by Noemi Galban, Raimundo Urrechaga
HAVANA, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Located right on the edge of old colonial Havana and the site where modern buildings were built in the 18th century as a sign of accelerated urban development in Cuba stands the Gran Manzana Kempinski hotel, the first five-star plus luxury hotel in the island country.
Since the property made headlines in May 2017 when it opened its doors, it has gained prestige by conquering an increasingly challenging market and meeting the growing demand for high-quality services claimed by clients from all over the world.
"With this type of luxury accommodation, new customers will come to our country which is always ready to show its cultural and historical legacy as well as its rich heritage," said Manuel Marrero, Cuba's minister of tourism.
The building has six floors. It is an architectural relic of Cuban eclecticism built between 1894 and 1917 along the remains of the ancient wall that guarded the city of Havana for centuries.
For decades, it hosted the first European-style shopping complex on the island, after 1959 it became a school complex.
After years of deterioration due to the country's economic crisis, the building began to be restored in 2014 and three years later became the Gran Manzana Kempinski.
The hotel now has 246 rooms, as well as bars, restaurants, four conference rooms, a top of the line spa and gym and an outdoor terrace with a panoramic view of the city.
"This hotel is a jewel in the historic zone of Havana, but its most important asset is our Cuban personnel which treats clients with such kindness that it becomes a true pleasure to work here," Xavier Destribats, general manager of the facility and Kempinski's COO for the Americas, told Xinhua.
In just 18 months, the hotel has reached an average level of occupation between 50 and 70 percent.
"Our first market so far has been the United States because of that nation's proximity, while European clients from Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain are also very important. Many Chinese tourists also prefer our facility because we operate more than 20 hotels in China," he said.
According to the Kempinski official, the biggest challenge this year is to increase the occupation rate and provide an even better service. Negotiations are also underway for the European company to operate another luxury resort on the island.
"We are talking with Gaviota to expand the Kempinski brand to a beach hotel and several other projects," he said.
The emblematic building in Havana's Old Town has even become a place to visit for locals and international visitors.
With a sober and elegant design, safeguarding valuable details of its original construction, the Gran Manzana Kempinski hotel boasts its beautiful French-style windows and 5 to 6 meters high ceilings which give clients the impression of being in a contemporary palace.
These lavish details and many other are appreciated by customers although the most valued service is the efficiency of the hotel's workers.
"It is definitely a luxury experience; the staff is very friendly and always paying attention to the smallest details. The food is really nice, rooms are superb and overall they have a very high-standard service," said Eddy Frings, a tourist from the Netherlands.
His friend Filipe Wieas was also pleased after his one-week stay at the Gran Manzana as the Havana hotel exceeded his expectations.
"We really felt very comfortable here. On the top terrace there is a wonderful view of Old Havana, the Capitol building and the Great Theater of Havana. At night after all the surroundings are illuminated it's the most attractive place in the city," said Wieas, a professional photographer.
To achieve a high-level of satisfaction, all staff members have made great efforts. Among them is Patricia Diaz, who works in the "Lady in Red" service, a distinctive Kempinski amenity.
"We exist to give our customers a personalized service ensuring that during their stay everything goes well along with a luxurious experience," she said.
Although it is the first time she works in the tourism sector, Diaz told Xinhua she feels privileged to be part of the staff at this upscale tourist facility.
Cuba is rapidly adapting to new tourism markets and greater challenges to expand its tourism industry, one of the most important sources of income for the Caribbean nation.
With hotels like the Gran Manzana Kempinski, the island wishes to draw a higher-income clientele to increase tourism revenues.
Cuba projects a record-high 5.1 million tourists this year, placing the nation as one of the top destinations for foreign visitors in the Caribbean.