Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — Cuba’s Gaviota Group has big plans for expansion over the next several years, with two new hotels for the coming winter season at Villa Clara and Jardines del Rey Keys, and 15,000 rooms with 30 new hotels by 2018 in Havana, Varadero, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Holguin, the keys at the north of Villa Clara and Baracoa.
Every year more than one million Canadians visit Cuba “and around a half a million of them enjoy our services,” said Frank Oltuski, Vice President of Marketing for Gaviota Group.
Currently Gaviota Group owns about 55 hotels with 24,000 rooms, representing more than a third of the country’s total capacity.
International hotel chains including Melia International, Iberostar, Occidental, Blau, Riu, Valentin, H10, Hotusa, Pestana and Blue Diamond resorts run 87% of Gaviota’s hotel product. Gaviota also manages its own accommodation business with 3,484 hotel rooms across the island.
Incoming agency Gaviota Tours, meanwhile, provides the ground handling for most of the major Canadian tour operators, including Sunwing Vacations, Air Canada Vacations, Transat Holidays, TMR and Can Jet Vacations.
Last year Melia Marina Varadero Hotel was opened with 423 rooms. “Melia Marina Varadero is a beautiful hotel” joined to Marina Gaviota Varadero, the most complete port in the Caribbean, said Oltuski.
In Varadero, Gaviota has 12 hotels, with more than 8,000 rooms, and the company is working towards to make its operation even stronger in this famous Cuban beach, he added.
By next year Gaviota plans to open a new Varadero hotel with 470 rooms, to be managed by the Ocean hotel chain. In 2016, another new project with 827 rooms should be ready. “It means that Gaviota will open 1,297 new rooms in Varadero, in just two seasons,” said Oltuski.
In Cayo Buba Key, located just at the end of Hicacos peninsula at the end of Varadero, Gaviota plans to begin the construction on a luxury resort in 2015.
In Villa Clara Keys Gaviota has 10 all-inclusive resorts including the Eurostars Cayo Santa Maria hotel which opened last year with 846 rooms. In Cayo Santa Maria the new Valentin Perla Blanca hotel will start operations with 1,020 rooms.
“From 2015 to 2016 we are planning to add 3,158 rooms in Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria, totalling almost 13,500 rooms in the Villa Clara Keys, reaching their full potential,” said Oltuski.
Infrastructure including transportation services, new marina equipment and nautical facilities will grow in parallel in order to keep up with the increasing demand of nautical trips, transfers and excursions, he added.
In Jardines del Rey, Gaviota opened the Pestana Cayo Coco hotel with 508 rooms. There’s also the new Melia Jardines del Rey in Cayo Coco with 1,176 new rooms.
In Cayo Guillermo Gaviota is building a new hotel in Playa Pilar, with 482 rooms, for completion next year.
All told, between 2015 and 2018 Gaviota Group is planning to increase 15,000 rooms across the country.
Havana is at the centre of the company’s development, he added. Gaviota currently runs 1,297 hotel rooms in Havana, located at Quinta Avenida, Occidental Miramar and the H10 Panorama, among others.
Work is in motion to convert Havana’s former Manzana de Gomez building into a “magnificent” hotel managed by Kempinski chain, with 246 rooms and a scheduled opening for the second half of 2016.
Another two new hotels will be coming to Havana in 2017. One will be located at the intersection of Prado and Malecon with 210 rooms. The other, the Packard Hotel with 261 rooms, will be managed by Iberostar. Three more Havana hotel projects are the Gran Hotel, Regis Hotel and Metropolitano Hotel.