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Photo: Jose M. Correa

Behind the glasses bearing his initials in gold on the frame, awaiting me in the lobby of the Meliá Habana is Armando Dávila. At this point, I know he likes to sweeten his fruit juice with honey, and that he has a traveled many miles in the world of tourism and hotel management, the right person to keep the fashionable hotel’s success going.

He is responsible for the 10,000 square meters and nine floors of the second most expensive hotel in Cuba, he tells Granma International, noting that theMeliá Habana is at the center of world trends recognizing the island as a secure, tranquil and culturally-rich destination.

According to this economist, born in Santa Clara, Villa Clara, in the center of the island, “Like the country as a whole, Havana is experiencing a time of change, which cannot be separated from the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, or the existence of the economic, commercial and financial U.S. blockade of our country. Although it is a daily challenge, we participate in the daily economic, social and cultural life of the island.”

With one facade of the hotel looking out toward the sea, and the other toward the city, the five star hotel is considered by its assistant general manager to be an exclusive Havana product, which receives primarily German, French, British and Spanish tourists, from all age groups and visiting for a variety of reasons.

Photo: Jose M. Correa

While Dávila has experience in urban and nature tourism, what he believes has helped him most in managing a hotel with 395 rooms, accommodating an average of 600 guests a day, is what he learned running a travel agency.

“I was the director of Cubatur’s central office for more than three years. For someone managing a hotel, the work of an agency linked to the leisure industry allows one to approach the tourist in a comprehensive fashion, since you know how a product is designed, from the contracting and the client’s reception, to the airport departure.”

What makes the Meliá Habana attractive?

Normally, people on pleasure or work trips come to the hotel, or on organized group tours. They are interested in being in Miramar, a neighborhood known for its business and recreational facilities. This way, they have easy access to the diplomatic and commercial offices concentrated in that area.

It is a hotel which is not at all crowded, separated from other buildings by streets. Some 86% of the rooms have an ocean view and thus its principal strengths lie in the accommodations. It is a very sober place, where one can find marvelous food in a tranquil environment to do business, and a giant pool to relax.

Its distance from the center of Havana is also an attraction. Clients are constantly informed of everything going on there, without being there. Guests can get to know and enjoy Havana, because the staff makes sure people know what is taking place currently in Cuba. We have been able to maintain services which meet international standards thanks to a unified, professional staff, which interacts a great deal with clients.

Moreover, the hotel has a Meliá Habana exclusive, a complementary tourist bus called “Havana connection,” with seven departures to the central historic district, including a trip to the 9:00pm cannon firing ceremony.

Along with other services, our varied cultural program stands out, with theme nights, both recreational and gastronomic. A diversity of options and offerings are available. We have been adding features, even the creation of a convention center. Why? Because this is a hotel which has facilities well suited to events, banquets, celebrations.

Photo: Jose M. Correa

Given that they have been modernized with the latest generation equipment, our halls can be adapted for video-conferences, simultaneous translation, etc. This allows us to insert ourselves into the world of business, and the economic updating process underway in the country, guided by the economic and social policy guidelines of the Party and the Revolution. Given today’s fast-paced lifestyle, it is very helpful for clients to have meetings, conferences, talks, at the site where they are staying. Time has become of the essence.

What allows the hotel to maintain such high interest?

What is fundamental is meeting standards, the capacity to constantly renovate, and the speed with which we adapt to the changes inherent in the new times – without making mistakes.

The hotel is characterized by the ability to serve different markets, with different customs, different languages, demands, expectations, via integrated services.

This is something that is very, very difficult.

Another key to success lies in our systems of work, which allow for a direct line of attention to the client, establishing rapid and efficient connections to respond to any concern, need or complaint. It is imperative that that the visitor is received and bid farewell correctly, and that there are no surprises.

What challenges does the hotel face?

Working to maintain the improvement of our restaurants, service, hygiene, and especially the health and security of guests. There are everyday more with high expectations, including from the United States, and these expectations must be met. We have many problems to solve. Today, for example, improvements are being made to the elevators and the air conditioning system.

Can you tell us an unforgettable story?

Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones). That he and his entourage could find what they needed at the hotel is a source of pride.

We were able to respond to the requests he made, very naturally, with familiarity and affection. I recall that he was surprised by our exclusive butler service, with his favorite flowers in the room, the books he likes, a guitar.

Our workers must be good observers to know what each individual wants, even before they express it. This anticipation is correct. These things drive the hotel’s routine. We accommodate visitors of the highest level, presidents, executives, businesspeople.

We had the privilege of lodging part of The Rolling Stones band at in the Meliá Habana, and the delegation accompanying President Barack Obama, who also visited us. These things that may be unusual are becoming day to day.

For Dávila, who has led the Meliá Habana for only eight months, the important thing is rising to the occasion presented by this boom, meeting expectations, and, therefore, he insisted, strengthening a rigorous culture of attention to detail.