Two Major U.S.-Based Companies to Enter Cuba

HAVANA—The return of U.S-based hospitality companies to Cuba after nearly 60 years is imminent as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. revealed that it signed three new hotel deals here, and Marriott International Inc. was approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to pursue a business transaction on the island.

For Starwood, Havana-based Hotel Inglaterra will join The Luxury Collection and Hotel Quinta Avenida will become a Four Points by Sheraton. Both hotels will undergo renovations before raising their new brand flags later this year. The company also signed a Letter of Intent to convert the famed Hotel Santa Isabel into a member of The Luxury Collection.

“We are confident Starwood is the right partner to help write the next chapter of relations between Cuba and American business, and we moved quickly and enthusiastically to pursue opportunities following recent government actions,” said Kenneth S. Siegel, Starwood’s chief administrative officer and general counsel. “As we’ve seen throughout the world, our entry into new markets has a positive effect on local communities, preserving and protecting the culture and delicate ecosystems while improving employment opportunities, which were driving forces in our discussions.”

Jorge Giannattasio, Starwood’s SVP and chief of Latin America operations, added, “Hotel conversions, like those we announced today, allow us to preserve history, architecture and culture while offering a unique branded experience. With our long-standing, locally based and highly experienced team in Latin America and the Caribbean, we look forward to welcoming guests to Cuba for many decades to come.”

Starwood has partnered with owner Gran Caribe to rebrand the Hotel Inglaterra as a member of The Luxury Collection. A national landmark situated near the Gran Teatro de La Habana in the heart of downtown Havana, the Inglaterra first opened its doors in 1875 and is home to the famed Gran Café el Louvre, which has hosted artists and travelers for over a century. Upon completion of the preservation and conversion projects later this year, the hotel will offer 83 rooms and reopen under The Luxury Collection banner.

Starwood has signed an agreement with Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A., owner of Hotel Quinta Avenida in Havana’s Miramar district, to rebrand the hotel as Four Points by Sheraton Havana later this year. The hotel will cater to business travelers with approximately 186 rooms and meeting facilities.

The company also has signed a letter of intent with Habaguanex, owner of the Hotel Santa Isabel, to convert the nineteenth century colonial-style palace to a member of The Luxury Collection, pending U.S. Treasury Department approval. Situated on the Plaza de Armas and overlooking Havana Harbor, the Santa Isabel will offer 27 rooms, including 11 suites.

Keith Grossman, SVP and deputy general counsel of Starwood, stated, “Through our discussions and due diligence, it became clear that Starwood was the right choice for its unique approach to hospitality, sustainability and design that would enrich the local communities and enhance the guest experience. We plan to cultivate local talent, provide career enriching opportunities, and locally source art, decor, food and materials to ensure we deliver authentic experiences.”

As for Marriott, the company is currently in discussions to develop a hospitality relationship with potential partners.  The announcement was made during President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba, marking the first time in more than 80 years a sitting U.S. President has visited the country. Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson is traveling with U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker during the President’s visit to Cuba.

According to Marriott, its objectives in Cuba include entering the hospitality sector with Marriott brands, providing hospitality training for Cuban nationals, helping to generate new economic opportunities for businesses supplying the hospitality industry, and as a corporate citizen, supporting opportunities for youth, women and other communities in Cuba.   

“We are gratified to receive permission from the U.S. government to pursue business opportunities in Cuba,” Sorenson said. “While there is still work to do before any agreement is reached, we are actively pursuing relationships in the hospitality sector. We have long been convinced that with the right frameworks in place, new economic opportunities, including dramatically expanded travel, abound in Cuba. These could deliver real benefits to the Cuban people and also have the effect of bringing both Americans and Cubans closer together.”

With Starwood and Marriott, two companies that are expected to merge now that the latter has upped its offer, leading the charge, are others soon to follow?