The origins of the company reach back to 1956, when the then-21-year-old Gabriel Escarrer Juliá leased the Altair Hotel in Palma, Majorca. Over the subsequent years Escarrer took advantage of the island's increasing popularity as a tourist destination for package holidaymakers, adding further properties to the portfolio of his company, Hoteles Mallorquines. The company expanded geographically in the 1960s and 70s, acquiring hotels in the Canaries as well as the other Balearic Islands. After the transition to democracy in Spain, tourism in Spain developed more rapidly and Hoteles Mallorquines aggressively moved onto the Spanish mainland, establishing a presence in much of the country by the early 1980s.
In 1984 the company renamed itself Hoteles Sol (English: Sun Hotels), before establishing itself as the largest hotel chain in the country with the acquisition of the 32 location-strong Hotasa group. Another merger followed three years later as the company combined with the upmarket Meliá chain, founded by Josep Melià i Sinisterra, to form Sol Meliá. The deal increased the geographical scope of the company into the Caribbean, Americas and other parts of Europe.
A 1996 split of the company into two separate businesses, one for hotel ownership (Inmotel) and another for management (Sol Meliá, which listed on the Bolsa de Madrid), was reversed three years later amid major consolidation in the industry. Gabriel Escarrer Sr. subsequently stepped down from the chief executive role, replaced by his sons Gabriel Jr. and Sebastian, who became deputy CEO. The following year brief takeover talks were held with Hilton International, but Sol Meliá instead chose to make an acquisition of its own, paying €360 million for smaller peer Tryp Hotels. Tryp had come close to being purchased by rival chain NH Hoteles a year earlier. Tryp continued to exist as a separate brand within the Sol Meliá group. Rights to the Tryp brand were sold to Wyndham Worldwide in 2010, but Sol Meliá continues to own and operate the hotels under a licensing agreement.
On 3 June 2011 the company changed its name to Meliá Hotels International.
The company has recently sought to forge partnerships with other companies in the leisure industry, opening hotels based on the Hard Rock Cafe concept in conjunction with then-parent The Rank Group (joint venture dissolved in 2007), and Flintstones-themed hotels with Warner Bros.