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Starwood Hotels & Resorts announced the signing of three new hotel deals in Cuba over the weekend, the first U.S. hotelier to enter the Cuban market in six decades. The signings were announced just 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and follow a recent easing of U.S.-Cuban relations.
The U.S. Treasury department last week issued Starwood special permission to enter agreements on two properties and sign a Letter of Intent on a third, deals prohibited in the past by the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. Marriott International has also obtained permission to operate in Cuba but is yet to reveal any hotel deals.
“With Cuba’s rich history, natural beauty and strong culture, there is no question the entire U.S. hospitality industry has watched Cuba with great interest, and we are thrilled to lead the charge and bring our sophisticated, high-end brands into the market at this inflection point,” Starwood CEO Thomas Mangas declared in a statement on Saturday.
As the current arrangement stands, Starwood will renovate the 140-year-old Hotel Inglaterra in downtown Havana, famed for its Gran Café el Louvre, reopening the 83 room hotel under The Luxury Collection brand.
The Hotel Quinta Avenida in Havana’s Miramar district will join the portfolio after undergoing similar treatment and reopen as Four Points by Sheridan Havana. Catering primarily to business travelers, it will feature 186 rooms and brand new cutting-edge meeting facilities.
The third property, the Hotel Santa Isabel, is a celebrated nineteenth-century colonial style palace in the middle of Havana's historic city center. Overlooking Havana Harbor, the Hotel Sant Isabel is also set to join The Luxury Collection and will feature 27 rooms, including 11 suites. All three properties are expected to open before the end of this year.
Starwood's chief of Latin Operations, Jorge Giannattasio, explained in a statement the properties will receive a “multimillion dollar investment to bring the hotels up to our standards,” also indicating the hotels will be run under Starwood's management and training crews but using local Cuban staff.
The U.S. government recently signed an accord with Cuba for up to 110 return flights a day between the two countries, also relaxing travel restrictions and allowing Americans to travel to Cuba if they qualify under 12 approved categories. Although U.S. citizens still cannot travel to Cuba strictly for tourism purposes, the new rules are set to vastly increase the number of American visitors to the island with commercial flights set to resume later in the year. There are currently around 15 return flights a day operated by charter companies.
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