Havana is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year.
Despite this milestone, the city is anything but stuck in the past; instead, it's focusing on its revival, by taking a modern (some might even say revolutionary) approach to reshaping its tourism developments across the capital city, and entire country, starting with its hotels.
In 1990, Cuba had 19,000 rooms, mainly scattered throughout two and three-star hotels.
Today, the country counts more than 73,000 rooms, of which 72 per cent are in four and five-star properties. Hotel refurbishment and development is among one of the many priorities that the Cuban government is focusing on, as announced recently by Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero Cruz.
"We have several priorities for the future. Among them, bet more on quality, with new experiences and new emotions," Cruz said, speaking at a conference in Montreal, which also came to Toronto. "It's up to us to imagine how to meet the expectations and needs of tourists. It also means creating new high-end hotels."
A focus on Havana
Gran Hotel Manzana
Cuba's first true five-star, the Gran Hotel Manzana, opened in May 2017 in the heart of Havana.
With 245 guest rooms and suites, six restaurants and bars, a world-renowned spa and wellness centre, and panoramic city views, the Kempinski-run hotel wanted to raise the standards of luxury hospitality in Cuba's capital to the rest of the world.
A year later, in 2018, the Iberostar Grand Packard, the second five-star hotel to open in the city, promised to do the same, with its 321 luxury suites, free Wi-Fi, spectacular rooftop infinity pool, and its roof terrace which offers breathtaking views of the sea and the Malecon.
The Iberostar Grand Packard
A few meters away, Hotel SO/Paseo del Prado is the next big luxury hotel to open in Havana.
Managed by the ACCOR group, this 250-room hotel is located at the corner of the famous Malecón and Prado boulevards, facing the sea.
The property celebrates the dance and music in all its states (and floors) by offering an original fusion between Cuban eclecticism and French chic, between the culinary tradition of the first and the cuisine of the second.
Some of its popular amenities include an infinity pool with 360 degree views, WI-Fi internet everywhere and even homemade chocolate!
Also in the Cuban capital, some heritage buildings have been renovated to be transformed into luxury boutique hotels.
This is the case for Hotel Palacio Cueto, a former hat factory until the 1920s. Today, it's a magnificent hotel, both from the outside (a carved stone facade with a rich and elaborate decoration) and on the inside.
Developments outside of Havana
Havana does not have the monopoly of Cuba's high-end hotels.
Kempinski will open it's first five-star luxury resort, the Cayo Guillermo Kempinski, by the end of the year.
Surrounded by a breathtaking natural landscape and extensive gardens, it will offer 245 rooms and suites, including seven overwater villas with stunning panoramic views and a minimum size of at least 75 m² each, as well as a presidential suite on stilts of 200 m², all with private pools. The Wi-Fi will be accessible everywhere, even on the beach.
In Varadero, the Melia Internacional, which opened last February, also offers an experience that tends to be closer to the high-end category, especially with the integration of modernity and technology in the establishment: so-called smart rooms featuring home automation technology, state-of-the-art LED lights, screens in bars and lobby, and free Wi-Fi throughout.
House of Melia Internacional
Finally, the proliferation of so-called "exclusive" or "privilege" sections in many resorts is also an interesting sign to note.
While not all of these hotels are classified as "upscale", they each find a unique way to create a more luxurious experience for their customers, to enhance and enrich the overall quality of stay.
More to come
Apart from the Hotel Paseo del Prado, another upscale establishment will open its doors in the coming weeks: the Gran Hotel, in Old Havana, opposite the Capitol. This nine-storey, Kempinski-managed property features 762 colorful rooms and a rooftop infinity pool.
And this is just the beginning, said Carmen Casal Sánchez, director of the tourism section of the Consulate General of Cuba in Montreal:
"We will continue to develop these kinds of hotel projects, not just in Havana. This could be the case in particular in Trinidad, a very interesting heritage town, by 2030. It is certain that the opening of other institutions of this kind in Cuba will allow us to attract new visitors because it is important to diversify our clientele."
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