US hotel interests heating up in Cuba
The annual Latin American Hotel and Tourism Investment Conferences took place in Havana, Cuba, earlier this week, and, according to a Reuters’ report, the roster of conference supporters “read like the who’s who of the U.S. hotel industry.”
Marriott International, Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts all showed their support at the conference, which many view as the most recent indication that the U.S. hotel industry is evaluating and planning future opportunities on the Caribbean island.
Arturo Garcia, head of the organization hosting this week’s conference, was quoted by Reuters’: “The next step in the development of the hotel business in Cuba is the participation of the U.S. companies here.”
As Hcareers reported last August, Starwood – which was acquired by Marriott a few months later – became the first U.S. hotel hospitality company in over 50 years to operate a hotel, the Four Points Sheraton, in Cuba. Although the Cuban government legally still owns every hotel in the country, Marriott is also scheduled to open – or begin managing – two more properties in the coming years.
Mr. Garcia told Rueters that most of the other event sponsors are simply waiting to receive the same kind of approval as Marriott, along with further easing of business restrictions, in order to open their own properties across the island.
We also reported that several major cruise lines either have added or are planning to add new sailing routes to Cuba, another signal that the hospitality industry at large continues to respond to growing interest in the region by expanding travel offerings and accommodations.
Renewed interest in U.S.-led redevelopment in Cuba and travel to the region comes on the heels of former President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in 2016 and the lifting of long-held travel restrictions in 2015, which are still somewhat restrictive for Americans looking to vacation in Cuba. For example, while it is still technically illegal for Americans to visit Cuba for tourism only purposes, they can gain entry into the country through one of 12 special categories, such as “journalistic activity,” “professional research,” “educational activities,” “or support for the Cuban people.”
While interest in Cuba appears to be growing among hotel operators, investors, and the media (after all, Cuba was even named Travel + Leisure’s “Destination of the Year” in 2015), there are some indications that American tourists are still somewhat uncertain. As the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this month, US travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance cited a survey that found only 2% of Americans anticipate traveling to Cuba this year. They claim that a lack of information about travel to Cuba coupled with uncertainty over the country’s fragile infrastructure (including internet and connectivity) cast doubts in the minds of some travellers.
Despite this, the New York Times recently reported that the Cuban Ministry of Tourism recorded over 4 million tourists in 2016, which is up 13 percent from 2015. 614,000 of these visitors came from the U.S., which is again up 34 percent from 2015.