Tension in the leisure industry

The arrival to Cuba of four million foreign visitors in 2016 is putting pressure on the activity of hotels and airports.

The peak winter season stamped a visible hike in difficulties to find available rooms in Cuba’s hotel installations.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños-IPS

With another record in tourist arrivals, the sights are set abroad and in the country on a Cuban sector that is the business card of an economy in a tight spot because of the national need for hard currency incomes.

For the second year in a row Cuba registered an important increase in the reception of foreign visitors: it received four million in 2016, according to the Tourism Ministry. The data represents an increase of almost half a million, 13.5 per cent, over the visitors of the previous year. And it surpasses the plan by 6 per cent, the Ministry’s press release reported.

 

The rapid ascent of the leisure industry began two years ago. After a slowdown in 2014, the arrival of visitors increased 17.4 per cent in 2015, to conclude in 3,524,779. The rising spell began immediately after Cuba and the United States announced on December 17, 2014 the start of talks to normalise relations.

 

According to the National Information and Statistics Bureau (ONEI), in the first semester of 2016 the Cuban community abroad remained in second place in visits to this country, after the historic leader, Canada, while U.S. citizens had climbed to third place in arrivals, with the strongest increase of the season: 79.7 per cent more than a similar period the previous year.

 

The increase of U.S. citizens is occurring despite the economic blockade regulations that only allow them to travel through licences that do not include tourism.

 The expansion and modernisation works of Havana’s José Martí International Airport are driven by a passenger traffic that is reaching record levels.

The expansion and modernisation works of Havana’s José Martí International Airport are driven by a passenger traffic that is reaching record levels.

 

As a reflection of the pressures being put by traffic of passengers, before the close of the year, Havana’s José Martí Airport reported a record in arrivals of foreigners on commercial flights.

 

Air travel to the Cuban capital increased in the finals months of the year, coinciding with the opening of regular flights to Havana by eight major U.S. airlines: JetBlue, United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines, among others. In frank competition, companies from Latin America, Europe, Asia and other regions have inaugurated commercial flights. The most recent, Turkish Airlines, started flying to Havana’s air terminal on December 20.

 

José Martí International Airport, through which 50 per cent of travellers arrive to Cuba, is about to collapse. In addition to the investment priorities, it must undertake expansion and modernisation works in alliance with the French companies Bouygues Batiment International and Paris Airports. The companies signed an agreement to also manage the installation under the concession modality.

 

Tourism ranks among the sectors with the greatest number of foreign investment projects ever since the new foreign investment law was approved in 2014. Up to March of last year, 76 contracts with 17 firms from other countries were in force to manage 60.5 per cent of the total accommodations capacity of the country.

 

At the same time an ambitious programme of construction investments to increase the hotel capacity, which at present has some 65,000 rooms in hotels and another 17,000 in hostels and private sector homes.

 

According to this year’s plan, presented in December to the National Assembly of People’s Power by Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas, the investment programme is prioritising the development of tourism in Havana, Varadero, the group of cays to the north of Holguín and in Holguín (Ramón Antilla). One of the sectors in which the government is planning greater growth this year is hotels and restaurants, with 8 per cent more than in 2016.

 

The expansion of capacities is of key importance to assume this accelerated growth of tourism, which amounted to 4.1 million this year, if the Tourism Ministry’s forecasts are met. (2017)

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