September 28, 2009 / 5:57 PM / 11 years ago

Chinese hotel project in Cuba eyes U.S. market

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Hemingway Hotel may have an American ring to it, but it is the name of a Chinese-Cuban venture scheduled for groundbreaking this year with an apparent eye on the U.S. market, tourism industry sources said.

State-run Suntine International-Economic Trading Company of China and Cuba’s Cubanacan hotel group are partners in the project, which will be a 600-room luxury hotel, the sources, who asked not to be identified, said over the weekend.

Future U.S., not Chinese, tourists appear to be the target market for the hotel that will be built on the grounds of the sprawling Hemingway Marina just west of Havana.

Renovations are already underway at the marina, named after famed U.S. author Ernest Hemingway who resided in Cuba for many years, with the expectation that U.S. boats will soon be coming to the island just 90 miles south of Key West, Florida.

The United States has long banned most of its citizens from visiting Communist-led Cuba, under a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island, but U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants improved ties between the two countries.

Obama has lifted restrictions on Cuban American travel to Cuba and bills are pending in the U.S. Congress that would eliminate the ban on travel to Cuba, a popular U.S. tourist destination before the island’s 1959 revolution.

The passage of the travel bills is not assured because of opposition, particularly among Cuban Americans, to renewing ties with the current Cuban government.

Citic Construction, the main contractor for the Beijing Olympic Games, and the Cuban Construction Ministry will build the proposed Hemingway hotel.

At a Havana meeting this month, the Chinese and Cuban partners set a November start date for construction, diplomatic sources said, although such plans are often delayed for logistical reasons.

Neither Suntine International nor Cubanacan were immediately available for comment on the project.

With the prospect of better relations between Havana and Washington, and President Raul Castro widely seen as more pragmatic than his ailing brother Fidel Castro, other foreign investors are positioning themselves for a new era as well.

Raul Castro, 78, took over the Cuban presidency from Fidel Castro, 83, last year.

Tourism industry sources said they had noticed an increased interest in hotel construction and that representatives from some major U.S. hotel companies had quietly visited this year.

Qatar and Cuba signed an agreement in May to build a $75 million luxury hotel on Cuba’s Cayo Largo.

China’s Suntine, with a 49 percent stake, is providing $150 million for the Hemingway Hotel project. Cubanacan, with 51 percent ownership, is providing the land and other resources, the sources said.

Suntine and Cubanacan also are joint venture partners in a 700-room luxury hotel in Shanghai’s Pudong business district, managed by Spain’s Sol Melia.

China is Cuba’s second-largest economic partner after Venezuela. There have been a number of Chinese-Cuban ventures in other sectors like oil, pharmaceuticals, health care and telecommunications.

Editing by Jeff Franks and Pascal Fletcher

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