Without the Matutes family’s investment and continued sway over island institutions, it is safe to say that Ibiza would not be what it is today. At the head of the clan, Abel Matutes’ successful political career and entrepreneurial flair has steered his family to build up a leisure-orientated empire in Ibiza and worldwide. TSO visits Ibiza Town to speak to the man himself about Ibiza’s economy, Spain’s evolving policies on yachts and his love of the sea, particularly for his 45m Abeking & Rasmussen S/Y Aiglon.
In reference to their political dynasty and significant influence over the region, national newspaper El Mundo once described the Matutes family as being to Ibiza what the Kennedys are to Boston. Being born into a family of Ibicenco businessmen – his grandfather founded the main shipping company in the Balearics more than 100 years ago – Abel Matutes was studying economics and law at university where he became a professional footballer.
By the time his studies were over, Ibiza was growing fast and his mother felt that the family’s bank and shipping companies needed an injection of new blood. Matutes returned to Ibiza and founded Hotel Group Fiesta hotels in 1969, starting the first hotel venture in his family.
The scale of growth in this investment sector was slowed down for the 20 years that Matutes followed a career in politics; he became the Mayor of Ibiza in 1970, which led him on to a series of influential posts within the European Union and he eventually took on the role as Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1996. In 2000, everything changed when Matutes suffered a heart attack. His family urged him to step away from his political career and that is when the Matutes hotel dynasty really began to grow.
“That is what I really am – an entrepreneur,” Matutes says. As well as owning Port Denia, the refit yard and marina complex in Denia, Spain, his main focus, with the help of his children, has been building up the Palladium Hotel Group, which now incorporates eight different brands, including the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza and their latest project, one of Ibiza’s hottest new venues, the Ushuaïa Hotel Ibiza, the brainchild of his son, also named Abel. “I used to be Abel Matutes, now I am the father of Abel Matutes,” he jokes.
Given his political background, combined with his investment in the hotel sector, Matutes certainly understands the importance of tourism to a region’s economy. Recalling that the tourism industry in Ibiza really started in earnest in the early ‘70s, Matutes has watched it explode to now account for around 90 per cent of the island’s economy.
“With globalisation every economy must be specialised and only the ones that excel are going to survive,” he says, explaining the key to his family’s success in capitalising on Ibiza’s growing popularity. “If you are not the best then you risk being a spectator.”
Matutes’ love of the island is not just self-serving, however, as he truly believes that it is one of the best destinations on earth, as evidenced by his use of his 45m sailing yacht, Aiglon. “I made at least 100 tours of the world during my time as commissioner and chairman for European External Relations and I have never found any place in the world where you can enjoy so much from a boat as Ibiza,” he claims. “I have never found a place with so many calas [coves] and beaches. You are always within a maximum of five nautical miles of being calm and protected.”
It makes sense then, that Matutes and his family have Aiglon to help them enjoy all the island has to offer. “Since I was three years old I would spend all day fishing and sailing, from eight in the morning until eight in the evening,” he reminisces. “When my career took off I had less free time but more income, so I bought Aiglon to spend time with my family. I cannot conceive a life without being close to the sea and having a way to sail.”
Due to the Balearics’ changing policies on charter yachts, Ibiza has seen a real growth in visiting superyachts in recent years, which has been another important addition to the local economy. “It is a fantastic complement to the tourism industry here because the spending capacity of a yacht owner is much bigger than the usual client of five-star hotels,” admits Matutes. But he insists that there is still much more for the government to do to grow the yachting industry there.
“While every sector of tourism is sensitive to the internal economic and social situation of a country, yacht tourism is the most free because the yachts can go wherever they are well treated at the drop of a hat,” he explains. “The local authorities must take into account their contribution to the progress of a country and earnings of the people. The latest reforms have been pointing in the right direction, but the Spanish laws still do not provide the ease for yacht owners who want to make a charter compared to the legislation of some of our neighbours.”