Minister has plans to address surge in tourism arrivals

9 May 2016
Issue number 870

Cuba’s Tourism Minister, Manuel Marrero, has said that the country’s leisure industry has become the second largest source of revenue for the country, and is experiencing unprecedented growth that his ministry is developing plans to address.

Speaking on May 3 at the opening of Cuba’s 36th International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2016, held at Havana’s Hotel Tryp Habana Libre, Mr Marrero said that tourism contributed in 2015 US$2.8bn to the national economy, benefitting other sectors and helping to create production linkages.

He noted, however, that while Cuba was rapidly expanding the number of available hotel rooms to meet rising demand, raising the quality of service in all sectors has become the country’s highest priority in tourism. He also noted that policy was geared toward the consolidation and diversification of the country’s tourism product.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the fair, the Minister said that Cuba is now predicting 3.8m visitors in 2016 with over 1.5m foreign tourists having so far visited Cuba this year alone; an increase of 13.5% over the same period last year. The Minister said that in 2015 over 161,000 US citizens visited Cuba, with 94,000 having arrived so far in 2016. He however pointed out that although Washington has modified its approach to licensing US citizens’ travel to Cuba, travel for tourist purposes remained prohibited.

Mr Marerro said that his ministry’s portfolio of investment projects currently included 126 proposals, and that 76 hotel administration and marketing contracts had been signed with 17 international chains up to the end of April 2016, while another 23 were scheduled to be ratified soon.

More generally, he said that Cuba now had 27 joint ventures of which 14 involved the operation of 5,500 four and five-star hotel rooms. He also said that the country had some 7,000 private restaurants and 18 co-operatives working in the sector.

Noting that Cuba is opening on average 2,500 rooms each year, he said that by 2019 this rate of growth is planned to double to 5,000 hotel rooms per year. He said that in 2015 airlift grew by 8.3%.

Minister Marrero highlighted that Havana was the recipient of almost one third of all visitors to Cuba in 2015. The Minister said that in 2015 the capital had received 1m visitors.

FITCuba 2016 was reportedly attended by over 2,000 delegates from over 50 countries including 200 from the US making it the biggest tourism event of its kind in the region. Among those present were the Canadian Tourism Minister, Bardish Chagger, representing Cuba’s largest tourist source market, and Taleb Rifai, the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) based in Madrid.

In other coverage of the fair, Cuban media reports suggest that Havana is to double its current level of tourist accommodation.

Speaking to the Cuban media about this, Sonia Beltran, a senior representative of the Cuban Tourism Ministry said that at present the province of Havana now had 11,309 rooms in hotels and villas, representing 20% of all tourism capacity in Cuba plus some 1,900 homes and 4,700 private rooms in the hands of Cuban families, available to visitors.

She said that as a part of the Ministry’s approach it was accelerating its investment plans, renovating older hotels, and encouraging accommodation in private houses. This process, she said, in part involved recovering and remodelling 1,400 rooms in hotels such as the Havana Libre, Havana Riviera, Aquario, the bungalows Alborada del Comodoro and the reopening of the hotel El Viejo y el Mar.

The Tourism Ministry was also, she said, rigorously categorising hotels to ensure higher standards. During the fair it also became apparent that Cuba is going to give greater attention to health tourism because of its reputation, experience and professional achievement in medicine. In a discussion led by the President of Cuban Medical Services, Doctor Jorge Alberto Miranda, his quoted comments suggest that Cuba is likely to place greater future emphasis on health tourism in relation to cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, detoxification and the rehabilitation of addiction, as well as the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers using some of Cuba’s advanced medical and biotechnological research.

In addition, there is likely to be an emphasis on academic services, graduate training in medical sciences, and related travel congresses, events, and cultural tourism.

The statements made at FITCuba 2016 suggest that Cuba has a pressing need to distribute tourism and its economic benefits more widely across the country.

While the arrival of US cruise ships will do something to lift the burden on hotels in Havana, which have seen steep increases in Cuba’s traditionally low room rates, the pressure is likely to remain as US visitor arrivals surge when scheduled air services begin later this year. The greater short term challenge is therefore likely to be distributing tourism numbers and income more widely around in the country.

More generally, the extensive daily coverage of the fair in the official media and the speeches made suggest that tourism growth and the income it is generating will remain a high national priority and that new hotel construction, product diversification and the spreading of tourism’s economic benefits more equitably will become long term priorities.

In addition, Cuba is likely to show the way in regional terms to link the industry to the country’s other productive sectors including agriculture and food production. At the time of the Cuban Communist Party Congress last month, President Castro observed that the tourism sector had great potential to promote the development of other sectors and generate production linkages.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly Cuba Briefing, a leading publication that provides detailed and accurate news on economic, social and political developments inside Cuba to corporate interests with a long term economic relationship with the island.

The publication is available internationally on a subscription-only basis for those in business, government and the academic world who wish to understand on a weekly basis developments relating to Cuba.

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