The tourism industry has started off 2015 at a good pace and better news for Cuba. The first months confirmed last year’s flood of visitors, while U.S. companies have achieved several of their most important business exclusives with the largest of the Caribbean islands in the field of hotels and travel.
This was confirmed by the International Tourism Fair (FitCuba 2016), held in Havana with the presence of more than 2,000 delegates from 55 countries. The principal issuers, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, France, shared space with the hosts – and with U.S. representatives – in La Cabaña Fortress.
After the 17.4 per cent increase registered last year, the tourist arrivals have grown 13.5 per cent to date, according to official reports given at the start of the Fair. The months prior to this event, those with the highest usual affluence, saw the arrival of 1.5 million vacationers from other countries.
The tendency up to April is a good forecast to reach this year the amount of 3.8 million which the authorities trust in. It is the figure mentioned by Cuban Culture Minister Manuel Marrero when inaugurating the Fair in the Trip Habana Libre Hotel. Another data that encourages the official is that 44 per cent of the visitors are repeat guests.
Though the Canadians continue at the head of the issuers of tourists to Cuba – they contribute a third of all the visitors – the United States is showing a faster advance.
In the first quarter of the year, 1.3 million travellers arrived in the Cuba destination, a 15 per cent growth compared to the same period in 2015, expert José Luis Perelló reported in Caribbean News Digital before the start of the Fair. All the issuing countries listed increases. Those showing the highest increases were Spain (88.7 per cent), Italy (72.6 per cent), Germany (43 per cent), France (41.3 per cent) and United Kingdom (20.3 per cent). But the biggest leap, 94.2 per cent, was the United States, according to Perelló.
Judging by official indicators, the increase is gaining speed this year, while talks are being held to eliminate at some time a U.S. economic blockade that hinders, among other commercial activities, tourist trips from that country to the largest of the Caribbean islands.
Marrero said at the Fair that last year Cuba received 161,233 U.S. visitors, 76 per cent more than in 2014. And this year 94,000 U.S. visitors have already entered the country, the minister reported at the start of FitCuba 2016.
Through individual travel licenses they travelled to Havana and other venues also motivated by a series of special events that, according to Perelló, had an influence on the general increase of visitors: President Barack Obama’s trip to Havana, the baseball game between the Cuba and Tamp Rays teams, the Rolling Stones’ concert, and several international meetings and congresses.
On May 2, days before the start of the Fair, the first U.S. cruise ship in some 40 years arrived in Cuba. The Adonia, the flagship vessel of the Fathom line, of the Carnival Company, entered the bay of Havana with some 710 U.S. travellers.
A commentary in the daily Granma generated repercussion when it said that “the cruise ship arrived without a single tourist on board”. The travellers had special licenses from the “People-to-People” exchange programmes. The journalists and Carnival CEOs that accompanied them received in Washington press and business work licenses.
Other U.S. cruise companies like Royal Caribbean, Pearl Seas Cruises and Princess Cruises have also presented their route programmes with stopovers in Havana and other Cuban ports. Meanwhile, the U.S. airlines American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Delta, Silver Airways, Southwest, Eastern, Frontier and United Airlines have announced and presented the tenders for direct commercial flights. They would lay an increasingly expedite maritime and air bridge for the tourists between both countries. The flow is previewed to be high.
The Cuban authorities have announced intense investment programmes with foreign participation to expand hotel and quality capacities and face up to – as the Cuban minister recognised – the satisfactory perspectives as well as the nuisances created in airports and other installations because of the intense increase in demand.
The Development Plan up to 2030, recently discussed by the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, proposes to expand until that date the hotel capacity with 108,717 new rooms. The short-term plans propose more than 13,000 this year. Today the country has 62,000 rooms, but if the private homes that rent rooms are added the figure goes up to 80,000.
Manuel Marrero insisted before the delegates and the press at the Fair that the plan also points to increasing the classification and standards of the existing hotels in the country, and to the boost of other activities like marinas, real estate agencies and golf courses.
“One of the strategies to increase the number of visitors is the quality-related work,” Marrero said. “The Plaza Vieja of the City of Havana ranks second among the 10 sites of tourist interest in the Caribbean and the Plaza Mayor of the city of Trinidad ranks eighth.”
This year six Cuban installations were among the 25 best All-Inclusive hotels of the Caribbean, according to the Travellers’ Choice 2016 prizes awarded in April by TrypAdvisor, the major travel web, based on the opinion of thousands of users throughout the world. The Royalton Cayo Santa María, in the Jardinesdel Rey group of cays, ranked sixth in the region and 19th on a world level. MeliáBuenavista, MeliáCayo Coco, Paradisus Río de Oro, Royalton HicacosVaradero and IberostarVaradero are also well located in the Caribbean ranking.
In order to improve hotel quality standards, the Business Portfolio offered as opportunity to foreign investors favours the leisure industry installations.
Starwood is the first U.S. hotel company that accepted the offer and signed an investment agreement. It will operate two hotels, the Quinta Avenida, of the Cuban Gaviota Company, under its Four Points Sheraton brand, and Gran Caribe’sInglaterra, with the Luxury Collection brand. No other U.S. hotel chain had done so since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. (2016)
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