2014 closed with a record dreamed by the leisure industry in Cuba for several years: it finally received three million tourists. After consecutive yearly frustrations because of not achieving that figure, unsuccessfully planned once and again, last December 30 the Tourism Ministry (MINTUR) announced the arrival of that amount of international visitors, 5.3 per cent higher than the previous year.
The largest of the Caribbean islands achieved this leap during a year of irregular performance, with months registering decreases and threats of effects similar to those of previous years.
The authorities made the announcement “after a year characterised by the impact of the crisis in several of the most important tourist markets, and despite the restrictions imposed by the U.S. blockade, which forbid its citizens from visiting Cuba freely as tourists.”
But the weak months occurred above all in mid-year, during the stage known as the low season. The country registered the most solid tourist increases in the traditional months of the most affluence: January (9.3 per cent more than the same month in 2013) and now at the close of the year, on the eve or coinciding with the takeoff of the new peak season.
Recent data by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) report a strong increase of international visitors in October (11.5 per cent) and in November (10.8 per cent). And judging by the year’s preliminary data given by MINTUR, that indicator will have grown around 8 per cent in December.
The Canadians are at the head of arrivals by country, followed by the principal European markets: Germany, Great Britain, Italy and France, in that order, though the total amount of Britons considerably decreased until November: 18.1 per cent less than the same period of the previous year, according to ONEI.
The Ministry reported the three million visitors after a flight of the Sunwing tour operator coming from Canada landed at one of the destinations with the most development in Cuba in recent years: Jardines del Rey.
With 16 hotels and more than 6,000 rooms, this enclave formed by Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, to the north of the central province of Ciego de Avila, every week receives an average of 21 flights and previews a growth of close to 12 per cent for the current peak season, according to reports by Cuban television.
The annual record and, above all, the good indicators of the final months of 2014 open the way for a stage of development of the third sector that contributes the most hard currency to the Cuban economy. The strengthening of investments in hotels, marinas, golf courses and other recreation installations, undertaken some years ago, can gain a bigger boost after the approval in April 2014 of the new Foreign Investment Law. The leisure industry appears among the privileged sectors in the business portfolio presented by the Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry during the last Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV 2014).
This option joins the new government policy of establishing alliances with the private sector of home rentals and restaurants, the so-called paladares, two of the activities registering the largest development with the promotion of self-employment.
Another factor that foresees possibilities of important expansion for tourism in Cuba would be an opportunity recently proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama as part of the political change toward this Caribbean neighbour. When he announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and recognised the failure of the policy of economic blockade, he commented on the aim of working to authorise trips to the neighbouring island by U.S. nationals, banned until now, and even the possibility of using their credit and debit cards.
When the U.S. authorities take that step, Cuba would gain access for the first time in half a century to the most important issuing market of the Americas. (2015)
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