The first-time participation of numerous representatives of U.S. firms, the opening of an unusual recreation option in the Caribbean and other significant novelties marked Cuba’s recent International Tourism Fair (FitCuba 2015), in a sort of preview of the millions of dollars in business the leisure industry dreams of in this nation.
More than 120 U.S. businesspeople, tour operators and travel agents participated in the 35th edition of this fair, which was held last May 5-7 in Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey, in the central northern part of the Cuban archipelago, and this time around with its venue in a hotel, the Meliá Jardines del Rey, also unusual. Managed by a Spanish chain, it is sign of the commitment the authorities promise to maintain with the first foreign investors when the U.S. competition arrives.
Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said at the inauguration of the fair that since last December 17, when the Cuban and U.S. governments announced talks to re-establish diplomatic relations, visits have increased by executives from that country to the Caribbean nation.
Though Marrero said the U.S. economic blockade on Cuba continues being an obstacle for citizens from the neighbouring country to freely travel for leisure to the largest of the Antillean islands, another participant, the general manager of the U.S. airline Havana Air, David Nesslein, said that the Havana-Washington announcement is an irreversible step that has generated great expectations among his country’s businesspeople.
The door is open, everyone is speaking of Cuba, and it is very difficult to turn back that situation, said Nesslein, whose company started selling airline tickets to Havana in 2009; at present it operates 60 monthly flights to different destinations on the Caribbean island.
The U.S. representatives stood out among the more than 1,800 tour operators, travel agents, airline executives, representatives of commercial suppliers, other related firms and journalists who participated for three days in an intense business and contracting activity. The fair was dedicated this year to Italy, one of the principal markets issuing tourists to Cuba, with a strong growth since 2014.
Another novelty at FitCuba 2015 was that it comprised two spaces: a business exhibition dedicated to promoting investment opportunities in tourism, and an exhibit of suppliers, where national and foreign producers presented inputs and services for the tourist industry.
In line with the declared interest of expanding with foreign companies the management and development of hotels and non-hotel products, to better position the Cuba destination in the world, Marrero announced negotiations with Spanish firms to build during upcoming months two new joint ventures, directed at the development of real estate complexes associated to golf courses in the areas of Las Coloradas and El Salado.
With the incorporation of three new chains to the management of hotels on the archipelago, there are already 18 present in this market, led by Meliá Hotels International. They operate 35,682 rooms, 57 per cent of the total in Cuba. The Meliá Jardines del Rey Hotel is the most recent opening and that firm’s largest in the world.
Marrero previewed that companies from China, Colombia, Spain, France, Singapore and Switzerland will soon join this group.
The business expo this time served as the venue for the creation of a joint venture between Cuba and China to develop a real estate complex associated to a golf course located in Bello Monte, to the west of Havana. The contract was signed by the president of the Beijing Enterprise Group, Wuang Dong, and the Tourism Ministry’s business director, José Reinaldo Daniel.
During FitCuba 2015, the Escalada Torre de Cristal Park was inaugurated in the Jardines del Rey destination, the first of its kind in the Caribbean. Executed by the German company Con-Impex and the Cuban Palmares Group, it offers adventure lovers a circuit to scale with ropes, 16 metres high and with three difficulty levels.
The presentation in Cayo Guillermo during the fair of the nautical sport alternative known as kitesurfing also formed part of the policy of expanding the recreation offers.
Encouraged by the results of 2014 and the vigorous arrival of tourists in the first months of the current year, this Caribbean nation is betting on the development of tourism, followed by foreign investments egged on in the face of the perspective of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, the planet’s second largest tourist issuing market. (2015)
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