Geneva-based Kempinski Hotels said Tuesday that it plans to open a five-star hotel this spring in the Old Havana section of the Cuban capital, giving Havana a luxury offering that has been missing from its hotel mix.
Kempinski will operate the 246-room hotel — The Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana — in the historic Manzana de Gómez building under a management contract with Cuba's Grupo de Turismo Gaviota.
It will feature a 1,600-square-foot presidential suite, a rooftop terrace and swimming pool, three restaurants, a cigar lounge, business center and a spa operated by Resense, a Swiss luxury spa brand.
The iconic five-story Manzana de Gómez building, which was completed in 1917, occupies an entire block and was the first European-style shopping arcade in Cuba.
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Bounded by Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets, the hotel features views of the Capitolio, the old Bacardi headquarters and the streets of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Reuters reported in July that among the workers retrofitting the building as a hotel were more than 100 laborers from India contracted by the French construction group Bouygues — an indication that Cuba has been relaxing its labor restrictions in an effort to attract foreign companies.
Although Havana is a city of more than 2.1 million residents, it only has a handful of what would be considered first-class hotels and those are often booked months in advance.
“The Saratoga is considered a luxury property but it is more a boutique hotel. The Kempinski hotel is a whole other level in terms of brand, professionalism and the size of the hotel,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which takes groups of Americans to Cuba.
“It certainly fills a gap in terms of supply. Almost all the upscale visitors in that part of town are trying to get into the Saratoga or the Parque Central, and the Kempinski is going to be a great offering,” he added.
Last year Cuba received more than 4 million international visitors, and tourism officials are predicting another record year in 2017 with 4.2 international arrivals.
No date has been set for the grand opening of the Manzana La Habana, but officials of the Swiss hotel chain said it would be in the second quarter of this year.
“The opening is a continuation of our pioneering spirit as the Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana will be Cuba’s first modern luxury five-star hotel. And its location within a famous historic building currently makes it the most exclusive hotel project in Old Havana,” said Markus Semer, chairman and chief executive of Kempinski Hotels.
Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group is “a perfect fit with the Manzana de Gómez,” said Carlos M. Latuff, executive president of Gaviota. “Together with Kempinski we will make this jewel the city’s leading luxury hotel.”
Gaviota is among the state-run companies under the umbrella of GAESA, a sprawling conglomerate run by the Cuban military. As a Cuban tourism enterprise, Gaviota’s portfolio includes 64 hotels and villas with more than 27,000 rooms in the 3, 4 and 5 star categories, marinas, a tour company and Transgaviota, a transportation services company.
International partners such as Meliá International, Iberostar Hotels and Resorts, H10, Blue Diamond, Valentín, and Warwick International manage more than 80 percent of Gaviota’s hotel portfolio. In addition to Kempinski, Gaviota plans management contracts with Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, Sercotel, Centara Hotels and Resorts, MGM Muthu Hotels and Catalonia Hotels and Resorts this year.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi