Inside Cuba’s First ULTRA Luxury Hotel

Cuba’s capital is rich in both culture and character. But, despite this, it has long lacked a hotel that truly justified global attention – until now.

That’s because this week saw the opening of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, which is the capital’s first-ever ultra luxury complex.

Part of the critically-acclaimed Kempinski Group, which already offers stylish stays in 30 other countries, it launched on Monday and injected some serious glamour into the communist island.

Each room is lovingly furnished with polished teak floors and a wealth of designer furnishings, both locally-produced and imported.

Those intending on experiencing the best Hotel Manzana has to offer can reserve the expansive Presidential Suite.

Measuring 1615 square feet, it overlooks the Central Square and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which are two of the most sought-after sights in Havana.

The large French doors invite you to watch daily life in Parque Central: one of the famous squares in the old city.

Outside the rooms, however, there are other riches to be found. In addition to the sumptuous suites, the ground floor is a shopping mall filled with high-end boutiques such as Versace, Lacoste and Montblanc.

But Montblanc salesman Leonardo Padilla admitted he had difficulty selling watches ranging from £1,136 to £3,500 in a country where the average wage is no more than £24.

‘The hotel is really beautiful, but here everything is terribly expensive. It’s not for the Cubans,’ said Lidia Martinez, a 29-year-old housewife from the local area.

However, Kempinski director, Xavier Destribats, believes that there is a market. ‘We appreciate hidden gems and this matches our philosophy,’ he told Cuban state television.

The hotel’s opening comes shortly after Expedia said it had started offering online booking for hotels in Communist-run Cuba, hoping to capitalise on a boom in tourism to the Caribbean island.

Expedia joins a dozen U. S. airlines and cruise operators that have already ventured into the Cuban market since the United States announced a detente with its former Cold War foe in 2014 and eased travel and trade restrictions.

‘I see a lot of potential. We are talking about the largest country in the Caribbean with significant hotel expansion plans,’ Veronica Vega, Expedia area manager for Caribbean, said in an interview.

The number of visitors to Cuba rose 13 per cent to a record four million in 2016, driven by a 74 per cent jump in U. S. travelers. A survey recently showed the number of American visitors alone could multiply sevenfold to two million by 2025.

Americans previously had to reserve Cuban hotels principally through travel agencies or tour groups.

Since 2015, American tourists have also been able to book properties in Cuba on Airbnb Inc. The online home-rental marketplace said last year the island had become its fastest-growing market ever.

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