Many international hotel chains are looking to capitalize on the growing tourism in Cuba now that U.S.-Cuban relations are getting warmer. Many old buildings that have been allowed to lie fallow are being converted into hotels.
“Now I actually see cranes on construction sites. Cuban bureaucracy is easing up, and foreign hotel developers are finally finding ways to move these projects forward,” said Belmont Freeman, a Cuban-American architect based in New York.
One of the new luxury hotels leading the trend is the 246-room Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana. It will be located in a restored European-style shopping arcade. Like many other hotels, it comes with charm and history. It originally opened in 1875 and was visited by Winston Churchill. The Manzana, which is scheduled to open in early June, is being financed by the Cuban state company Almest Investments and co-managed by the Swiss Kempinski and the Gaviota Group of Cuba.
The French groups Accor and Iberostar are also opening other new and renovated luxury hotels in the area.
Although the Cuban government owns all the hotels in the country, major luxury international hotel chains like Kempinski, Accor, and Iberostar will co-manage these new properties.
The U.S. Starwood Hotel chain has also entered the Cuban market with its Four Points by Sheraton Havana property, which opened in June of 2016 in the Miramar district of Havana, popular with diplomats and business travelers. Starwood was recently acquired by Marriott International, which will now manage the former Starwood hotels and which has also been authorized to manage properties in Cuba.
Despite all these new hotels, the tourism boom is not without problems. Many projects have suffered lengthy delays caused by shortages of supplies and frequent electricity and Internet outages, as well as crumbling infrastructure. The juxtaposition of the poverty resulting from the Cuban Revolution and the new luxury buildings and the wealthy customers they attract is creating an uncomfortable atmosphere.
“People are watching the Manzana closely,” said John Kavulich, President of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “There is a tremendous amount of pressure to maintain the Kempinski experience, and that will be difficult in Cuba.”
The Cuban government, which will continue to hold significant power over private enterprise in the country, is hoping tourism will help solve some of its economic problems. They have established a goal of attracting 10 million visitors by 2030.