The American hotel chain that owns the St. Regis and Sheraton brands has made history by announcing expansion into Cuba. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. signed three hotel deals in Cuba this weekend, just before President Obama made history by traveling to Havana. The company's announcement marks the first time in nearly 60 years that an American hospitality company will enter Cuba.
The deal involves Starwood taking over and renovating Cuba's Hotel Inglaterra, a landmark property that's more than 140 years old, the Hotel Quinta Avenida, a large hotel in Miramar, and the Hotel Santa Isabel, a tiny hotel that has been on the recommended list of properties in Havana by Cigar Aficionado.
The deal comes as interest in Havana is soaring, and the city's hotels are unable to handle the present demand. Current properties, in many cases, are also in dire need of upgrades, facelifts and major renovations.
The Inglaterra will join the Starwood Luxury Collection of hotels. The Quinta Avenida will become a Four Points by Sheraton, with 186 rooms. Starwood plans to renovate both properties and have them open again for business later this year. The deal with the Hotel Santa Isabel, the only one Starwood said was still subject to approval by the U.S. Treasury Department, is meant to turn the hotel into a member of the Luxury Collection. The hotel will have a mere 27 rooms, 11 of them suites.
In 2011, Cigar Aficionado's Gordon Mott wrote of the Isabel: "This hotel could easily be one of the top five in our rankings. ... The rooms are big, with high ceilings, and 10 standard rooms on the top floor share the hotel's top floor terrace with views to the east. It is ranked among the country's five-star establishments, but we found it just a little starker compared to several other top hotels. However, this hotel will make you feel like you are in Havana, and its location on the edge of Old Havana makes it easy to get in and out."
Starwood has partners in Cuba on these ventures. It's working with Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. on the Hotel Quinta Avenida, and with Cuba's Habaguanex on the Santa Isabel.
"Hotel conversions, like those we announced today, allow us to preserve history, architecture and culture while offering a unique branded experience," said Jorge Giannattasio, Starwood's senior vice president and chief of Latin America operations. "With our long-standing, locally based and highly experienced teams in Latin America and the Caribbean, we look forward to welcoming guests to Cuba for many decades to come."
Starwood, which recently agreed to $13.6 billion merger offer from Marriott International Inc., has nearly 1,300 properties in about 100 countries and approximately 188,000 employees. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol HOT.