From The Times
June 2, 2008
Cuba plans luxury golf resort to boost economy
It is the island of which Ernest Hemingway once wrote: "It not only
looks wonderful, it is wonderful." It is famed around the world for its
unspoilt beaches, the rhythm of its music, its staunchly communist
regime and its political stand-off with the United States.
Yet today, with the ink barely dry on Fidel Castro's resignation as
President after half a century in power, Cuba's Ministry of Tourism will
announce plans to build that most capitalist of institutions – a luxury
golf resort complete with multimillion-dollar villas.
A British company in which Sir Terence Conran is involved has set up a
strategic partnership with the ministry to develop the first of several
golf resorts on the Caribbean island. The €350 million (£275 million)
development is being heralded as the start of a push by the Cuban
Government to boost its economy through tourism.
The Carbonera Country Club Resort, which is due to open in 2011, will be
developed by Esencia Hotels & Resorts. It will be the first big
investment in Cuba's leisure industry by a British company.
Esencia is part of Havana Holdings, which was set up in 2001 with the
aim of turning Floridita, the cocktail bar in Havana once frequented by
Ernest Hemingway, into an international chain under a franchise deal
with the Cuban Government.
Sir Terence, a lover of Cuban cigars, is an indirect investor in the
project through D&D London, formerly Conran Restaurants, in which he has
a 51 per cent stake. D&D, which runs the Floridita restaurant in London,
is a shareholder in both Havana Holdings and Esencia.
The entrepreneur is also involved through Conran & Partners, his design
consultancy, which has been hired to design the 900 luxury apartments
and villas on the 150-hectare site. The units, which will be marketed to
foreign investors by Savills Real Estate, will cost from $300,000 to $2
The resort will have a 150-room boutique hotel, a branded international
spa, sports and aquatic facilities and an 18-hole championship golf
course designed by PGA Design Consulting, which is linked to the
Professional Golfers' Association. It will have "at least one" D&D
restaurant and a Boisdale restaurant similar to the two in London.
Carbonera is one of five golf projects in Cuba given the go-ahead by the
authorities, three of them by Spanish developers and one by a Canadian
company. Esencia is looking at nearby sites for one more resort.
At present, Cuba boasts only 27 holes of golf – a nine-hole course in
Havana for foreign businessmen and diplomats and the 18-hole Varadero
Golf Club in the grounds of Xanadu, a seaside mansion built by Irénée du
Pont, the American chemical industry millionaire.
Andrew Macdonald, chief executive of Esencia, dismissed fears that the
resorts would harm Cuba's character. "Carbonera's unique selling point
will be its 'Cubanness'," he said. "This will not be like any other golf
resort in the world."
Esencia, which hopes to take a 75-year lease on the site after the
relaxation of the ban on foreign property ownership, is also developing
a chain of boutique hotels on the island.
Michael Phair, the chairman, said: "Before the revolution there were 20
to 25 million visitors a year. Now there are about two million, of which
about 250,000 are from the UK. That's why Cuba wanted a British company
as a partner."