This man is not a typical unhurried Mallorcan, although he hails from Sóller and has his heart in his homeland. He´s a reasoner and doesn´t hide his critical opinion if things don´t progress as they should. His gift to Mallorca is the “Medieval Show”, recently promoted on many advertising hoardings and the sides of vehicles. These tournaments of knights run like clockwork in Florida and California, amongst other places. As CEO and owner of the chic Gran Hotel Sóller (five stars) and both managing director and co-owner of Son Amar he has his hands firmly on the helm.
Since February 2007, Andrés has been the “King of the Castle” in the historical finca Son Amar. When he´s talking about the show restaurant and his latest innovation – the knight games with audience participation, which he started here in 2008 – his eyes light up: “We have many outstanding artists in Son Amar, e.g. conjurer Miguel Ángel Gavilán, local singer-entertainer Rosa de Lima – whom I personally adore – and American singer Charles Rolles (´The Drifters Fame´) and Spanish ballett troupe of internationally acclaimed Carmen Mota.
The knight tournaments – a “medieval” ENCLOSED arena is situated in Son Amar – are a thematic complement to the adults’ spectacle. Andrés: “In North America I experienced how families with children are ENTHUSIASTIC about those active events. There are so many families coming to Mallorca every year to holiday.” He wants to target this group with enthusiasm. “Every time, the childrens´ bright eyes at the beginning of the spectacle tell me that I´m right,” Andrés remarks.
It´s not easy being the new boss in Son Amar, however. Gelabert succeeds living legend Damià Seguí, who is also ´solleric´ (from Sóller). Seguí´s family had bought the 15th century manor in the 1920ies and the brothers Seguí transformed it into a top class temple of entertainment in 1963. For more than 40 years it’s been something of an institution on the island. Seguí´s venture received many awards and, in 1999, the now 73-year-old man obtained the gold medal from the local tourism association IBATUR for his achievements.
“We are good friends. When I was 18 years old, I took British clients to Son Amar as a tour guide. Damià still pops in from time to time to keep up with what´s going on,” Andrés explains. Under the current ownership, the show has become “tighter and faster” than before. One peak follows another so as not to lose momentum or the attention of upwards of 1,000 spectators.
Andrés personality can be described as “tough but affectionate”. In his house in Bendinat, English is the principal language: Andrés’ wife comes from Great Britain. His son was born in Mallorca but, when he was five, the family moved to the USA. Andrés Jr. Gratuated with a degree in Business Management. At the moment he´s developing a winery in Santa Maria (Mallorca).
Andrés has lived most of his life abroad. At 16 years old he went to England, training as an international tourism agent. Working for the event company “Global Tours” he was able to start his first business in his homeland. Amongst others he kept a café owned by Damià Seguí´s mother. At the age of 35 – in the 1980s – he decided to move to the USA. He stayed 20 years. Seven years ago he relocated his permanent residence to Mallorca, initially shuttling between Palma and the USA.
“I felt strongly that the right moment for my return had come. Sóller is the place on earth I love most,” Gelabert admits. His key word for success is integration: “My networking in England and in the USA worked because I adapted to the living conditions and the language there.” He thinks foreign residents living on the island would benefit greatly from learning Spanish and therefore be able to appreciate and enjoy the Mallorcan way of life.
The island still offers everything he loves it for: original landscapes and nature, orange and lemon trees. Andrés thinks that the boom in construction hasn´t damaged Mallorca too much during the last 15 years. He´s glad that the coastline of Puerto de Sóller hasn’t been totally covered with buildings. He loves to go fishing there whenever his diary gives him a break.
There´s seldom time for another hobby – playing golf. Gelabert is very busy implementing the business dogma he internalised in the USA: value for money. Clients have to get the maximum return on the money they decide to spend. Because of that “quality and good service always catch on,” Andrés knows.
The bookings for his “Medieval Show” are increasing steadily. But it will take “some months more until word has fully spread,” Andrés guesses. He´s sure that Son Amar will sustain its position in spite of the recent economic downturn, caused by the real estate sector´s crisis in Spain. He notices though, that “individual people have less money in their pockets at the moment.” And the expensive petrol isn´t good either for his Son Amar dinner-show in the countryside
Gelabert´s vision for Mallorca goes beyond his own companies. He suggests reviving alternative industries in order to gain economic consistency: “When I was a teenager, there were 30 textile manufacturers on the island. Where have they gone? Revitalising this industrial sector could provide employment for the whole year.” He gives examples of successes like the local shoe brands Tony Mora, Yanko and Camper. Furthermore the brand “Mallorca” could be more effective in marketing agricultural products like olive oil and wine: “The agricultural conditions are similar in California. They do a great business selling their fruits and other products across the whole world.”
Even for the construction sector he has ideas, involving the remodelling of Playa de Palma: “Magaluf and Ballermann have to be maintained as great attractions. I go there sometimes myself. But many of the old two- and three-star hotels need to be updated to a new standard. So there could be a lot of work to do for construction companies.” He´s seen how the obsolete Disneyland was rebuilt successfully in Anaheim. A new kind of quality tourism – including a positive view of golf courses – can help Mallorca to become more independent from all-inclusive tourism. Andrés: “Our island has for a long time been too expensive for people with small budgets.”
Convention tourism is an idea Andrés also likes. Mallorca should be promoted as an ideal destination for international conferences and symposiums. Large high-level hotels in the island´s interior could welcome big gatherings. A professional infrastructure analysis would ensure transport connections and parking places beforehand.
Son Amar is already prepared to cater for conferences. The finca includes three spacious halls and four hotel kitchens to provide the necessary gastronomic power. The show restaurant can change into a multifunctional venue. A hotel, connected to the finca, is “imaginable in the future,” Andrés remarks.
Whatever happens, the “King of the Castle” firmly believes that Mallorca will remain a gold mine, if it´s exploited in different ways, with improved project planning and experts consulted. Regarding Son Amar, Andrés invites the island’s residents to join the show: “I welcome everybody. It´s a misconception that our show is aimed at tourists only.”