14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 March 2022 — The employees of the luxurious Grand Aston La Habana hotel, inaugurated this Thursday on the Malecón, between 1st and D, received the few clients this Friday between bows. “Come in, ma’am,” said one of the employees offering antibacterial gel, while two others joined their hands and bent their body over Japanese style.
All of them introduced themselves with their names before addressing those who entered, an unusual deference in a country where familiarity with strangers has long been generalized.
Not surprisingly, the establishment is presented on its website as “a refuge where you can relax and recharge, while experiencing its glamour.” Thanks to the site, it is possible to know that the cheapest room costs 179 dollars per night, those with sea views, 244 dollars, and the most luxurious, located on the upper floors and with “VIP” service with “improved continental breakfast,” go as high as 282 dollars.
Similarly, the site claims to have “an infinity pool” whose view merges with the sea, a spa that offers “Asian healing techniques” and a restaurant on the 25th floor from which to watch the sunset. None of this, however, can be seen by anyone who is not a customer of the hotel, unlike what happens in any other establishment of this type in the world.
“Oh, no, ma’am, at the moment external customers cannot access the pool,” insisted the receptionist, after a call to her superiors, speaking to a customer who insisted on enjoying breakfast with a view. “Later on I think so, keep calling,” she asked, while she summoned her to breakfast on the terrace, which opened at 11:00 in the morning.
“At first they tell you yes you can eat, but when you talk to them and they realize that you are not a foreigner, the answers change,” said Alberto, a Havanan who, together with a friend, tried the coffee on the hotel terrace this Friday. “It’s a mistreatment that they don’t let you in the pool,” he lamented.
This young man finds it striking that, despite the gigantic size of the establishment, neatly decorated in a style reminiscent of the original buildings of El Vedado, where it is located, there is no shopping center. “I don’t know if they want to separate external customers, as they call them, who are the ones who generally go to shop at those stores,” he sneered. “It seems that they want to distance themselves from us fifth-class citizens.”
But if something caught his attention, it was the number of cameras scattered around every corner. “It’s very uncomfortable,” he confesses. “You feel watched, harassed. It looks more like a military unit than a hotel.”
On the terrace, the prices did justice to the name of the restaurant: Oro (Gold). Although a cappuccino, for example, costs “only” 143 pesos, the simplest cocktail, with rum, goes for 350 pesos, an “iced submarine” it is 520 pesos and other drinks made with wine reach 620 pesos. Payment must be exclusively by card.
If you ask for food, the cost is unaffordable. “Croquettes at 500 pesos plus 10 percent,” another source who tried the place told 14ymedio. “They’re called ’sweet’ on the menu and they should be called ’killers.’” And he concludes: “They don’t even have a natural juice on the menu, just ten or twelve things through the roof.”
Only four hotel clients could be seen this Friday, all foreigners, and of them, two women who, just one day after it was inaugurated, were already leaving with their suitcases.
As happened with the Axel Hotel Telegraph, and despite the hype with which it was announced in the official press, the Grand Aston was not ready to open its doors on March 15 — the day that the employees told to this newspaper that it would open — but rather two days later. On Tuesday, several workers were still putting the finishing touches on the place, which did not allow entry.
The opening of this hotel in the capital, with 600 rooms and unattainable prices for national pockets, shows that the Cuban Military-run Business Administration Group SA (Gaesa) does not give up its efforts to increase hotel capacity this year, up to almost 85,000 more rooms, 5.7% more than the previous year, despite the fact that the figures indicate that tourism in Cuba is going through a debacle.
The military conglomerate has partnered this time with the Indonesian company Archipiélago International, which has four other accommodations on the island: Aston Panorama in Havana, Grand Aston Cayo Las Brujas in Cayos de Villa Clara, Aston Costa Verde in Holguín and a large resort in Varadero.
Two of them, by the way, the one in Varadero and the one in Villa Clara, were sanctioned by the US in 2019 for violating the provisions of the embargo on Cuba.
With the Grand Aston Havana, the Asian company promises “uniquely designed architecture” and “a modern lifestyle.” “The modern life of another city, other than this one,” laments Alberto. “Another city, in another part of the world.”
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