HAVANA – The U.S. Starwood hotel group on the weekend signed the first accord with Cuba to operate two hotels in Havana, an agreement inked just before the historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to the island, the company said in an official statement.
This is the first accord between Cuba and a U.S. hotel company since 1959, a pact reached after the U.S. Treasury granted Starwood authorization to invest in Cuba.
In addition, a letter of intent was signed to invest in another hotel facility in the Cuban capital.
Havana’s iconic Hotel Inglaterra will join Starwood’s luxury collection while the Hotel Quinta Avenida, in the capital’s Miramar district, will be the first Four Points hotel in Cuba to belong to the Sheraton chain, a division of the U.S. hotel group.
Both hotels will reopen in late 2016 after renovation, the company said, adding that it will undertake the rehabbing together with the Cuban state-run Gran Caribe and Gaviota hotels.
Starwood hopes to close another deal with the Cuban state-run Habaguanex tourist company to include the Hotel Santa Isabel, a luxury colonial palace in the heart of the Havana historic district, in its luxury collection.
Last week, citing official and business sources, U.S. media reported that the Starwood and Marriot International hotel groups and AT&T intended to close agreements in the coming days to expand their business activities to Cuba.
The announcement came a month after the signing of an accord to reestablish direct flights between the island and the United States, leading to a potential 110 daily air connections between the two nations.
More recently, Obama implemented a new series of measures designed to relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba, allowing trips to the island by American citizens as “people to people” visits, although U.S. tourism to Cuba is still prohibited.
As a result of the December 2014 Cuban-U.S. announcement to reestablish relations, the island has experienced a boom in foreign tourist arrivals, which exceeded 3.5 million in 2015.