Banyan Tree is 1st Asian hotel brand in Cuba

Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts' 516-room Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria resort opened on Christmas Eve.
Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts' 516-room Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria resort opened on Christmas Eve.PHOTO: BANYAN TREE

First of four hotels planned opens there; this marks group's second venture into Latin America

Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts became the first Asian hospitality brand to enter Cuba when it opened a lifestyle resort on Cayo Santa Maria, a small island off the northern coast.

The Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria complex, which has a private beach, is the first of four hotels the group plans for Cuba.

It "marks Banyan Tree's second venture into Latin America after two successful hotel openings in Mexico", it noted in a statement. Banyan Tree is also the first Singapore firm to head to Cuba, the group said.

The 516-room resort, which opened on Christmas Eve, has five restaurants and four bars, two swimming pools, a fitness centre, a kids' club and a 545-seat theatre.

It is a 90-minute drive from Santa Clara International Airport, which has flights from places such as Havana and Toronto.

The Banyan Tree Group manages or has ownership interests in over 43 hotels and resorts, 66 spas, 80 retail galleries and three golf courses.

It has four brands: Banyan Tree and Angsana, and the newly established Cassia and Dhawa.

Hospitality firms are keen to grow their brands in Cuba, which had a record four million tourists last year, up 13 per cent over 2015, with much of the increase coming from American and European visitors.

Havana's Ministry of Tourism reportedly said on Dec 31 that a record for international visitors to the island was set last year, exceeding projections by about 6 per cent.

Agence France-Presse added: "Tourism is the No. 2 source of revenue on the cash-strapped island, second only to the export of doctors and medical services."

In March last year, Starwood Hotels was the first US firm to sign a hotel deal in Cuba since 1959. It opened a Sheraton in Havana in June.

Cuban hotel rooms were also opened to American customers on Booking.com last March, the first US online travel agency to make a deal with Cuba. Reuters said the travel agency's parent, Priceline Group, began working on taking its services to Cuba soon after US President Barack Obama's announcement of a thaw in ties with Cuba on Dec 17, 2014. Diplomatic ties were restored in 2015.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Banyan Tree's executive chairman, also previously said the opening of the Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria in Cuba was a result of years of planning. "We made the decision long ago to enter Cuba. It's exotic, has beautiful beaches and it has the size that a lot of Caribbean countries do not have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Banyan Tree is 1st Asian hotel brand in Cuba'. Print Edition | Subscribe