During his tour of Spain, Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz announced in mid-January that his sector is open to U.S. investments, but reiterated loyalty to its European partners. His statements came at a time when trips by U.S. citizens to Cuban cities and beaches have shot up, a strong rapprochement by U.S. airlines, hotel chains, cruise companies and other companies to Havana is observed, and the interest of the European competition to expand business with the Caribbean nation is simultaneously increasing.
Present at the 8th Tourist Leaders Forum, organised by Exceltur (Alliance for Excellency in Tourism), Marrero reiterated that Cuba will never turn its back on those who extended it a hand during hard times. “The Revolution has taught us to be at the side of those who helped us during difficult times and we will give them the best benefits and grounds,” he affirmed.
In addition to elementary ethical principles, the position responds to a pragmatic business logic, and equally elementary, also defended by the Cuban government: diversifying foreign relations. To withstand a strong growth of visitors, the leisure industry in the largest of the Caribbean islands needs to add, expand options, and multiply entry doors and installations.
The Spanish companies understand this. They remain calm and make plans to strengthen their presence before the U.S. competition is given the green light by Washington to invest in Cuba. The firm that is Spain’s business leader in this country, Meliá Hotels International, aims to add 24,000 rooms in a short time. In addition to increasing by almost 40 per cent today’s total number of available rooms on the Cuban archipelago (62,000 rooms), it would build up Spanish participation, currently with 74 per cent of all the hotel management contracts (a total of 53) and 69 per cent of the entire foreign presence in Cuba.
Marrero announced that out of the 16 foreign consortiums managing hotel installations, 11 are Spanish and at present 15 companies from that country are exploring new business opportunities, among them some construction companies.
The Spanish plans are in tune with the Cuban development programme. Raúl Castro’s government aims to practically double the number of rooms in four years. Though the entry of U.S. investors and chains has still not materialised, foreigners’ interest in Cuba immediately shot up after both countries announced on December 17, 2014 talks to normalise relations.
Cuba closed 2015 with 3,526,779 visitors, according to the latest figures by the National Office of Statics and Information (ONEI). In his statements to the press, Marrero estimated that “the number of visitors could increase twofold when the blockade ends.”
Though trips for reasons of tourism remain banned for U.S. citizens, President Obama relaxed the granting of licenses to visit Cuba in 12 categories like religious, academic and cultural trips. The immediate effect was a 75 per cent increase in arrivals from the U.S., said the tourism minister.
The Cuban authorities’ forecasts not only include a million U.S. visitors when Washington gives its citizens the freedom to travel to the country, banned for more than half a century. It also expects a greater rapprochement of U.S. companies.
In a message to the businesspeople and hosts of the Exceltur Forum, Marrero said that “the arrival of U.S. companies will be good because it will generate more competitiveness and will raise the quality of the tourist product.”
The Spaniards are making the same calculations. The vice president of Meliá Hotels International, Gabriel Escarrer, coincided with the Cuban minister in that the entry of the U.S. market to the island will be positive to increase the quality standards and to emphasize on differentiation and innovation.
Marrero commented that after Cuba and the United States announced the start of talks, “the first reaction was that the Spanish companies that were already in Cuba asked the Cuban government for more hotel licenses.” Others that are not present in this country, are negotiating with Cuban hotel chains to invest and manage hotels, he said. In his opinion, the fear in investing in the Caribbean nation has disappeared. (2016)
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