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Newsmaker: Fernando Poma, CEO of Grupo Poma
Seis Continentes / Fall 2000

By Larry Luxner

Fernando Poma has studied in the United States and worked in hotels across Europe. Now, for the first time, the 29-year-old executive will return to his native El Salvador to help build the family business.

On Aug. 6, Poma assumed his new job as managing director of Grupo Real, the hotel division of Grupo Poma. This came just three weeks after the inauguration of Grupo Poma's eighth hotel, the Inter-Continental Metrocentro Managua.

Seis Continentes caught up with Poma during his short visit to Nicaragua, where his father, CEO Ricardo Poma, presided over inauguration festivities alongside President Arnoldo Aleman, various Nicaraguan officials and 1,500 other invited guests.

The eight-story, 157-room hotel -- located seven kilometers from Managua International Airport -- represents a $20 million investment. Grupo Poma owns 68% of the new property, with the remaining 32% owned by Nicaraguan businessmen Leonardo Somarriba and René Morales.

"This property is definitely the most upscale hotel in Nicaragua, and this whole development is very new and promising for the region," the younger Poma told us during a lengthy interview. "We own between 60% and 100% of our hotels, depending on the specific property. We try to form strategic partnerships with companies or groups that can bring some sort of strategic value to the venture."

Asked if opening such an upscale property in Nicaragua -- the poorest nation in Latin America -- was a risky venture, he replied that "there's always a risk in this region, but we don't feel it's such a high risk to build a luxury hotel here."

Of the Inter-Continental Metrocentro Managua's 157 rooms, 20 are business rooms, six are junior suites and one is a presidential suite. The hotel's eighth floor is an executive floor, with 17 rooms each boasting their own fax machine, printer, computer and Internet hookup. Corporate rates vary from $130 to $155 per night.

The company's first hotel venture was the Hotel Camino Real Inter-Continental San José, which has 260 rooms and is 85% owned by Grupo Poma.

At present, Grupo Poma owns eight hotels. Besides the Managua and San José properties, it owns Camino Real Inter-Continentals in San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Miami, as well as the Mesón del Angel in Puebla, Mexico, and the newly opened Comfort Inn next to San Salvador International Airport.

In addition, within three months Grupo Poma plans to inaugurate its Hotel Inter-Continental Guatemala, and next year will open a 100-room Comfort Inn near the international airport in San José; for now, the company has a 100% stake in that project.

"We have two strategies, the upscale strategy and the mid-scale strategy," said Poma. "The idea basically is to develop the best hotel in each key Central American city with the Inter-Continental brand. These properties are generally built as part of a large development project -- all of them include shopping centers. This is to take advantage of synergies. If you have office space, the office workers can stay at your hotel, and so can their families when they visit. And if people are staying at hotels, they want shopping centers nearby," he explained.

"Once we have the upscale market, we'll pursue our mid-scale strategy, which is to open Comfort Inns throughout Central America. We already have two franchisees: Viva Clarion Suites in Guatemala City and the Quality Colón in San José," he said. "Our plan is to open eight to 10 more Comfort Inns in key Central American cities, and maybe 10 or 12 more under management contract in secondary cities such as Santa Ana (El Salvador) and Antigua and Chichicastenango (Guatemala)."

Grupo Poma owns the Camino Real brand name for all of Central America except Guatemala, where the new property will simply be known as the Hotel Inter-Continental Guatemala.

Poma studied hotel administration at Cornell University, and went on to earn an MBA from Wharton. He worked for Choice Hotels International in Paris, and also represented Westmont Hospitality Group.

"This project in Nicaragua is a big deal, because it's not just a hotel but also a shopping mall," he said. "When we construct hotels, we rarely do stand-alone properties. We build them with a gimmick. Also, there's a real-estate benefit, which is the appreciation of land values. All you have to do is develop a percentage of it, then the rest goes up in value too."

Poma says building a five-star hotel in Central America costs between $110,000 and $130,000 per room, and that his biggest competitor at the moment is Princess Hotels.

"We want to expand, we just haven't analyzed where yet," he says. "After doubling in size in just over a year, what we want to do now is consolidate our operations, making sure all the hotels are working perfectly. At some point, we also want to do joint ventures with entities like Grupo Taca and Banco Agricola Comercial -- joint marketing agreements and programs to help us obtain customer loyalty."

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