On May 15 and 16, the first edition of SAHIC Cuba was held in Havana, Cuba, the first Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference in that country.
Two hundred and twenty-five attendees from twenty six countries crowded into the facilities of Meliá Cohiba Hotel eager to discover the prospects of the Tourism Industry in Cuba and its opportunities.
The event proved to be “the place” to meet and network with the main players in the industry and to discover where the Cuban hotel industry is headed. As I stated on the occasion of the opening of this unforgettable event: “We are so excited because the idea is to put together people from all over the world with the key decision makers from Cuba, who will be their partners”.
During an interview held at the conference, the Cuban historian Eusebio Leal Spengler, internationally recognized for leading the Restoration Program of Old Havana, clearly explained a concept that allows us to understand one of the main strengths of Cuba: “It would not have been possible to restore the buildings without an adequate repair of the social projects as well. Nearly 90% of tourists in Cuba want to see Havana”, Leal said. He added, “They not only want to see the cities but also want to meet our people. Not every building will turn into a hotel. It is important to integrate schools and art, to include community and to revive its history”.
Also, Deborah Rivas, from the Directorate of Foreign Investment of Cuba, highlighted the different options within the legal framework to facilitate foreign investment in her country and the procedures that must be followed to obtain the business permits and licenses required.
Francisco Camps Orfila, from Meliá, and Mateo Caldentey Llull, from Iberostar Group, were interviewed by Fernando García-Chacon from JLL Hotels and they were very kind to share with their colleagues, future competitors, all their experience gained after so many years of doing business in Cuba. They elaborated on how to understand the process leading to finding the right local partner and what are the key points to consider when deciding on an investment, development and / or management of hotels in the great Caribbean island.
The agenda for the two days of meetings clearly met the expectations of the participants, who found that they could gain a broad view on all the issues in the spotlight and of importance for those who want to be part of the future of tourism development in Cuba.
A separate paragraph must undoubtedly be dedicated to the unforgettable cocktail reception on the terraces of the legendary Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Superb, on par with any great reception in the world. When music started, the performance of one of the leading figures of the Cuban music, Omara Portuondo, was stunning. The well-known member of the famous Buena Vista Social Club, about to celebrate her 87th birthday, delighted the audience with her voice and warmth.
The fluctuations of a future to unveil
SAHIC Cuba has arisen great expectations among all those who had the opportunity to attend the event. Many opportunities were revealed with absolute clarity, still many questions hanging around and they are today the reason for frequent consultation.
How does this process continue? What can you expect about American hotel companies being able to follow the path taken by airlines and cruise lines? Not to mention the pioneering presence of Airnbnb, which began operating in April 2015 and has undoubtedly contributed to the development of “Private Houses”, as called in Cuba.
How will the scheme promoted by the previous administration in Washington continue? The one that allowed American travelers to visit Cuba if they fit one of the twelve different reasons of travel allowed (educational, professional meetings, religious activities, among others), with the exception of tourism of course, which is expressly prohibited by the provisions of the embargo. Will this self-license system continue to be in force, which did not require prior permission by the American authority? Will it expand, as some hold, or will it be restricted to make it less permissive?
These and other questions are part of the legitimate concerns of all who follow this process.
Especially in these days much is spoken about this and lobbying regarding the subject is evident. On the one hand, there are those who have always opposed the process of reestablishing relations between Cuba and the United States and, on the other, those who insist on deepening the process of rapprochement, allowing Americans to visit the island for tourism reasons and on lifting the embargo in force since 57 years ago (!!!).
Far from those movements, outside any political position but very close to the obvious reality that I can see thanks to my professional task after forty years of experience in the industry and particularly in Latin America, I have no doubt that the development of tourism in Cuba is in a way with no turn back.
The largest island in the Caribbean, with spectacular natural resources (many of them still unspoiled), a cultural wealth more than singular, with educated and friendly people loving music and respecting its history, and one of the safest places in the world, has everything to become soon the second most visited destination in the region.
Twelve million tourists a year start to be seen as a reality that will happen before the end of the next decade.
For some it may sound like a dream and maybe even like nonsense. Time ago, SAHIC Cuba may have sounded the same but reality showed that all the expectations were exceeded.
We will surely meet there again soon.