A broad investment plan today guides the efforts of Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), as work is underway to increase the number of rooms available in the country, hotels are being repaired and new ones begun, along with extra-hotel options that complement the experience of travelers who choose Cuba.Supporting this investment process, and follow-up on the successful completion of projects, are important items on the government's agenda, progress on which is regularly and rigorously evaluated.In several parts of the island, construction is advancing. Before the challenge that this panorama implies, some questions emerge: Who decides where to invest and why are some facilities chosen to become hotels?Granma International spoke with engineer José R. Daniel Alonso, Mintur’s general director for Development, about the selection process.
What types of buildings are chosen to become hotels? Why?
As part of the comprehensive development of tourism, going beyond sun and sand destinations, and including visits to heritage cities, natural environments, and experiences in everyday life in Cuba, a significant number of buildings have been identified across the country that could be of interest to tourism.
Some may be heritage sites, as occurred in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, where this past year, tourist installations were inaugurated like the Palacio de Arenas and the Hotel Sagua, both in deplorable condition.
On other occasions, for example, buildings that at one time were hotels have been renovated, plus those with only the façade remaining, as was the case with the current Packard, in its era the Biscuit Hotel, and another soon to be completed, the Gran Hotel, close to the Teatro Martí. With this same intention, we are also preparing the restoration of the New York Hotel.
These investments did not emerge randomly, but rather involve a process of reconciliation with governments and proprietors of buildings; and studies of their structures are conducted by specialized enterprises.
Who participates in these decisions?
Investment decisions, in all cases, are made in compliance with the provisions of Decree Law 327, Investment Process Regulation, which governs such activity in the country. In addition, both here in Havana and in the rest of the country, consultations are held with committees charged with approving specific cases, such as Heritage Committees and others that have an impact on the conservation of cities.In this way, all parties involved must state their consent or opposition, through an official document. Nothing is done until a project is first analyzed and approved.When all these entities agree with the submitted project, then the investment is undertaken, but if there is no agreement, I can assure you that, in no case, has the Ministry of Tourism made investments without prior approval of all decision makers.The parties, identified in Decree Law 327, which must approve an investment projects, are the Institute of Physical Planning (IPF), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma) and other governing bodies in the country involved in these processes. All participating entities must give their approval through the IPF, through consultations established in areas under study and in the certification of precise localization.How extensive can the construction or repair of a property be, when we’re talking about heritage conservation?In the first place it is determined if the structure can be restored, and if possible, maintain what has patrimonial value. In these cases, we are not only talking about hotels, this is also done with extra-hotel facilities. There are countless examples of non-tourist sites for which this has been done. For example, breweries, restaurants, and others that not only allow cities to preserve deteriorated heritage sites, but also generate income.In no case do we ever arrive and just say: We are going to do what we want; even with our own facilities. The most recent example is the renovation of the Xanadú Mansion, in Varadero.
The installation, which belongs to the Ministry of Tourism, has a high degree of protection, which is why we as an entity do nothing without the agreement of the of Havana Restoration Enterprise, which is the specialist in all matters related to restoration projects.In most cases, it is this entity that approves even the materials that can be used in the property’s renovation. The company certifies the materials and verifies that they have the required quality and are consistent with the property's value. In hotels like the Hotel Nacional or the Havana Riviera, the same thing applies. The materials must be of a quality in accordance the buildings to be restored.This is also the case with the façades of hotels and other tourist areas. Right now, across all of Havana, underway is a project, the Master Plan, to restore patrimonial properties. In this case, everything that has to do with properties inside the limits of the central historic district, tourism sector entities consult with the City Historian’s Office, and it is established that in this area, there is no foreign investment.The only enterprise modality that is considered is that of administration contracts, but never giving participation to foreign companies when it comes to equity. This is an important policy that the Cuban government defends.
Previously, City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler explained to the digital magazine La Jiribilla, the responsibility with which the Office of the City Historian has assumed numerous investment projects within this area of the city. Work done on all buildings by the Office, Leal insisted, has been completed with full respect for their heritage value, with great care and rigor as part of every decision."In this sense, we have a broad working relationship with the Ministry of Tourism and the GAESA Enterprise Group, always on the basis of mutual respect and observance of current regulations for work on buildings of heritage value. Several of the works that today honor our Central Historical District have emerged from this practice of joint work,” Leal added.Many other frequently asked questions regarding investment in tourism could be addressed in this interview. Public information work is key to avoid questioning by a population that is well educated in our history and proud of efforts to protect our heritage.SPECIFICATIONS- Investment projects in the process of macro-location studies are submitted to consulting organizations. Considering the characteristics of the investment, others may be consulted, as deemed necessary. When the area to be studied includes areas or sites with declared patrimonial (nationally or internationally), including "protected adjacent zones", the National or Provincial Monuments Commissions should be consulted, as the case may be, and also entities which manage the site. (Decree Law 327, Chapter I, Section I, Art. 20)- As Decree Law 327 explains, as part of the macro-location study, territorial planning analyzes are carried out, with a strong emphasis on the examination of macroeconomic aspects, such as: the economic-territorial proportions; the demographic-labor situation; the potential for and availability of natural resources (soil, water, minerals, forests, among others); the reduction of exposure to natural risks; necessary adaptation to climate change; production-consumption balance; optimization of territorial income distribution; satisfaction of provincial demands; and accessibility.