US Chain to Manage First Cuban Hotel Since the Revolution
Telesur English | Wednesday, 29 June 2016 | Click here for original article
A large "Four Points by Sheraton" sign has gone up outside a Havana hotel that this week becomes the first in Cuba to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959 revolution.
The military-owned Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel, close to the Caribbean seafront, is one of two hotels that Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide agreed to manage in a multimillion-dollar deal with Cuba in March.
For decades, such arrangements have been prohibited under the U.S. economic blockade of the island. But while the blockade remains in place, the U.S. government has loosened restrictions on trade and investment since it announced a detente with Cuba in Dec. 2014.
"This is a historic moment," said Nancy Sarabia, public relations manager for the hotel, calling the hotel "a symbol of brotherhood and collaboration."
Starwood is the first U.S. company to commit major money to Cuba since the Cuban revolution, which ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The company said it would not close the 5th Avenue Hotel while it refurbished it, a process that will take several months. Workers were re-painting the lobby on Monday.
According to Starwood's website, it will start operating the state-owned Gran Caribe Inglaterra Hotel under its Luxury Collection brand on August 31.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called theblockade on Cuba a failure and Washington is increasingly issuing special permissions to companies to do business on the island.
Florida-based Stonegate Bank, for instance, has received permission to issue credit cards for use in Cuba. On Monday, Cuba confirmed these could be used to withdraw cash in the country.
These examples remain exceptions to the rule. Only the U.S. Congress can completely remove the blockade, and the Republican majority wants it keep it in place.
Many U.S. business executives see Cuba as a missed opportunity and have stepped up their lobbying since the detente. Among these are U.S. hotel chain executives, keen to get in on Cuba's recent tourism boom.
Cuba received 1.5 million tourists visit in the first four months of 2016, up 13.5 percent from a year earlier, partly due to relaxed U.S. travel restrictions.
Those numbers are expected to balloon if the U.S. lifts its travel ban altogether.
At Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel, bookings are already unavailable for several future dates, with rooms going for nearly US$200 a night.
Fidel Castro nationalized Cuba's tourism industry after the revolution, but since then Cuba has struck joint venture deals with several foreign hotel operators.