Marriott forced to quit Cuba

Marriott International said that it had been told to quit the Four Points Sheraton in Havana by 31 August, marking its exit from Cuba.

The move by the US Treasury Department came as the US continued to increase sanctions against Cuba

The company has been planning to expand further in the country. Marriott International said: “We have recently received notice that the government-issued licence will not be renewed, forcing Marriott to cease operations in Cuba. Marriott continues to believe that Cuba is a destination that travellers, including Americans, want to visit. Marriott looks forward to reopening in Cuba if and when the US government gives us permission to do business there again.”

Last year saw the Trump administration ban group people-to-people travel and cruise ships from visiting the island. The US’s full implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act saw Meliá Hotels International, Barcelo, Iberostar and Accor subject to lawsuits, while Trivago, Expedia and Booking were accused of helping to promote the properties affected.

The act allowed owners of properties confiscated by the Castro Revolution to file suits in US courts to try and reclaim assets.

Commenting on the decision to reverse the relaxation of travel laws by president Obama, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “Cuba continues to play a destabilising role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.

“This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

Earlier this year Gabriel Escarrer, Meliá Hotels International CEO, was banned from entering the US due to the company’s operations in Cuba.

The company said that the matter was being dealt with by the Spanish authorities, and that it trusted that it would be “resolved in a manner favourable to the interests of our group”.

Meliá said that Escarrer had received a letter from the United States of America State Department, relating to the Helms Burton Act, which stated that: “in the event of not accepting a series of conditions related to the activities of subsidiary companies in the Republic of Cuba within a period of 45 days, he would be prohibited from entering the United States of America”.

The company said that it understood that similar letters had been sent to more than 50 companies with interests in Cuba.

The US government linked this notification to the cooperation of certain subsidiary companies with Cuban public entities in the management of two hotels in the Holguín region, in their opinion located on a plot of land expropriated from the Sanchez Hill family in the late 50s of last century.

Meliá said: “It should be remembered that the claims made in the Spanish courts by alleged representatives of the mentioned family were entirely dismissed.”

The group added that the conditions imposed by the US State Department “were not acceptable to the company. Furthermore, compliance with them would also have been contrary to European regulations which consider the Helms Burton Act a violation of the most elementary principles of international law”.

It added: “As one would expect, we reiterate our respect and confidence in the involvement and ability to find a positive solution of the Spanish and community authorities and courts, and also reiterate the good faith, legality and responsibility with which our subsidiaries have always carried out business in Cuba.”

Escarrer recently hailed Cuba as likely to help lead post-pandemic recovery for the group, with its island status making spread of the virus easier to control.


Insight: The decision by the Trump administration to turn the screw on Cuba and its travel sector is not, as you might think, to overturn efforts made by Barack Obama to open up relations between the two countries and you are being petty and small minded thinking so.

No, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it’s because the Cuba’s government represses its people and because of its “unconscionable support for dictator Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela”. Whatever your thoughts on Trump, Cuba and whether or not you had a Che Guevara t-shirt in college, this is very much Pompeo’s call and reminds the sector that, when it comes to global expansion, you are still subject to the vagaries of global politics. You can see why franchising, with its limited investment, is so attractive.

One member of the global hotel development fraternity once told this hack “well, it’s not as though we have a seat on the UN” but, in this latest period of fervour and protest, is it time for the sector to make its voice heard more? If a president who owns a hotel company can punish a sector, it’s not hard to see how the impact of the UK quarantine on hotels doesn’t keep Boris Johnson up at night. It’s time to speak louder.