Cuba’s first five-star luxury hotel opened in Havana on Monday. The Gran Hotel Manzana, which is part of the Swiss group Kempinski, is situated at the heart of Havana in front of the Grand Theater of Alicia Alonso and the gardens of Parque Central.
The facility is jointly owned by Kempinski and the military-controlled Gaviota. Its European-style building was a shopping center called the Manzana de Gomez that first opened in 1917. It was completely renovated by hundreds of workers flown in from India. The Cuban government reportedly made a rare exception by allowing foreign workers to restore the structure.
The hotel offers five-star comfort to guests for between $440 and $2,500 a night. It features 246 rooms—50 of which are suites—four bars, two restaurants, a spa, gym, a rooftop infinity pool, and a ground-floor shopping mall containing high-end boutiques like Lacoste, Montblanc, Giorgio Armani, and Versace.
Despite having prices that are beyond the ordinary Cuban’s reach (the average monthly salary is $29), many locals reportedly came to see the ground-floor gallery of shops on Monday.
“The hotel is really beautiful, but everything is awfully expensive here. It’s not for the Cuban people,” local housewife Lidia Martinez told AFP.
Kempinski’s CEO Xavier Destribats called the hotel a “hidden gem” that “matches [Kempinski’s] philosophy” on Cuban state television. Kempinski is the oldest hotel group in Europe with 74 luxury hotels in 30 countries. The Gran Hotel Manzana is the group’s first hotel in the Americas.
The opening of the luxury hotel comes at an opportune time. Cuba’s diplomatic reconciliation with the U.S. has greatly increased the number of tourists visiting the island. The Obama administration wiped away many stiff travel and commerce restrictions, and for the first time in decades, Americans are can visit Cuba without prior permission of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.
But the visit has to fall under one of 12 travel categories, including religious activities, educational activities, family visits, official business for the U.S. government or foreign governments, journalistic activities, humanitarian projects, professional research, and participation in clinics, workshops, exhibitions, and public performances.
While Americans still can’t go to Cuba to simply lay on the beach, U.S. officials have suggested that there would be little policing of the comings and goings of those making educational trips to the island. Travelers who do simple things like visit museums, go sightseeing, participate in activities with locals, and keep a daily journal can meet the requirements for an educational trip.
In addition to approving the 12 categories for travel, former President Barack Obama also lifted limits on the use of American dollars for transactions on the island to help ease trade. This was one of the most significant changes made by the U.S. Treasury and Department of Commerce since Obama and Castro announced plans for rapprochement in 2014.
The new measures also removed the limits on the amount of rum and cigars American travelers can pack in their luggage, provided it’s strictly for personal use.