With a pragmatism that makes Miami right-wing critics grumble, the Raúl Castro government is spreading the cards it’s playing to strengthen one of the leading sectors of the economy: tourism. Recently, the British company Esencia Hotels and Resorts and the Cuban Palmares agreed on the creation of a joint venture, Habana Resort, for the development of golf courses in order to expand the options of the leisure industry on the Cuban archipelago. The announcement forms part of a much vaster investment programme to fill the cays with hotels and other attractions.
According to plans presented during the recent International Tourism Fair, the sector’s authorities have a portfolio of 16 projects for the short-term building of luxury tourism enclaves, golf courses, housing, marinas and other multiple services.
With those plans, by 2020 the Cuban government aims to expand to 85,000 rooms the country’s hotel capacity, which at present stands at 60,500, in line with the national strategy of strengthening the leisure industry as a driving force of the economy.
In 2013 Cuba will inaugurate four new hotels in Cayo Santa María and Cayo Coco, in Varadero and in Trinidad. It also plans to increase the accommodation capacity of cities like Havana; the opening of three new hotels soon in its historic centre, as well as the reopening this same year of the emblematic Capri Hotel, in the Vedado district, among other projects. To this network is added the island’s emerging private sector, already with 6,115 rooms and 950 homes owned by individuals with a license to rent, as well as 2,242 non-state restaurants.
But from the point of view of the attractions offered to tourists, the most important novelty seems to be the coming into the scene of the golf courses. The 18-hole Club Carbonera in Varadero, proposed by Esencia at a value of 350 million dollars, is presented as the first of other similar initiatives.
“It will be an important complement to Varadero beach resort’s tourist offer and the start of a whole new policy to increase the presence of golf in Cuba,” Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said during a visit to Varadero.
The British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, also approved the project. In a note sent to the press in Havana, Cole said that it is “the largest British investment on the island in more than a decade and is a great step forward” for trade relations between both countries.
“We have been working on this for seven years, step by step, so we are very excited about it coming to fruition at last,” the executive director of Esencia, Andrew McDonald, said during a tour of the site chosen to build the golf course. McDonald said that he expects the work will begin next year based on a design that will transform the area.
Together with the golf club, the plans include the construction of an exclusive community of 650 apartments and villas. There will also be a hotel and a country club, with tennis courts, spa and nautical club.
“Cuba has all the conditions to be an option for them: safety, nature, culture. So why not come here?” McDonald asked.
The investors plan to build the Club Carbonera some 15 kilometres from Varadero. It will extend along 170 hectares and includes the development of an 18-hole golf course, a luxury hotel and a community of some 650 apartments, 200 residences, a commercial centre and a club with tennis court, spa and a yacht association.
“This is the first of several similar projects that could be continued taking into account the Cuban government’s interest in giving golf a prominent place in the country’s tourist industry,” the British diplomat noted.
Determined to develop a segment of luxury tourism, associated to golf, the Cuban government is giving the final touches to a legislation to start the marketing and construction of real estate projects associated to this sport, one of the island’s bets to boost and diversify its tourist offer. As part of the new regulations in Cuba for the development of golf-associated real estate tourism, foreign citizens will be able to acquire properties in these developments.
Statements by the Tourism Ministry indicate that the authorities are planning at least 11 real estate developments associated to golf tourism throughout the island. In addition to the Club Carbonera, it is expected that by the end of the year another project will be approved with Chinese capital and other similar projects are being negotiated with investments from Spain, Vietnam and Russia.
Local tourism executives are placing their trust in these projects to re-launch a sector with growing weight in the country’s foreign balance of payment. In addition to collecting around 2.6 billion dollars, the tourist industry is a source of employment and an important means of support in demand by other production and service sectors. This is the reason for the priority given to investments for the strengthening of the leisure industry in Cuba.
In 2012 the Caribbean island nation received more than 2.8 million foreign tourists, 4.5 percent more than in 2011, and this year hopes to exceed the three million international visitors.
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