Kempinski to open first Cuba hotel in Havana

(Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana)

Following in the footsteps of other European hotel companies operating in both the U.S. and Cuba (including Melia, Iberostar and AccorHotels), Switzerland-based Kempinski announced today that it would open its first hotel in Cuba in the second quarter of this year.

Kempinski Hotels has just signed a management contract with the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, which also owns the recently opened Four Points by Sheraton Havana. The Gran Hotel Mazana Kempinski La Habana will have 246 guestrooms in the historic Manzana de Gómez building in Old Havana.

"We are very pleased to be opening this outstanding hotel in the spring," Markus Semer, chairman of the management board and CEO of Kempinski Hotels, said in a statement. "The opening is a continuation of our pioneering spirit as the Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana will be Cuba’s first modern luxury five-star hotel. And its location within a famous historic building currently makes it the most exclusive hotel project in Old Havana.”

“For us, it is important to gain new partners who are internationally renowned, to manage our hotels, for this reason Kempinski was selected to take care of our new hotel in Havana,” Carlos M. Latuff, executive president Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, added. 

Currently, international trade with Cuba is restricted by specific rules. Private partnerships are not allowed, forcing all foreign businesses to apply to the Cuban government for permission to develop in the country. Both the private international business and the government must provide capital and then divide the profits in a pre-determined pattern.

In December, however, the European Union and Cuba signed an agreement to support economic development and promote both democracy and human rights. With Europe-based hotel companies increasing their Cuban pipelines, this agreement could ease the way for more development from EU member nations—just as U.S. businesses face more challenges on developing a Cuban footprint.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that the development of Cuba's economy would be a major factor of the agreement, but noted the ongoing embargo between the U.S. and Cuba as a "major obstacle to trade relations" between the EU and Cuba.

With Marriott and other U.S. hotel companies looking to grow in Cuba, the growth of European brands is likely to spark increased competition.