Approximately one million Canadians head down to Cuba every year, representing the biggest international market for the Caribbean country.
There are hundreds of properties and tour operators to choose from, meaning travellers can do everything from an all-inclusive beach vacation to an immersive culinary tour in lesser-known parts of the island.
Iberostar opened 11 properties in Cuba in 2018, making it one of the biggest players in the market.
We caught up with Oscar Gonzalez, marketing manager, Europe, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, to see why Canadians, who make up between 11 and 15 per cent of Iberostar’s business, should set their sights on one of these 11 hotels this year.
First up, on the cusp of Havana’s 500th anniversary, the Iberostar Grand Packard opened, providing Cuba’s capital city with a brand new, five-star luxury concept that as Gonzalez puts it, takes Havana back to its romantic period, when lavish parties attended by the mob’s big bosses ran into the night.
“This new blockbuster hotel has put Havana on the same playing level as other business capitals,” Gonzalez told PAX in a telephone interview, from his office in Mallorca, Spain. “We’re putting Havana on the map again as a destination for corporate travellers.”
Presenting, the Iberostar Grand Packard
Though Cuban beach vacations continue to dominate, through word-of-mouth, Iberostar Grand Packard is quickly capturing the hearts of travellers around the world, thanks to its one-of-a-kind architecture and unique cultural connections to the past.
“In the 1940’s and ‘50’s, Havana had a lot of glamorous hotels and romantic travellers, and now Iberostar is covering this philosophy once more,” Gonzalez said.
As Iberostar’s first luxury hotel in the heart of Old Havana, the company is excited about how a property like this one is changing Cuba’s tourism landscape, bringing in more and more travellers who look for culture and history that stretches far beyond the beach.
With its proximity to Havana's city centre and main tourist attractions, as well as its meeting rooms and luxury amenities that can support MICE ventures, this hotel is perfect for business, leisure, or both, and Iberostar anticipates it will be a success with business professionals who are looking to host international conferences or trade shows down in the Caribbean in a new capacity.
In 2018, Iberostar announced that it would be splitting its entire hotel portfolio into three new segments: City hotels, Ocean resorts, and Heritage hotels—a new concept that places guests in a luxury property setting that pays homage to historic and cultural elements of the destination.
“We introduced these three new segments because we needed to align with the expectations of travel agents and our guests,” Gonzalez explained. “In the case of city hotels, they’re located in the most important tourism capitals all over the world.”
Fourth category, Iberostar Grand, was also announced. Guests who select the Grand properties can enjoy the elevated, maximum levels of Iberostar’s luxury hospitality in either of the three new segments.
Built in one of Havana's most iconic buildings with a modern spin on an old façade, the Iberostar Grand Packard offers 321 rooms, and is in fact, part of the Iberostar Grand hotel collection.
“The first step to discovering authentic Cuba is to select the right property, and in that sense, we are ahead,” Gonzalez said. “In Havana, we have three of the most important buildings, which include Iberostar Parque Central, Iberostar Habana Riviera, and Iberostar Grand Packard. These three buildings form a myriad triangle of the history of Havana. These buildings are for those who want to discover Havana in the 21st century; those open to approaching local culture, traditional activities, and flavours of Cuba.”
Completing its Cuban portfolio, Iberostar opened up the brand new, five-star Iberostar Holguin in summer 2018.
“Holguin is a new destination for Iberostar, and it’s an appreciative destination for Canadians,” Gonzalez said. “With hotels now all over the island, we can combine traditional beach destinations with destinations in the Cuban mainland, and now we’re positioning Iberostar as the most competitive company in Cuba in terms of the offer we’re putting on the table for tour operators and high-end travellers in this country.”
As the third most-visited destination in Cuba, there’s much potential for Iberostar to attract new clientele and a different travel demographic with the Iberostar Holguin.
Freeing up the food scene
Ask any traveller what their two biggest concerns are before booking a trip to Cuba and Gonzalez says the first will be ensuring there’s plenty of white, sandy beach, and the second is always the food.
Priding itself on world-class service, one of the second most important ventures Iberostar has embarked on down in the Cuban market is a brand-new partnership with Logística Hotelera del Caribe S.A. (LHC).
In December 2018, the group began a weekly distribution of a wide range of food products in various hotels across the country, where the Iberostar Grand Packard, Iberostar Bella Vista and Iberostar Holguín are benefiting from revamped menus.
“In the past, travellers sometimes suffered from a lack of stocks, or fresh materials,” Gonzalez explained, “but with these new logistics platforms, we’re able to cover the gap, and we can offer the same standards in all Iberostar Caribbean destinations.”
This new partnership with LHC means that across the board, be it in Europe or the Caribbean, Iberostar’s food and beverage offerings in Cuba will enhance the gastronomic experience in destination and align with the outstanding quality found in the hotel company’s other locations around the world.
Sustainability: a global vision
In 2018, Iberostar launched Wave of Change, an environmentally-friendly initiative that aims to minimize environmental impact in the following three ways: eliminate single-use plastics from all hotel rooms, restore precious coral reefs, and commit to sustainable fishing.
What began in Spain in 2017 will be rolled out in all of Iberostar’s 110 properties around the world by the end of 2019.
It’s an ambitious plan, but Gonzalez says that this eco-friendly pledge is so deeply-rooted in the company’s policies, that if you don’t find your favourite seafood in the buffet, there’s a good reason for it.
“Most of our hotels are on the beaches, and it’s partly our responsibility to preserve and protect ocean life in order to give our next generations an ocean that’s in better condition than how it’s been left for us,” Gonzalez said. “We’re trying to explain to our customers that if you don’t see a specific fish in the buffet, it’s because we’re applying a rigorous program to support locals, instead of moving certain fish from one part of the world to the next.”
It’s a move that Iberostar hopes will also help travellers dive deeper into the culture of the destinations they travel to, opting to give local cuisines a try and supporting local businesses.
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