Destination Review: Havana, Cuba

I have wanted to visit Cuba for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, as an American, this was not really possible for much of my life. Sure, I could have snuck in from Mexico or one of the other Caribbean islands, but the risk/reward factor was very lopsided. Thanks to the US embargo put in place in 1960 after many US interests there were nationalized, the embargo was expanded in 1962, and expanded further by the Clinton Administration in 1999, Americans have been pretty much forbidden from spending any money in Cuba. The US still holds about 6.5 billion dollars’ worth of claims due to this nationalism. It is still officially a socialist country, but is changing to be more accommodating to entrepreneurs and businesses.

But in the last few years, the relations between the US and Cuba has eased significantly, to the point that Americans are now free to go to Cuba, spend money, and bring back cigars and rum. You still have to clear a few hurdles but it is now incredibly easy to get down there. I will talk a little about the hotels, but a lot about the process needed to get down there and enjoy this amazing destination. Pure tourism is still not allowed, but there are 12 permitted reasons to travel, and a lot of latitude with these reasons. Educational Exchange and People to People exchange is probably the easiest one to fulfill, as you will be very educated about Cuba by visiting there, and encounter a lot of lovely citizens of their country.

havana cuba buildings color

There are now multiple US airlines that fly to Havana. Many come from Miami, but Alaska Airlines does one from LA, American has one from Charlotte and four from Miami. Delta has Miami, New York, and Atlanta. Jet Blue flies to Havana from Fort Lauderdale, New York, and Orlando, while Southwest has Fort Lauderdale and Tampa flights to Havana. Spirit, United, and Frontier also have flights to Havana. When booking your flights, you will apply for your Cuban Visa with the airline. The cost is 50 dollars, and the airlines must add another 25 dollars to your ticket to cover your health insurance while you are in Cuba. You must keep your boarding card with you at all times, as this serves as your proof of insurance.

Almost no US credit or debit cards will work in Cuba, and even if they did, almost no establishments will ever take cards for anything. Bring plenty of cash, and convert it at the airport, bank, or hotel. There is a 10% penalty for exchanging US dollars into Cuban Pesos, but the exchange rate is close to one to one after that. Getting Euros from your bank might be cheaper, depending on how much you are charged for foreign currency there. Just be aware that it is almost completely a cash economy for everything, and bring more cash than you think you need. Not kidding about this at all.

The Havana airport is fairly small, but very functional. It is about 20-25 minutes to downtown. As you might guess, there are few western hotel brands there. There are many Melia hotels, a really nice Iberostar one right on the main square of Havana, and a new Kempinski that is opening soon across from the Iberostar. All are five star hotels, but that is probably the equivalent of our two and a half to three star properties. There are also many smaller boutique hotels, as well as hundreds of houses and rooms on Airbnb. If you use these smaller hotels or private rooms, be sure to get the address information in advance in English and Spanish, print it out, and keep it with you at all times. Like most countries, the odds of getting a taxi driver who speaks no English is fairly high. I did find that they did not know the brand names of the hotels, but when I would say Central Parque Hotel (Iberostar), they knew instantly what I was talking about.

Telecommunications is a challenge, but I did not visit Havana in order to stream movies on Netflix. Some hotels include access to internet in the room rate. Others will charge for access. In either case, they will give you a card with 12 numbers as the user name and 12 numbers as the password. When you connect, you will be able to stay online for an average of five to ten minutes at a time. Connection speed is about what you had with AOL or Prodigy in the late 1990s. It worked for what I needed, which was to check emails, upload pictures to make my friends insanely jealous, and text with my wife. Your cell phone will cost you an absolute fortune if you try and use it, average is about three dollars a minute to use it and data is also terribly pricey. Best to keep it on airplane mode and use it as a camera if you do not have a real one. It actually was pretty nice to be able to unplug and disconnect from the world for a while, and really have some great conversations with undistracted people.

american car havana sunset

This was the 60th country I have visited, and I would say with zero hesitation that it is the safest one to which I have been. At one point, I walked by myself, 13 blocks back to my hotel, well after midnight and felt safe and secure the entire time. There is no US or international city where I would do that. There has never been a time that I have felt more safe walking around a city than I did in Havana last week.

havana waterway

The people of Cuba are amazing, friendly, and enthusiastically enjoy life. Everywhere I turned, there was amazing music being played, people laughing and dancing, and they all helpfully answered all of my questions. Interacting with the Cuban people was one of the highlights of the trip. You will miss so much if you just visit a city without getting to know the people. The food was unbelievably good, from fresh caught fish, to fried pork, and everything in between. This is certainly a place that you can eat well, and most places it was very inexpensive. I found a new favorite drink while there, the Rum Collins.

There is no place I have visited that has such amazing and beautiful architecture as Havana. Everywhere you turn, there are stunning buildings from the first half of the 20th century. As a huge architecture nerd, it was one of my favorite places. Many buildings are in a state of disrepair, but the whole canvas is just fascinating. I loved taking pictures of the classic cars in front of exceptional architecture. It just felt like real and authentic Cuba, from a bygone era. The colors and designs of the buildings, and the allure of the old cars made everything a feast for the eyes, everywhere you turned.

Because of the embargo, it was impossible to import any US cars for the last 50 years. So there are thousands of simply gorgeous classic American cars from the late 50’s and early 60s on the island. It is easy to rent one for the day, and have your driver take you on a true and authentic Cuban day.

american cars havana cuba

We went out to Ernest Hemingway’s house, about 30-45 minutes outside of Havana. This was where the legendary author lived off and on for many years beginning in 1939. Highly recommend visiting here when you come to Havana. On the way to his house, driving a 1960 Buick, we stopped and played baseball with some kids near there. Having drinks at the outdoor bar while listening to a Cuban band, was a most pleasant way to while away the day. On the way back, after a three hour lunch that was beyond fantastic, we stopped and bought some cigars and rum. Not sure it is possible to have a more enjoyable day than what we had on Saturday.

In downtown Havana, there are two iconic bars you must visit, Sloppy Joes and Floridita, the home of the Daiquiri. They are within easy walking distance to the Museum of the Revolution, another must visit.

In closing, Havana is a must visit place. It was not just like visiting another country, it was like visiting another time. It truly had everything you want in a destination. Art, architecture, music, great food, amazing people, rich culture, safety, authenticity, and an overall sense of true wonder while exploring. You can sense that it is on the cusp of change, perhaps very rapidly over the next few years. So go now, before the changes, and experience one of my now favorite places I have visited.

All photos taken by Timothy Arnold in May 2017.

Timothy Arnold, CMP, CMM
Regional Vice President
Hospitality Performance Network – HPN Global

Hotel Meeting Trends Survey Results

HPN conducted a quick survey on hotel contracts and hotel trends. The goal was to identify any emerging trends in the way hotels do business. Don’t get caught off guard by a new charge or higher rate. Take a look at what a few of our associates are seeing in the industry.

Timothy Arnold
Hotels seem to be trying to get meeting room rental for everything now. It used to be only international hotels, but now it is everywhere. When I get the rental removed, the hotel is often less likely to negotiate on other things, as they feel that they have already given a lot of ground.

Mark Dallman
Parking charged in Vegas, meeting room rentals increasing everywhere, resort fees increasing or being added to non-resort properties, service charges increasing. All ways for hotels to find additional revenue sources.

Lynn Ann Perretta Wagner
Furniture Removal Fees for outdoor events. Additional Lighting necessary in many cases which in turn ups your AV or Decorator budget. In addition to hefty min. service charge of 26% in some areas of the county.

Jaci Bidanec
Daily attrition vs cumulative.

Steven Scatino
Transient rates are up over $30.00 higher than group last reported hotels are not allowing groups to increase their blocks over the contracted numbers without paying hefty increases

Paul Miller
Properties’ Service Charge Increase. Was told by one branded hotel company that they are increasing service charge amount to 25% at all properties – as of 6/1.

Bill Kilburg
Long article on a Las Vegas hotel company bankruptcy in today’s WSJ but buried in the middle is the fact that they have raised hotel room rates at 3 times the national average. 16% increase in realized rate in the last year!

Hospitality Performance Network Global
Tap into HPN Global’s vast network of corporate conference venues and services — with a personal touch. Let HPN plan your event, and you’ll experience concierge service from start to finish. Get started now

Welcome to 2017!

We blew the doors off 2016!

This was best year in the company’s history for revenues booked; The largest number of individual bookings by the biggest amount in company history; The largest year-end sitting funnel on the backlog in company history; and again I think we set the bar for the BEST CONFERENCE EVER!

You all should be proud and we here in Scottsdale are proud to be associated with each and every one of you. The best team in the business.
It was truly another great year! Awesome new associates and friends and too much fun…Thanks to everybody!

So here again are those basic founding ideas of the company, and our culture to set out a basis for our combined success in the new year. Love you all and let’s go have an absolutely awesome 2017!

Family First – for most of us our family and loved ones are why we do this, they are why we get up in the morning and go do what we do, time with them is the most precious thing we have.

Have FUN – Have fun every day doing what you do. If you enjoy what you are doing, it pretty rapidly ceases to be work, it’s pretty cool to do something every day that you are having fun at! A lot of people go thru life without ever having that opportunity. We are in the best business in the world! I’ve never met a happier, more fun group of people in my life!

Be Nice to People – It’s a basic fact, People are nice to people who are nice to them, we are in the service business, people buy from people they like!

Be Passionate and Enthusiastic– Both are absolutely infectious, I put on a positive attitude every day first thing in the morning like clothes, Every day is the best day of my life because I choose for it to be that ! Be passionate and enthusiastic about what you do and success will certainly follow.

Life is all about Relationships – Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! At the end of the day nothing else matters but the connections we make with other people, people we work with, people we love, people we do business with.

Change is our Friend – It’s another fact, everything changes, We are going to see a ton of that in 2017 for sure. No matter what you think is the status quo, it is in fact, going to change and increasingly rapidly. The people that can assimilate and appreciate, and perhaps even lead change, are the ones who are successful, the ones who hate change end up working at the post office.

Do what you say you are going to do –Business (and our competitors) are full of people that say “yea, I can handle that” and then drop the ball or don’t follow through. Nothing is worse in business than relying on somebody to get something done and then having it not happen, most especially in the service environment. Do what you say you are going to do every time! Success will follow!

Let go of Negativity – Stuff is going to go wrong, somebody is going to make you mad, deal with it and then let go of it and move on. Harboring ongoing negativity hurts you, not them  I’m by no means saying to put up with bad behavior from toxic people, but get over it and realize life is too short. The past is the past, the only things we can affect are in the future.

Thanks again to everybody and here’s to a fantastic 2017!!!!!

William J. Kilburg, CPA
Chairman and CEO
HPN Global
13285 n. Northsight Blvd, Ste 201
Scottsdale, Az 85260
Office: 480-998-9770

Health Tips for Meeting Planners

Many people think that working hard, keeping up on technology, and thinking outside the box is all you need to be the very best at what you do. Although the aforementioned is true, lack of energy and clouded thinking will certainly prevent you from functioning at your best.

I equate this to having a cold and not feeling your best while trying to be on 100% of the time for your clients. It isn’t because your not good at what you do, it is because you don’t feed your body correctly. There are so m any things you can do to increase mental acuity, and improve your overall health and it all starts with what you put into your body.

Ever heard the saying you are what you eat? It is a fact that if you eat the wrong foods your body will respond with lethargy, muddled thinking and ultimately in the long run, health issues and adult onset diseases.

So your asking where do I start? Lets start with what not to do, artificial sweeteners, actually artificial anything.

How many of us are really aware of how many Splenda, Equal, Aspartame, Saccharin products are available in the foods we consume? Are you a label reader and do you check how many grams of sugar were added to the item? Was it replaced with an artificial sweetener to be a so called “diet food”? This is a huge mistake most people make thinking that because they replace sugar with a sweetener, they are healthier. Wrong! There is so much evidence of the damage these sweeteners cause to your body, it is incredible that they are still consumed by so many people.

Low sugar or no – sugar items were introduced to the general public to replace the large amounts of sugar in the average diet. Most people are unaware exactly how much sugar and or artificial sweeteners are added to your foods. Trust me that is why the food tastes so good, it is either loaded with sugar or an artificial sweetener.

The easiest way to figure out how much artificial sweetener is added to your food or beverage is to read the label. The largest ingredient of what the product is made from is listed first on the label, then followed in succession the next largest item and so on. Again, be a label reader. It takes two seconds to check the label for amounts of sugar and or artificial sweeteners added to your product. By taking those two seconds to read the label, you are already taking care of your body better than you have previously.

It’s very important to realize the Splenda (Sucralose) is actually NOT sugar, despite its marketing slogan “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Rather it’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet and Low), and with detrimental health effects to match.

Sucralose (Splenda) was approved by the FDA in 1998 as a table top sweetener and for use in products such as baked goods, nonalcoholic beverages, chewing gum, frozen diary desserts, fruit juices, and gelatins. Sucralose is also permitted as a general-purpose sweetener for all processed foods.

Here is what I find shocking….the approval was given after the FDA supposedly reviewed more than 110 animal and human studies, but out of these 110 studies, only two were human studies, and the longest one was conducted for only four days!

There’s overwhelming evidence that consuming artificial sweeteners will likely wreak havoc on your body by causing inflammation. Earlier news had centered mainly around artificial sweeteners’ ability to impair your appetite regulation and leading to weight gain.

However, the study mentioned above, published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, found even further disturbing news besides weight gain with Sucralose (Splenda):

  • Reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent (this fact alone is so important as if your gut isn’t right most likely you are have major issues)
  • Increases the ph level in your intestines and affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects.
  • They also found unmistakable evidence that Sucralose (Splenda) is absorbed by fat, contrary to previous claims.

The belief that consuming artificially sweetened foods and drinks will help you to lose or maintain weight is a carefully orchestrated deception. So if you are still opting for diet choices for this reason, you are on the wrong path as these artificial sweeteners will wreak havoc on your system as well as your fitness regimen.

In reality, these diet foods and drinks can cause serious distortions in your biochemistry and ruin your body’s ability to control calories. As a matter of fact, it’s been shown that diet soft drinks can double your risk of obesity.

Nearly a decade ago, studies were already revealing that artificial sweeteners can:

  • Stimulate appetite
  • Increase carbohydrate cravings
  • Stimulate fat storage and weight gain

Unfortunately, most public health agencies and nutritionists in the United States still recommend these toxic artificial sweeteners as an acceptable alternative to sugar. These agencies are wrong.

An alternative to artificial sweeteners is Stevia. It is made from a natural plant source and is extremely sweet. So sweet that you may need to adjust the amount you use in order to get the taste you are looking for. The good thing is that you can pretty much put it in anything.

Please make sure you have 100 percent organic stevia with no fillers or additives as some brands that are currently marketed start out with a natural product but they either process it with chemicals or add fillers. Again, this come back to reading the label before you buy it.

Getting off artificial sweeteners and on to a healthy alternative is paramount to your overall health and can lead to a healthier, happier, stronger you.

What will you reach for now that you know the facts of artificial sweeteners? should you have any question on artificial sweeteners or how I may compliment your organization’s meeting needs, please see my information listed below. Stay tuned for my next tip on healthy protein vs toxic protein sources.

tnebuloni@hpnglobal.com or 636-795-5048


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Taking the Path Less Traveled

A recent edition of Entrepreneur Magazine presented the following characteristics of an entrepreneur: Tenacity, Passion, Tolerance of Ambiguity, Self-Belief, Vision, Flexibility and Ability to Break Rules. Just starting your own business is a rule breaking action, as only 13% of Americans classify themselves as Entrepreneurs, according to a study published by Babson College in 2013. Do you have what it takes? I have it, and I’d like to share my story with you!

It was 2009 and I had been working in a home office role in Chicago representing the Hilton Anaheim and Hilton San Diego. Much of my time was spent going back and forth from Chicago to Southern California for site visits, or driving to office appointments around the Midwest.  The money was good and I was hitting my numbers, but longing for something more. I had approached my bosses about other opportunities within the company and even interviewed for sales roles in other industries, but nothing was falling into place. A trip out to Anaheim for a site visit with an HPN Global affiliated association customer started my first concrete thought process on joining a third party meeting planning outfit.

Others had solicited me to join their company, including Conference Direct and Helms Briscoe, but I didn’t feel that their corporate cultures and business models were a good fit. Besides, if I was going to be an entrepreneur I was going all in and starting my own concept, not working for a third party meeting planning company! So I did just that by creating Drink Deck Destination Guides in late 2009. The press got a hold of my idea and it took off, so I decided it was time to resign from my 11+ year career working in convention sales for Hilton Hotels!

After three years, a massive cut in annual income from my previous salaried position with Hilton and over 100,000 copies of my product sold I had positioned Drink Deck to be purchased by my largest competitor – City Dining Cards. The sale had been negotiated in the summer of 2013 and once it was finalized it was time to ask myself, “What’s next?”. I had always excelled at sales. I loved the thrill of the chase, the anguish of a slowly evolving sales cycle and the excitement of the close. Real Estate seemed like a great idea, so I signed up for classes to get licensed in Maryland.

After completing the courses and passing the State and National exams it was time to affiliate with a Reality Brokerage. I interviewed countless firms around Baltimore, but couldn’t find the right fit. During my search I reconnected with a former colleague from Hilton whom had recently joined HPN Global, rekindling my interest in returning to the convention business as a third party hotel specialist.

You see, I’d already established a working knowledge of the convention industry, hotel brands and various destination types from resorts to convention centers to airport hotels to downtown venues. Negotiating on behalf of those planning conventions seemed to be a no brainer versus starting from scratch as a Realtor! Plus the relationships you develop in the convention industry are long lasting while buying and selling homes is more of a one-time transactional process.

After a trip to the Corporate Office of HPN Global my decision was made! Having taken the path less traveled by branching out on my own was the linchpin to making my decision to join HPN. If you are reading this article as a hotel or convention sales professional thinking about leaving the supplier side of the business you must realize that having contacts won’t be the key to your success. Instead, I urge you to look within yourself for the key characteristics of an entrepreneur: Tenacity, Passion, Tolerance of Ambiguity, Self-Belief, Vision, Flexibility and Ability to Break Rules. If you’re reading this article as one of my former customers from my days at Hilton, please know that I will be reaching out to share my story and to see if our services can be of assistance!

 

will glass

2118 cambridge street, #1

baltimore, md 21231

c: 312.857.4598

 

Bill Kilburg on FAMS

Hey All,

This is a great time to chat about “FAMs” and how HPN approaches them.  As you all know we are a third party started by guys who “hated” third parties.

One of the thing hotels dislike about third parties are the” shrimp eaters”, people who don’t book your hotel but avail themselves of FAMs, free rooms for vacations etc etc. That is not our brand and we are not those guys.

Read more