Tourism minister outlines strategy to restore tourism growth

Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, has spelt out the measures that will be implemented to encourage the sector’s continuing growth following the negative impact of US sanctions on visitor numbers.

Speaking to a Permanent Commission of the country’s National Assembly earlier this month, Marrero said that Cuba expects a 10% decrease in the arrival of foreign visitors this year following the US Administration’s ending of group educational trips by US citizens. The measure effectively halted all US cruise ship arrivals and meant, he said, that it was now likely that 2019 will see the country receiving 4.3m international visitors, or 84.3% of the 5.1m originally anticipated: a decrease of 10% on the 4.7m received in 2018.

Speaking about arrivals by sea, the minister noted that originally Cuba had anticipated some 560,000 cruise visitors in the second half of 2019 (1m were forecast for the year) saying that “at the moment we do not have any (cruise) ships operating into Cuba”. He also said that although there had been no changes in flight arrivals, US sanctions were expected to undergo modifications, “due to the fear that the (new US) measures generate in the US clients that intended to travel to Cuba”. “In fact, several groups of visitors  to the island by air, have been cancelled”, the minister told legislators.

Marrero also pointed out that the online sales agencies, Expedia Group, Hotelbeds USA and Cubasphere, had been fined and that Cuba was in dialogue with them to better understand the future scope and implications of the fines. He also observed that several online platforms had removed the hotels Nacional, Capri and Habana Libre in Havana; Kawama in Varadero, and San Carlos in Cienfuegos, and others from their offerings. This, he said, was a process Cuba expected to continue in relation to other tourism facilities that may be subject to claims under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.

Despite these setbacks, Marrero went on describe the actions being taken to continue to develop what has become a US$3bn per annum industry for Cuba, while noting that the hotel groups invested in Cuba remained firm in their commitment to the country and that new investment requests continued to come in.

In his remarks the Minister set out government’s plans to offset the current situation. MINTUR would, he said, seek to stimulate the flow of visitors from abroad and encourage vacations by Cuban residents and Cubans living outside the country.

Among the measures he said that MINTUR would take were:

  • Greater use of the internet and social media to promote Cuba as a destination and to generate more online sales.
  • An analysis of occupancy in order to determine the locations and periods of the year when national tourism might be promoted
  • Increased use of local inputs ‘not as an option, but as  an urgent need’ to enable cost savings, greater sustainability and productive linkages.
  • Market analysis to understand better what generates repeat business to Cuba and to highlight where marketing or improvements were required.
  • Continuing with work underway on providing better value for money through improving service levels, the variety of cuisine, the comfort of the rooms, improvements to tourist shops, and the availability of cars for rent, a problem which he said required investment and would have to be “solved progressively”.
  • And bringing new hotels rooms on stream, including 3,808 new hotel rooms to open this year and 2,404 that will be upgraded, placing a special emphasis on Havana.

In his remarks, he reiterated that forms of non-state management (Cuba’s private sector) was “a necessary ally for the development of tourism in the country”, noting that as of the end of April, there were 27,814 self-employed workers in the tourism sector and that in Cuban tourist cities the non-state sector provided more rooms for rent in private homes than existed in hotels.

Marrero, said that of those visiting Cuba, nearly 0.9m stayed in casas particlares but often only for short periods. He noted however that several difficulties continued in the non-state sector because the prices charged were often not commensurate with the product or service levels received and such properties poor levels of management.

Responding to questions from deputies, the Minister acknowledged the need to improve the quality of services in Campismo Popular which in the past had largely related to domestic tourism, noting that the strategy has been to attract foreign investment in order to upgrade camping facilities and comfort to attract young Cuban and foreign visitors.

Separately, Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, explained in the same session why the Cuban Government would continue to undertake and encourage investment in tourism.

Intervening, he said that to become an efficient locomotive of the Cuban economy, tourism needed to be linked to national production. In order to make further progress, and to reduce costs state companies were being given greater independence in decision making to support the sector. He also said that Cuba “cannot wait for the (US) blockade to end to build the hotel plant”. Despite the shortcomings that persist, Cuba’s leisure industry provided Government with the liquidity to service debt, buy raw materials and invest, he said.

He also said that new sustainable developments in tourism that care preserve the environment are underway that use renewable technology for power generation, waste and potable water treatment.

“What should distinguish us is the quality of the service,” he said We must promote tourism that seduces, enchants and attracts those who visit us. We Cubans must defend tourism for everything it contributes from the economic point of view “.

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