Travel

Luxury hotels arrive in Havana

But new US president's Cuba policy may reverse the tourism boom

Towering cranes dot the Havana skyline as communist-run Cuba races to build luxury hotels, amid indignation among some residents and concern that United States President Donald Trump might reverse a detente - easing of strained relations - that fuelled the tourist boom.

Swiss-based Kempinski Hotels S.A. inaugurated its Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana in the capital on Wednesday, billing it as Cuba's first true luxury hotel.

The five-star property, managed by Kempinski but owned by the Cuban government, occupies the top floors of a renovated Belle Epoque shopping mall filled with glitzy Gucci and Montblanc stores.

Further down the iconic Paseo del Prado street towards the Caribbean Sea, workers are developing two other sites into luxury hotels to be operated respectively by Spain's Iberostar and France's Accor S.A., the largest hotel group in Europe.

Tourism is the one bright spot in Cuba's dying economy, which is struggling with falling exports and upheaval in major trade partner Venezuela.

Cuba's Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said last month that more than 4.2 million tourists were expected this year, up from 4 million last year. The country was adding 2,000 hotel rooms a year to its stock of 65,000 hotel rooms and 21,000 homes renting to tourists.

Visits by Americans have soared since US-operated cruises and scheduled flights were relaunched last year as part of the detente pursued by former president Barack Obama after a half-century hiatus.

However, Mr Trump is considering tightening those rules when he announces his Cuba policy as soon as this month, according to current and former US officials.

That would likely hurt tourism and might slow the pace of hotel construction.

"We hope that trade and travel restrictions eased by the Obama administration will not be tightened again by the current US government," said Mr Alessandro Benedetti, a marketing director at Kempinski.

"That would not be favourable for any kind of businesses connected to tourism, such as cruise ship operators, airlines or hotel chains." - REUTERS

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