Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In 'Historic Moment,' Cuba Opens First U.S.-Operated Hotel

In 'Historic Moment,' Cuba Opens First U.S.-Operated Hotel

A large "Four Points by Sheraton" sign has gone up outside the 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.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro hold their
first meeting on the second day of Obama's visit to Cuba, in Havana
March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
For decades, such arrangements have been prohibited under the U.S.
economic embargo of the Communist-ruled island. But while the embargo
remains in place, the Obama administration has loosened restrictions on
trade and investment since it announced a detente with Cuba in December

"This is a historic moment," said Nancy Sarabia, public relations
manager for the hotel, adding that the official inauguration would take
place on Tuesday. She called the hotel "a symbol of brotherhood and

Starwood is the first U.S. company to commit major money to Cuba since
Fidel Castro and his bearded rebels overthrew a pro-American government
on Jan. 1, 1959.

The company said it would not close the 5th Avenue Hotel while it
refurbished it, a process that would take several months. Workers were
re-painting the lobby on Monday.

According to Starwood's website, it will start operating state-owned
Gran Caribe Inglaterra Hotel under its Luxury Collection brand on Aug. 31.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called the embargo a failure and
Washington is increasingly issuing special permissions to companies to
do business with Cuba.

Florida-based Stonegate Bank 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 Cuba embargo, and the Republican majority
leadership wants it in place as long as Cuba's one-party state represses
domestic political opponents and holds a media monopoly.

Many U.S. business executives see Cuba as a missed opportunity and have
stepped up interest since the detente. Among those are U.S. hotel chain
executives, keen to get in on Cuba's recent tourism boom.

Cuba had 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

Those numbers are expected to balloon if the United States lifts its
travel ban altogether.

At Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel, bookings are already unavailable for
several future dates, with rooms going for nearly $200 a night.

Castro nationalized the tourism industry after the revolution, but since
then, Cuba has struck joint venture deals with several foreign hotel

Source: In 'Historic Moment,' Cuba Opens First U.S.-Operated Hotel - NBC
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