A Lot of Exciting Things Are Happening in Cuba Now
And Obama's arrival is just one of those things.
Over the weekend, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide arrived in Cuba, alongside President Obama. Starwood became the first U.S.-based hotel company to enter Cuba since the revolution, while Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to travel to Cuba in almost 90 years.
After getting the thumbs-up from both U.S. as well as Cuban government officials, Starwood signed an agreement to manage and market two Havana properties, including Hotel Inglaterra (now a part of The Luxury Collection) Hotel Quinta Avenida (a Four Points by Sheraton). Starwood also plans to transform Hotel Santa Isabel—a Spanish Colonial property overlooking the Plaza de Armas—into a Luxury Collection property. Starwood plans to invest many millions of dollars into the properties, which will sport Starwood flags after undergoing significant renovations to bring them up to global luxury standards.
And while Starwood has just accepted a bid from Marriott International (the merger is set to create the world’s largest hotel company) Marriott also got the green light from the U.S. treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to invest in Cuban hotel development. Marriott has yet to sign any deals with Cuba-based properties or chains.
And if all that wasn’t exciting enough for U.S. travelers eager to travel to Cuba, a third hospitality development transpired over the weekend: Priceline became the first U.S. online travel agency settle on an agreement with Cuba.
In a matter of weeks, travelers will be able to book and pay for hotel rooms in Cuba using Priceline subsidiary, Booking.com. You’ll still have to certify that you’re traveling within an approved category (think: education, humanitarian purposes) but these new developments—including the restoration of commercial air travel agreements—are making it easier than ever to visit the island nation once considered a Cold War foe.
Clearly, relations between Cuba and the U.S. are warming up quicker than ever before.
Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.