HB ON THE SCENE: SAHIC Cuba Conference Targets Hotel Investment

HAVANA, CUBA—Change, as measured as it may be, is decidedly underway here in this island nation, particularly concerning tourism and travel, and is of the type that can’t be rolled back now that it’s been set in motion.

That sentiment was at the core of this week’s inaugural SAHIC Cuba, a groundbreaking conference for this country that brought together more than 200 international hotel owners, developers, Cuban government officials and a handful of American lodging chains—Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Wyndham—who, with other companies, including U.K.-based IHG, helped sponsor the event.

Held at the Melia Cohiba hotel overlooking the sea, the investment conference offered a variety of informative sessions ranging from a look at Havana’s history to first-hand stories by Cuban lodging executives and developers, to government tourism officials describing the current state of the hotel industry here, including plans around technology and infrastructure.

Designers spoke about the need for sustainability in hotel projects as developers investigate hotel sites determined by the government as well as issues regarding the supply chain for needs such as FF&E and general products for hotels. Presentations also were made around the impact of increasing cruise and airline business into the country.

Of the American chains present, only Wyndham Worldwide’s Louis Alicea, senior director of development Latin America & Caribbean, moderated a session (regarding cruise ship business).

None of the chains’ representatives would comment on their companies presence at the event or any plans for the future here.

According to Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of the SAHIC Latin America Hotel Investment Conferences, the Cuba conference was two years in the making, with SAHIC executives working with Cuban government officials to bring an event here.

“We are so excited because the idea is to put together people from all over the world together with the key people from Cuba who will be their partners—to do business here, you need a Cuban partner. They are absolutely open to bring the information to all of the people and try to identify who would be the best partner for future projects,” said Rosa, noting, “The investment process is a long process.”

The executive said the Cuban government, which determines projects, is looking for “knowledge, expertise and networking. The people from abroad think they are looking for money. Of course, money in a project you need to share efforts. The main goal is to find the right partners who can bring knowledge, expertise, track records with huge recognition…this is the main focus…in some cases, they are looking for the JV to build the investment.”

Rosa said the Cuban government “supports us as much as we can ever have in mind that they could do, but they do it…I think this will be a very good beginning.”

—Stefani C. O’Connor