With 100,000 rooms in 43 countries, Meliá Hotels International is one of the leading hotel chains of the world and the undisputed leader in Cuba, which will end this year managing 34 hotels of four and five stars and 14.600 rooms (of the nearly 50,000 that the country is managed by foreign companies). Along with the opening of two new luxury hotels in the tourist poles of Varadero and Cayo Santa Maria, this year Meliá bet with force by the destinations and routes heritage in cuba, including Camaguey and Cienfuegos. "From now on you can visit the island from east to west of the hand of the Meliá", explains the vice-president and CEO of the company, Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, who is participating this Friday in a panel on tourism in the framework of a great business forum hispanic-cuban organized on the occasion of the visit to Cuba of the Spanish president, Pedro Sanchez.
Meliá came to Cuba 28 years ago. How has been the experience? Do you imagined that the Division of Cuba would be as important to your company?
Many deemed crazy to our president, and at the end it showed that he was a great visionary. Cuba is today the second country in number of establishments and number of rooms for Melia, so I would say it has been a love story, a story of success and of commitment to, and development of the cuban tourism sector, along with Meliá in these last thirty years.
In 2018 and 2019 Melia will have a strong international growth, with the opening of half a hundred hotels, many of them in Cuba.
I Am convinced that Cuba is the pearl of the Caribbean. What you have to offer over other destinations in the Caribbean is unique. Not only for its natural beauty or for its beaches, but for its cultural heritage. The possibility of offering to the customer in addition to paradise-like beaches a few destinations that are the Heritage of Humanity of Unesco, as Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, and so on, is something unique. If we add to this the hospitality of the people, which is among the highest in the world, it becomes a magical formula. This is why we believe that the development of tourism in this island, which is only in the beginning, has a lot to offer.
why is it worth it to continue betting on Cuba?
To begin with, there is security to tourists, which is something very valued. And in addition there are security companies, the tourism sector or from others. I always put an example to Cuba as a country which preserves legal certainty: to Melíá, with nearly thirty years of established on the island, everything that was promised to us was fulfilled to the letter. Last year won the mixed arrangement that we had for 25 years, and we've extended for another 25. At that time, Meliá decided to almost double its shareholding. Where before we had a 20% we now have slightly over 35%, with which we are demonstrating personally that we believe in it.
How does this effect the us embargo and the ban on american travelers to stay at certain hotels on the island?
it Is a pity, definitely. In his day, under the Obama Administration, was established twelve or thirteen types of visa different to visit the island, but the visa that is always excluded is the tourist visa. The Retrobet decrease in the flow the american has not affected both the tourist resorts, like Varadero, or the keys, but so significant to Havana, in both the occupation as the average prices. I wish that re-established the collaboration and back come the americans, because the level of satisfaction that they had when they visited the island was the highest.
What does Cuba the tourist beyond excellent beaches?
What I mentioned before: put a value on a beach destination with a cultural heritage that does not exist in any other place in the Caribbean.
Melíá is already in Havana, in Santiago, in Cienfuegos, in Camagüey...
And soon in Trinidad.
When in Trinidad?
We are breaking ground in the coming months, and we'll be a year or year and a half building. Four poles with more value to the level of wealth will be covered, and be able to visit the island from east to west, sleeping in hotels Meliá. We believe that this is a unique product, because at the level of circuits, especially for the european public and especially the German, you may be offered the combination of being three or four days of beach and three or four days in cities of great heritage value.
What are the challenges in Cuba?
The challenges are continuing to work closely with the cuban authorities in the development of this strategic plan for tourism 20/20, as we have done in the past few years. I always as an example the development of tourism in Cuba, a planned development, sustainable, very strategic and very long, knowing how they have developed tourism poles in the medium and long term. What we see in the keys, in Varadero and in all the places where we are present.
what Are the beneficial visits of State as the president's Pedro Sanchez for the interests of the Spanish business?
Extremely, without a doubt. I am convinced that it can be a salutary lesson for other investors, the Spanish set in Cuba and in all that the island can offer, which is a lot. So, definitely, I think it is very positive to this kind of visits.
what is needed Is a State policy towards Cuba? Until now Cuba is a matter of internal policy, and changes when you change the Government.
Without a doubt is a lack of a State policy, not to go to the beat of legislatures. It has demonstrated the affinity between the two peoples, the cuban and the Spanish. Whenever I come to this island, I feel very loved, and I like all the spaniards, and with the ties and cultural links there is a penalty that does not know to exploit much better. There are other countries, such as France, which in the past have benefited of an international agenda on the part of its various presidents. It is a pity that this island somehow has been forgotten over the last 32 years by the Spanish authorities.