Cuba’s First Luxury Hotel Is Opening In Havana – What Will It Mean?

A friend on Facebook posted an article earlier this week, originally from the AFP, that the “Gran Hotel Manzana” (I took Spanish for 8 years…The Great Apple Hotel???) recently opened its doors to guests in Havana (According to this article, it soft opened on May 22, with a grand opening schedules for June 7). Jointly owned by the (Swiss) Kempinski Hotels and military-controlled Cuban tour operator Gaviota, it’s said to be Cuba’s first ultra luxury hotel, with rooms and suites going for $440 to $2,485 per night.

If it’s the country’s first “ultra luxury” hotel, what will it mean? Will it be a game changerfor Cuba? Meh. Probably not. Actually, no. No, I don’t think so. Not at all. Not from a tourism point of view, at least.  Because one luxury hotel does not a vacation hot spot make.

PoorCuba01Joe and I went to Cuba in March 2016, some friends of ours were just there last week, and I have a handful of friends who have been there between those two time periods. So between the time we started planning our trip in 2015 and now, I’ve seen the changes that have been happening (or rather, not happening) in the country for the past two years or so since the door for Americans to visit Cuba was open a little wider. Now, don’t get me wrong – Cuba is, as it’s always been, a truly beautiful island (if you look past the poverty) with wonderful, friendly people. But unfortunately, Cuba also remains what it’s been for the past 25 to 35 years – a third world country. It has little to no functional infrastructure. Many of its residential buildings (especially those in Havana), although pretty and colorful at a quick glance, are crumbling. It’s frequently lacking in general public safety and cleanliness. Its people routinely suffer from shortages of food (most recently because of the influx of American tourists. Most Cubans only make about $25 to $30 per month, but even if they did make more, they can’t buy chicken for the family dinner when there is no chicken on the shelves at either the government store or the black market because the B&Bs and restaurants have bought them all up to feed their increasing number of guests from other countries). It is a very, very poor country. Lovely, but unquestionably impoverished.

Will the hotel do well? Probably, at least for a while. Cubans, of course, can’t afford to stay there. But tourists from America, Europe, Canada, etc. who are willing to spend that kind of money on a room may be willing to stay there. But those who expect the same kind of luxury outside their hotel as what they may get inside their hotel could wind up being sorely disappointed. So one luxury hotel, although nice on the inside, will only be an oasis from what’s on the outside – and I suspect that’s what the guests of the Gran Hotel Manzana will tell their friends. The only winners in this game will be the hotel owners and unless more infrastructure, safety measures, basic cleanliness and food for visitors and residents alike can be incorporated into the system, I think those winners will only be as such for a relatively limited amount of time.

“I wanted to go to Cuba before there was a Starbucks there and I’m very glad that I did. But now that I’ve seen it, I question how many Americans who think they want to go to Cuba now, before its “time capsule” essence is spoiled, will really enjoy it without a Starbucks there.” – Sharon, March 2016

PoorCuba2

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