
Wait and reception staff were polished and friendly, and the
restaurant served excellent nouvelle cuisine fare at almost
Although my junior suite was a bit small, the private,
stained-glass terrace made up somewhat for the lack of space.
Best of all, if feeling cramped, I could race up to the roof
deck to swim in the pool or relax in the Jacuzzi.
But I was disappointed to find the gymnasium and spa complex
still under construction.
Although Blanch said the facilities will open by Nov. 1, agents
should be aware the Axel was still very much in the final stages of
construction as of mid-September.
Hallways were being painted, and the guest elevator was on the
fritz, forcing me to reach my sixth-floor suite by service
Still, these were minor inconveniences far overshadowed by the
hip, friendly ambience of the Hotel Axel.
To book or for more information, call (011) 34-93 414-2816,
e-mail [email protected] or visit www.hotelaxel.com.
Room key: Hotel Axel
Address: Aribau 33, 08011 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: (011) 34-93 323-9393
Fax: (011) 34-93 323-9394
General Manager/Owner: Juan Julia Blanch
Rates: $140, single; $190 to $210, double; $245,
junior suite; $345 for Suite Axel.
Commission: 20% until end of 2003, negotiable
Opened: July 2003
Facilities: Restaurant/bar, gym, sauna, library,
boutique, rooftop pool and whirlpool, meetings/conference room,
business center with Internet.
Amenities: Air conditioning; soundproofing;
hydro-massage bath, robes and slippers (in suites); flat-screen TV
with on-demand video; high-speed Internet ports; desk with PC and
printer (in Axel Suite); non-smoking rooms; safe; room service;
free, unlimited bottled water.
Review: Set in a renovated, 19th century apartment
house in the heart of the Eixample district -- popular with gay
residents and visitors, and a short walk from many major Barcelona
sights -- the "hetero-friendly" Axel caters to gay and lesbian
travelers' needs while welcoming all. Stylish rooms are small, but
some feature terraces. Staff are friendly, competent and proficient
in English. On-site restaurant offers excellent fare at reasonable
prices. However, in September 2003, final construction was ongoing,
gym was not ready, and some glitches (eg., faulty in-room air
conditioning and elevator) still needed ironing out.
To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].