Royal Service: superior comfort – in Cuba!
By James Brewer
7th October 2011
From the moment guests arrive, they are “immersed in a warm sensation of sheer luxury and refinement.” In “a hotel within a hotel,” they will be pampered by private, highly personalised service. The superior comfort includes a menu for pillows and sheets: guests will be able to choose from more than five types of pillows.
Our headline has given away the fact that we are talking about Cuba, but this splurge of indulgence may still come as a surprise given that this is one of the few states still professing a socialist ideology. The revolution wiped out the exploitative culture that had for much of the first half of the 20th century made the island the hedonism capital of the Caribbean, and austerity was the watchword during much of the half century of US sanctions, especially after Soviet support disappeared.
Cuba’s natural advantages remained unscathed, however, and tourism (with the exception of course of the presence of citizens of the giant neighbour to the north) has been growing in importance. Tour operators have begun a promotional campaign to disabuse clients of any notion that this means solely “value holidays for sun, sand and rum.”
High-end luxury vacations are firmly on the agenda for Cuba, as we learned at a presentation in London hosted by specialist company Old Havana (San Cristobal UK) (www.scuktravel.com).
The powerful Sol Melia group has even gone so far as to dub its offering Royal Service. Sol Melia, which has had properties in Cuba since 1990, has created what it calls this “exquisite comfort, customised service, privileged travel experience,” at seven of its 25 hotels in the country.
It aims to compete with luxury provision at destinations more traditionally known for catering to ultimate expectations, with touches such as private check-in, bath incense candles, valet clothes service, sparkling wine, teatime service the day long, ocean diving sessions, private tennis lessons, and an 18-hole golf course.
Just as important for those who want to lay back is the knowledge that Cuba boasts of being one of the world’s safest countries in the area of personal security. Clients can rest assured that nothing untoward will happen to them, says Elizabeth Rivas, a senior representative of Sol Melia Cuba.
In fact, opportunities for all classes of tourism are there for the taking, as crime increasingly troubles the reputation of other holiday countries including Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Tour operators are seeking to lure clients to Cuba from Latin America itself, in addition to their mainstay markets of Canada (some Canadian cities are only three hours’ flying time away from Cuba), the UK and Europe. Rival hotel groups led by Iberostar are keenly aware of this too.
Among the featured Sol Melia hotels is Paradisus Río de Oro Resort & Spa, at Holguin’s Playa Esmeralda, some 800km east of Havana. According to the independent Canadian reviews site monarc.ca this property is rated number one in Cuba and is among the five best hotels in the Caribbean, and there is an impressive rating at tripadvisor.co.uk.
More secluded is the Melia Buenavista is at the very end of a small peninsula at Cayo Santa Maria, with Royal Service for all its 105 rooms, and like the Paradisus Rio de Oro this spot is seen as ideal for weddings and honeymoons.
In Havana, Royal Service is offered at the Melia Cohiba and the Melia Habana hotels in the newer part of the city, and these are likely to attract the business traveller, but there is a shuttle service to the historic centre.
Structural changes are underway in the capital, but Virgilio Villanueva, consultant to Old Havana (San Cristobal UK), said that the historic core of Havana was being “refurbished – not modernised. There is a big difference.” Some buildings have to be demolished where they fail to meet safety standards, but replacements are subject to strict architectural regulations to align them with the rest of the area.
The 2m tourists welcomed each year by Cuba have just been handed a spending bonus, as the Cuban convertible peso (cuc for short) is back on par with the US dollar, although visitors should avoid taking greenbacks with them, as a 10% conversion fee is charged; nor are US bank issued credit cards accepted. Tourists are advised to take sterling, euros or Canadian dollars.