Almost 250 attendees from 25 countries gathered in Havana, Cuba, for the island’s first edition of SAHIC, South American Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference.
This inaugural conference was aimed at promoting the hotel, tourism, cruise ship, airline, and real estate industries in the country. Moreover, it offered participants the opportunity to build their network and get insights on how the businesses will evolve in the future, as Cuba emerges as a clear investment destination. With 4 million tourist arrivals in 2016, SAHIC Cuba proved to be a landmark for the hospitality and tourism sectors on the island. Curiosity and excitement were in the air as attendees gathered at the Meliá Cohíba for two days of activities and talks. Nobody wanted to miss the long awaited “go-to” industry meeting as the world turns to this recently emerging country. The two-day conference was organised around networking sessions, talks, panels, and interviews.
As a student assistant, my role was to help regarding the organisation and oversee the smooth running of the event. Cuba has the potential of becoming Latin America’s second key tourist destination. Arturo García Rosa, President & Founder of SAHIC The highlights of the conference were the presence of David Scowsill, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, as well as Eusebio Leal Spengler, the famous Cuban historian known for having led the restoration project of Old Havana. Mr. Scowsill delivered a talk on the global and regional trends and the outlook for the hotel and tourism industry, during which he insisted on the importance of sustainable tourism.
Mr. Leal stated that:
It would not be possible to restore the buildings without social repair projects as well. Nearly 90 percent of tourists to Cuba want to see Havana. And not only do they want to see the cities but they want to meet our people. Not everything will be turned into hotels. It’s important to integrate schools and art, include the community and bring back the history. We are seeing the facilities being born again.
“The American Rome.”
Eusebio Leal Spengler, describing Havana
Deborah Rivas, Director General of Foreign Investment, Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Affairs of Cuba, shared tips on how to organise a foreign investment and the procedures to obtain business permits and licences.
Arturo García Rosa mentioned the importance of finding the right Cuban partner before taking any decisions regarding investments and operations in the country. SAHIC Cuba was the perfect opportunity for stakeholders from all around the world to come together and share ideas and projects, while finding that perfect partner. 2017 will be an interesting year as over 100 foreign investment opportunities are now available, as José Daniel Alonso, Mintur’s Director of Development, Investment, and Business, mentioned in his talk about the investment climate and business openings on the island. He also added that, as of March 2017, 19 international hotel chains from 8 countries with 82 administration contracts were in operation. Altogether, the companies managing these hotels take care of 41,079 rooms, which represent 61.6% of the island’s capacity.
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Moreover, this year is also the International Sustainable Tourism year for Development, which David Scowsill stated as a priority for hospitality executives. SAHIC Cuba coincided with the opening of the first true five-star hotel in Cuba, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, by EHL Alumni Xavier Destribats. I had the opportunity to visit the property before its official opening on June 7th. This event confirms the dynamic state in which Cuba is evolving at the moment: an exciting period of “first times”.
Moreover, these events add to the enthusiasm around “The historical Queen of the Caribbean” as Expedia just opened its online bookings for the destination. This great news confirms the potential that the island has, and the hotel expansion projects which abound. As an EHL student, a current Expedia trainee, and a Cuba aficionada, this period of change and opportunities is simply thrilling.
Author: Laura Joy Bowman - EHL Bachelor student