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The new Dhawa brand brings a fresh face to Cuba's hospitality sector, but is it compelling enough to attract a lot of U.S. visitors to a remote region of the country?

Singapore-based Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts announced today it’s opening the new Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Cuba on December 24, located on Cuba’s northern shore about 250 miles east of Havana.

The new Dhawa brand will be the fourth flag in Banyan Tree’s portfolio, joining the Banyan Tree, Angsana, and Cassia brands.

The hotel group is building four new resorts in Cuba through 2019 in partnership with the local Gaviota Tourism Group. In December next year, a new Angsana resort will open adjacent to the Dhawa property. And then for 2019, the company is developing a new Banyan Tree luxury property and another neighboring Angsana hotel in the emerging Cayo Buba area, attached to the popular Veradero resort community just east of the capital.

Multiple factors are driving Banyan Tree’s decision to enter the Cuban market.

“We work closely with the Singapore government, and they have an international enterprise division that seeks to link Singaporean companies with opportunities in different countries,” said Des Pugson, senior vice president, managing director of Banyan Tree. “Furthermore, Cuba is obviously waiting to open up, and all the signs show that it will open up. Singapore, in fact, has visa-free access to Cuba, and it’s reciprocal, so this is the right time.”

The 516-room Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria is located on an island in the growing Jardines del Rey Archipelago. The resort is situated about 75 minutes from Santa Clara Airport, which receives direct flights from American Airlines, Air Canada, WestJet, and Air Transat.

The bulk of travelers to the region are primarily Canadian, but Pugson said that Banyan Tree is banking heavily on the U.S. market being attracted to the region’s beaches and small cities just a 70-minute flight away from Miami International Airport. 

“With all these direct flights from the U.S.,” he explained, “we expect that market to open up fairly quickly.”

Cuba’s First Millennial Hotel

The Dhawa brand and business model were designed to be adaptable for both urban and resort environments. Pugson described the resort vibe in the new property as “fun, simple, and a little bit cool,” with a lot of energy, activities and entertainment. Rooms average around 400 square feet, and they have a music system and variable lighting options integrated into the bathrooms.

Pugson added, “Cuba has its challenges with Wi-Fi, but we’re going to be the first hotel to offer Wi-Fi inside the guest rooms.”

Overall, the Dhawa hotel concept has been developed along the same lines as many of the other efficient lifestyle brands that have entered the market over the last few years, designed to cater to Millennial-age travelers. The emphasis is squarely centered around contemporary design, creative food and beverage, multi-use public spaces, and a more approachable price point.

“There are just enough frills to feel like you have a solid four-star experience,” Pugson explained, (although his four-star ranking is different from the implied Forbes standard.) “Dhawa is very much designed for what you need when you need it.”

At the opposite end of the half-mile beach, the Angsana Cayo Santa Maria Cuba is scheduled to open December 1, 2017. The resort will have 220 keys and guest rooms averaging around 500 square feet.

“Angsana grew up as a younger version of Banyan Tree, if you will, more targeted toward families and small groups of friends” Pugson said.

Presently, the most well-known hotel groups in the archipelago are operated by Spanish-based brands such as Melia, H10, and Iberostar. They have been extremely successful rebuilding the same all-inclusive hotel over and over in other mass tourism hotel zones in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico’s Riviera Maya corridor south of Cancun.

Perhaps Banyan Tree can bring something new to the all-inclusive sector to help shake things up. As Pugson said, “This is the right time.”

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Tags: banyan tree, cuba

Photo credit: Banyan Tree's design model for the new Dhawa brand can be adapted to both resort and urban environments. Banyan Tree

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