For the first time in over half a century, a U.S. chain is running a hotel in Cuba: the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana. Washington however continues to prohibit U.S. citizens visiting the island as tourists.

On June 28 last, the Starwood chain started operating the 186-room facility in the residential area of Miramar, west of Havana, as part of a contract with the Gaviota group.

Jorge Giannattasio, Starwood‘s chief of Latin American Operations said that “The project is a great achievement and in my opinion a big step forward for both Starwood and the Cuban hotel industry,“ said.

For the first time in over half a century, a U.S. chain is running a hotel in Cuba: the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana.The Four Points by Sheraton – previously Hotel Quinta Avenida –required a special license granted by the Department of the Treasury to come into being because bilateral business relations are still subject to the blockade prohibitions, in force since 1962.

The official from one of world’s leading chains added that, “This is a unique, special, once-in-a-lifetime moment. With this iconic opening we believe that we are building a bridge that will allow travelers from all latitudes to better experience the world.”

The chairman of the Gaviota group, Carlos Latuff, also considers this “a new chapter in the history of the Cuban hotel industry,” and “the beginning of a long working relationship.”

In a press conference from Washington, the assistant spokesman of the Department of State, Mark Toner, said that the event would favor the process of normalizing relations between both countries.

“There are benefits from this type of investment. Providing quality and secure accommodation to authorized travelers will increase people-to-people contacts and will benefit the normalization process,” he added.

Toner added that the development would also contribute to “the training of Cuban hotel and tourism sector staff for the sector“.

The Starwood representatives said the chain plans to run another two facilities in Havana: the Inglaterra Hotel, with 83 rooms ( belonging to the Gran Caribe Group hotel), and the Santa Lucía Hotel (of the Habaguanex group). The latter is located in Havana’s historic centre and faces the entrance to the bay.

A contract has already been signed for the administration of the Inglaterra Hotel, opposite Parque Central.

A letter of intent has been drafted in the case of the Santa Lucía Hotel and it is hoped that this soon will translate into business.

Even with the blockade still in force, the number of visitors from the United States increased by 93% in the first four months of 2016.

During the same period in 2015, 94 thousand visitors arrived in the country, according to official statistics.

The increase is the result of the approval of 12 general license categories by the Barack Obama government, which has led to predictions of even further growth should tourist travel be approved.

Cuban estimates that the country will receive a record number of more than 3.7 million foreign visitors in 2016. Last year the country welcomed over 3.5 million visitors.

Today, the so-called clean industry is one of the most dynamic sectors of the Cuban national economy, and the second source of foreign currency income. According to government statistics it brought in 1,940 million dollars in 2015.

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