“We try to find new avenues towards ensuring our resident and guest enjoy what really matters for themselves, their family and friends”
Sotogrande S.A.’s CEO focuses much of his work schedule on the development of La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, an exceptional urbanisation extending over 600 hectares that includes a magnificent 18-hole course, an extraordinary inland beach and diverse sporting leisure options, along with residential options of the highest quality.
Marc Topiol has extensive experience, more than 25 years, as an advisor for strategic and business plans, acquisition and sale of assets, and development and asset management at an international level. In this interview, among other issues, he talks about La Reserva Club’s main attractions and projects, the implications of Brexit for Sotogrande’s future, and why the urbanisation has decided to sponsor and host, in a few months’ time, a Ladies European Tour event: La Reserva de Sotogrande Invitational, from the 16th to 19th May.
What are the main features of La Reserva Club de Sotogrande urbanisation that make it more attractive than others at the same high-class level?
I don’t think it’s for me to say whether it’s attractive. Residents and clients can make up their own minds, but the bottom line is we are very focused on why we do things and what our “just cause” is, which is simply to ensure for our residents and guests what really matters to them while they can enjoy their free time with family and friends. Our days are centred around three main elements.
First, our people and the service level, with our positioning the foundation of what is clearly the experiential aspect of being within La Reserva Club, and it starts with focusing on a hospitality-based experience which is more frequently seen in the Americas and Asia.
Second, our leisure and sporting club is “family based”. It’s not a golf place, it’s not a tennis place, it’s not a beach, it’s not horses or an expanded green preserve allowing you to get lost in nature - it’s an aggregation of all those components, under the same roof, allowing for a family to be together, which for us is the essential element, a true sense of community within and beyond your own family and friends.
Third is an existential flexibility. We are in the infinite game of being relevant to our audience as they enjoy their free time, being the place where you cannot wait to come back when you leave! Beyond being hospitable and caring, this flexibility translates into innovative amenities for each to enjoy on their own terms.
Those three components make us whole! They allow us to offer an alternative and specifically an alternative to the Marbella lifestyle while still being at its doorstep. We cherish the fact that we are off the beaten path, and being apart, where you meet simplicity and tranquillity once you arrive! This is our major selling point and complemented by a state-of-the-art International school, making it very natural to call it home year-round!
What type of clients are potential buyers of a La Reserva villa?
Historically, Sotogrande was driven by Spanish and British nationals due to our founder’s profile and the proximity to Gibraltar. To meet the demand, our market has expanded to primarily include European countries that do not have a Mediterranean coast and followed by BRIC and the Middle East, seeking a more clement climate. Long present in Marbella, residents from those regions are more and more interested in discovering what we offer, which is a stone’s throw away from what they know. Promoting our profile and history beyond our original markets is a daily challenge but very rewarding as guests discover why we exist and who we are as a destination.
What are the implications for a non-resident in Spain who wants to buy a luxury property?
This is a very sensitive subject which requires our governing body to look at things beyond the short-term gain. On this topic, Portugal is a very worthy rival with which we should try to challenge ourselves as a worthy player in the infinite game of Spain being the place of choice for foreign investment in real property. Adding this element would only reinforce the current attractiveness of our country in general from a cultural, social and weather standpoint. I am not talking about simply replicating what Portugal does but rather as a worthy rival for creating the right tools towards this endless journey of being relevant at the fiscal level to ensure the best life for Spanish national and residents. Our governing bodies should clearly make investing in real property more attractive than it is today, and beyond our selfish interest of accelerating our value creation; such a move would certainly create long term and sustainable direct and indirect benefits for the local residents and the nation at large.
How is Brexit affecting La Reserva de Sotogrande?
It is clearly affecting decision making when your currency is the UK pound. Beyond the volatility experienced since the referendum, families are simply on the sidelines waiting to see what will happen on all elements that impact their day-to-day lives. Spain and continental Europe is clearly more expensive but conversely and thanks to the profile of our audience, we are very confident that our attributes and purpose will in the end win over the short-term volatility. We have been here for 60 years and seen many cycles always coming out stronger with an offer that is timeless because it is established on authenticity and care. We are in for the long run so we will be fine!
What are La Reserva de Sotogrande’s main objectives in sponsoring a Ladies European Tour event?
There are several reasons. The first one is that Sotogrande as the capital of golf within continental Europe deserves to host all main tournament profiles. Sotogrande the destination as a whole, offers the best in terms of facilities with Real Club Valderrama and Real Club Sotogrande and La Reserva all sitting within a three kilometre radius. Each have a long-standing history with tournament golf with the Real Club Sotogrande’s long-standing focus on amateur golf with the Sherry Cup and Nations Cup and Real Club Valderrama, thanks to Mr Jaime Patiño’s vision and economic support, the most recognised club in continental Europe. It felt very natural for La Reserva Club de Sotogrande to join the fray and host its own event. Second, Sotogrande has never seen a ladies event, so as we continue being “first” and innovating; hosting a ladies event in Sotogrande is the right thing to do to complete the circle of life for our destination. Third, we like to be where no one expects us, and clearly supporting women sport is a just cause the company and the entire team embarked on with enthusiasm. If we can contribute towards the great goal of equality between gender and race then we are very proud of that very small step; as one often says, “every vote counts”, here every initiative counts towards this endless effort to focus on what really matters. Once we decided, it took us two months to organise, and now three months to prepare. And I hope many other companies will join us at this event and grow it and make it a premier event in Sotogrande for women’s golf and women in general. We are very proud to join others already active in this segment and starting with our Regional Government, the Diputación de Malaga and private companies like Estrella Damm and all the other sponsors active in women golf in Spain and beyond. We are very proud to join in on this vision. It just felt right.
The La Reserva golf course has an excellent reputation... What would you highlight as its key aspects and features?
Well, we’ve been blessed with a nice plot of land, where Cabell Robinson was able in 2003 to design a course that is flat. It’s a rarity on the Costa del Sol in general to have courses that are on flat land. Real Sotogrande is one; Valderrama also to some extent. Sotogrande overall offers that capacity, where there is no restriction with ravines and steeper areas that we find in other places. And we have space, which is something that is not readily available when you want to build a golf course on the Costa del Sol.
The second is the day-to-day effort from the team, which is focused, as I said earlier, on service and maintenance. We make sure the course is in tournament condition every day. The greens are among the best on the entire coast… Costa del Sol, Costa de la Luz, as you go further up along the coast. But that’s also driven by the fact that we are a very private place. We have a lower level of traffic, day-to-day play, than other courses in Marbella that have hundreds of green fees a day - that has a big impact on the course. So, we’re very lucky. We’re more at the Valderrama level in terms of traffic, which allows us to be in pretty good condition, even when compared with Real Sotogrande, which has a lot of green fees, and 2,900 members.
Another of La Reserva Club’s key “assets” is being able to take advantage of the experience of Manuel Piñero, a three-time World Cup champion who lives in the residential estate. So, it’s the result of all those things that make this place what it is.
Creating a beach club with an artificial beach within the urbanisation was quite a challenge, not without its difficulties, but in the end, it was worth the effort... What is it that most attracts the attention of and appeals to those visiting it for the first time?
It goes back to my first answer: it’s A family place. You cannot find a beach club on the coast that is for family. Children are not allowed; you cannot be together. We want our residents and guests, as families, to be together, and the beach at La Reserva de Sotogrande offers just that. We didn’t know how it would be until it opened as it has never been done anywhere else. The most satisfactory result of this is that the first summer, for two months, we received over 11,000 paying guests, without counting children under 12 years old because they don’t pay; and, of those 11,000 guests, 60 per cent were from Marbella.
The biggest satisfaction is that the concept of “distance” between Marbella and Sotogrande or being far away seems to become an afterthought to families ready to come visit us. What is attractive most, beyond the innovation, is the quality of the experience: the water is pure, whereas a day at the “real” beach is salty water, jellyfish, currents, dirt. Here it’s all clean and the family are safe. It’s the only real private beach in all of Spain. It’s not just 100 square metres of sand alongside a standard liner pool, it is 4,000 square metres of pure sand from the Cádiz region. It is not artificial; it is man-made with a constant focus on making this authentic. The authorities never saw this before, but I must say that the region, the town hall and the Campo de Gibraltar have greatly supported our efforts.
What projects are planned by La Reserva de Sotogrande in the short and medium term?
In the short term we’re focusing on complementing La Reserva with a first-class hotel, so we are closing the Almenara hotel that we also own, in phases, starting in April, and at the end of 2020 there should be a very high-end five-star hotel offering international standards, with a major focus on wellness and on nature, leveraging the 1,500 hectares green preserve which is right behind the hotel. The new hotel will bring a new dimension to Sotogrande the destination as a whole.
In the medium term, as we continue increasing our residents at La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, we will add amenities in all segments to continue reinventing resort living and ensure that our residents do cherish their time with us. Since it is about innovation, I cannot talk about specifics, but our recent history shows that we “do it” when it is the right time to act.
How do you envisage the future, in general, of the Sotogrande area – and La Reserva in particular?
The future for Sotogrande the destination is to continue being a worthy player in the world of residential resort destinations. We need to constantly evolve in our thinking and offer to remain a relevant player in this field. All we can do today, and tomorrow, is to present ourselves to the world and make sure we do our best, so we are the selected destination for families seeking purpose and happiness. There are many other destinations to choose from; each have their own profile and attributes. Not one can fit all profiles; Sotogrande has a long life in front of it as the place of choice for families seeking authenticity, simplicity and quality! La Reserva Club de Sotogrande intends to play its part towards meeting its residents’ needs and ensuring that, well beyond my life, families marvel at the place and what it has to offer as part of this unique place that we call Sotogrande.