Tourism, expectations and business on the rise

There was a 14 per cent leap in the arrival of international visitors in the first three months of 2015, a short while after Cuba and the United States sat at the negotiation table.

Cuba welcomed a million international visitors this year on March 20, 11 days before 2014.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños

One of the principal sectors of the Cuban economy began 2015 with a strong take off. Tourist arrivals shot up 14 per cent in the first three months. According to the Tourism Ministry (MINTUR), the increase responds to marketing operations, but it is inevitable to sense other influences after Cuba and the United States started talks that could lead to the elimination of the economic blockade, the greatest obstacle for any business Havana tries to make today beyond its borders.

The Caribbean nation arrived at a million visitors on March 20, 11 days ahead of a similar figure registered in 2014. The note in which the MINTUR reported the record describes as encouraging the markets’ performance. What more can be expected. The advance almost triples by five per cent the growth achieved in the first quarter of last year.

The European countries that on previous years had shown an irregular performance, in some cases with frank decreases, vigorously resumed their pace. Canada, the international leader, which grew 12.6 per cent, was followed by Germany (23.3), France (22.8), United Kingdom (30.6) and Italy (10.8).

Commenting on the causes for the boost, MINTUR mentioned the promotion strategies undertaken in different markets. It also noted “the consolidation of new marketing operations” and factors traditionally wielded as distinctive values of the Cuban market: the safety and hospitality the country offers visitors.

A few days later, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) confirmed the year’s good start up: 731,299 visitors arrived in January and February, 14.9 per cent more than the first two months of 2014.

The prospect of normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba adds a favourable component to the expansion of a sector with a purely international profile. The greatest effect could especially be perceived in the next months and years. The announcement, simultaneous and unexpected, made by both governments to initiate talks took place last December 17, when the peak tourism season had already started in Cuba and the majority of the reservations and contracts for the stage had been made. But, undoubtedly, the news must generate curiosity in other countries and promises to fertilise a field that is already showing clear signs of a market growth.

A clear reaction of the market to the Cuban-U.S. news is the abrupt appreciation of the stock market quotes of European hotel companies present in Cuba. The shares of the Meliá Hotels International, the sector’s major company in Spain, climbed almost six per cent on the very day of the Cuban-U.S. announcement. Early this April that company’s shares were quoted at 11.48 euros, 35 per cent over the price of the quote on that December 17.

The Cuban-U.S. talks were made public a short while after Havana presented a strategy to attract foreign investments, placing tourism as a privileged option. If this sector accumulates until now the major participation of foreign capital, the plans point to its rapid increase.

The Opportunity Portfolio for Foreign Investments presented by the Cuban government during the last Havana International Trade Fair proposes projects to build 20 new hotels, two real estate developments associated to golf courses, all of this with an investment potential of over 2.266 billion dollars. It also invites entrepreneurs from other countries to sign 33 hotel management contracts: 14 in already existing installations and 19 to be built between 2016 and 2018.

Judging by recent reports, Meliá hopes to maintain its leading position among the foreign firms exploring this field. The Majorcan transnational inaugurated last December 24 its largest hotel in the world, the Meliá Jardines del Rey, a five-star, 624-room resort located on Cayo Coco, a tourist destination to the north of the central Cuban region. This company is presently managing 27 hotels in this country, with some 13,000 rooms. The Cuba destination is Meliá’s largest after Spain (163 hotels) and Germany (33 hotels).

Tourists and capital definitely have growing reasons to travel to Cuba.

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