HAVANA CLIMA

With López-Calleja Now Dead, Accor Gives-In and Blue Diamond Scores More Hotels in Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba. – On June 21, 2022, tourism magazine Excelencias News Cuba announced that several Cuban and foreign companies with links to the island’s Ministry of Tourism, had submitted offers of “Cuba Destination” to various travel agencies in Mexico. Which means that, according to the news release, about one month ago, tour operators, businessmen and Ministry of Tourism officials traveled to Mexico with “news” regarding “connectivity and hotel infrastructure” that would make the offer attractive.

Participating in that gathering was Cuba’s Viñales Tours S.A., but also, among other foreign companies, France’s Accor Hotels, one of the fastest growing hotel chains during the last ten years not only in the island but in all Latin America. Accor, along with Meliá and Iberostar, were among the hotel chains that in the 90s –immediately following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the disappearance of Soviet subsidies- ventured on tourism development in Cuba as an economic palliative for the Castro regime.

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Gisela Morejón, Sales Executive for Accor Hotels, described at the gathering “the strengths” of two of her company’s jewels: the Pullman Cayo Coco Hotel, a giant among “all-inclusive” hotels, with 566 guest rooms, 10 bars and seven restaurants; and the SO/Paseo del Prado, the first designer hotel in Havana, possibly the most sophisticated of all hotels in the island and which, therefore, is the one where the French invested the most time and money. So much so, that the design of service-staff uniforms was commissioned from the famous Spanish designer, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

The French seemed to be doing well with the Paseo del Prado, so much so that, in 2021, it was chosen as the “Best New Hotel in the Caribbean” at the World MICE Awards, even though it was competing with other prestigious facilities in the area, like Hilton’s Koi Resort Saint Kitts, and the Palacio Provincial, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

However, all of a sudden, Accor has decided to abandon its most precious treasure in the Caribbean. Barely a couple of weeks ago, on July 16, tourism authorities in the island showed great satisfaction when making public the decision to transfer the management of SO/Paseo del Prado to Blue Diamond Resorts, the Canadian company to which [the government] granted all rights –including free exporting- over the exploitation of tourism in Cayo Largo del Sur.

Accor: from enthralled to disappointed

Having started construction in 2016 and finishing it in 2020 –with 100% Accor capital- the idea to manage jointly with Gaviota S.A. what would become the best hotel in Cuba emerged ten years earlier, when the French hotel company requested several parcels of land in Havana to bring about its project.

Prior to that, Accor had been granted –under the Mercure brand, the management of the Sevilla Hotel, also on Paseo del Prado boulevard, but the French company, which had established itself on the island since 1996, had more ambitious plans. In spite of repeated attempts, Accor was not getting approval from the Ministry of Tourism which preferred to grant the best parcels of land to other competitors like Kempinski and Iberostar, and even to Chinese companies that were interested, also, in building real estate projects linked to golf courses in the outskirts of the capital.

In keeping with this, the parcel of land at the intersection of Prado and Malecón boulevards was granted at first to two Chinese companies. In a few months, when the earth-moving work was just getting started, the complexity of the task made the Chinese companies lose interest, and they abandoned the project, leaving Cuba’s tourist authorities holding a veritable hot potato.

Neither Meliá nor Iberostar were interested...

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