The locomotive picks up speed

The reception of tourists has notably increased with the start of the winter season in Cuba, a relief in the face of the poor indicators that predominated in the mayor part of 2013.

The Cuban leisure industry grew barely 0.5 percent in tourist arrivals and again was below the plan.

An excellent takeoff of the peak tourism season partially erased the bad spell that predominated in 2013, restored the hopes pinned on a key sector of the Cuban economy and lent credence to the favourable forecasts, though discreet, for the new year. After months with losses, the reception of foreign visitors increased in the final two months and contributed to a less grey close of the year, though still below the early forecasts of the Tourism Ministry (MINTUR).

Thanks to a recovery of European issuing markets that had witnessed a low throughout the year, plus the favourable performance of the traditional leader, Canada, and the good results of emerging markets, tourist arrivals increased 7.6 and 8.8 percent in November and December, respectively, as compared to the same months in 2012.

The hike helped to conclude the year with a moderate profit of 0.5 percent. A total of 2,852,572 foreigners visited Cuba in 2013, according to a recent report by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

Up to October the reception of tourists had a deficit of 1.2 percent, after a string of terrible months, except for August, which witnessed an increase of 4.4 percent. Despite the persisting storm clouds, during the International Tourism Fair (FitCuba 2013) held in May in the country’s principal beach resort, Varadero, the press was still reiterating the plans of reaching a record of three million visitors during the year, a dream MINTUR has had for several years.

After receiving 2,838,607 visitors in 2012, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero expressed in December to the Cuban MPs the expectations of reaching 3.1 million in 2013, which would have meant a spectacular annual increase of more than 9 percent.After a sustained growth for five years, tourist arrivals practically came to a standstill.

The authorities said that some of the factors that hit the sector included the contraction of arrivals from European countries affected by the economic crisis and that traditionally were among the important issuing markets. But they also admitted errors in the Cuban marketing policy and the quality of services.

The Ministry officials observe more encouraging perspectives for the current year, though they are avoiding repeating the sin of excessively optimistic statistics. They prefer to speak of figures similar to the previous period for 2014.

MINTUR Marketing Director José Manuel Bisbé, who last December was already anticipating a good close of the year, explains the improvement by a group of commercial operators, among which he mentioned an increase in the reception of cruise passengers. That modality experienced a significant hike in 2013, with 125 dockings throughout the country, while the entrance of eight ships until next April is being announced.

The opening of direct flights to new markets in Europe and to nations recognised as emerging economies has also had an influence. Among the first are the cases of Denmark, Czech Republic and Poland. There is also Russia, though it did not end the year well. Among the emerging markets, the expansion of commercial ties with Latin American countries stands out, like Brazil, to which the last Cuban tourism fair was dedicated and with which Havana signed important investment agreements.

Bisbé also highlighted the recovery of markets that remained depressed during a great deal of 2013, and even since previous years, due to the European financial crisis.

Spain, which until October had accumulated a 13.6 percent decrease, improved the emission with the start of the Cuban winter season or peak tourism season: the arrival of Spaniards increased 15.6 percent in December. This helped to end the year with a less marked low (10.2 percent) and opened the door to let in some optimism for this year.

Other European countries with significant reanimation in December after a terrible year were United Kingdom – the second issuing market after Canada -, Italy and France. Only Germany maintained a good pace all the time: it was confirmed in third place, with an annual close of 6.7 percent.The tourism authorities have decided to share a space with the non-state sector like home rentals.

Some of the emerging economies that stood out in 2013 were Mexico (with an 8.2 percent growth), Venezuela (26.3 percent), Chile (30.5 percent, the highest percentage increase), Colombia (4.5 percent), China (18 percent) and Brazil (8.6 percent).

According to the statements made during the last Varadero tourism fair, the Cuban government maintains as a priority the investments with foreign participation to increase the number of hotels, rooms and non-hotel recreation installations. At the same time, it is expanding ties with international tour operators and airlines as well as incorporating the novelty of sharing a space in Cuba with the emerging non-state sector. The growth in tourist arrivals is more than a result or a goal, it is key to the strategy of making tourism the driving force of the economy. (2014)

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