Upgraded tourism to be locomotive of recovering Cuban economy

Photo by Aurélien Courtet 

Cuban tourism will continue to be a locomotive of the country’s economy, generating income that contributes to increasing the well-being of all, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero has told a meeting of the Ministry of the Tourism (Mintur).

Speaking to more than 300 regional tourism executives by video link, Marrero, a former Minister of Tourism, warned however that future success will depend on significantly upgrading the country’s tourism offering.

“People want to travel the same or more than before, but things will never be as they were”, he told participants. “Now, the most successful destinations will be those that have known how to take advantage of this time of paralysis to innovate, to do things differently”, he observed.

In Cuba’s case, he said, the certification of facilities providing hygienic and safe conditions for tourism in line with pandemic protocols “constitutes a strength that accompanies the gradual recovery of the sector”.

“Service of quality” he said would characterise demand in the new normal. “Cuban tourism can never be in quarantine, the number of visitors may have fallen drastically, but the work continued, and the sector will continue to be improved”, he was quoted by the Presidency website as having said.

Marrero went on to tell participants that Cuba had all the potential to achieve this. “We are seen as a sun and beach destination, but the strength of our culture makes us different” as does the “varied nature” of the Cuban tourism product.

Speaking about what Cuba now needed to do, the Prime Minister said that while the country had many strengths and a large inventory of tourism services, it had not been able to take full advantage of them, so it “must redesign all tourism products”.

“We must”, he told industry professionals, “change even the traditional marketing methods, placing emphasis on the Internet and on social networks, but not only in relation to promotional campaigns, but [in ways that involve] the participation of all tourism workers. “Each one should feel a need to interact with the public”, he said.

Marrero also laid emphasis on quality, observing that this will in future define Cuban tourism. “We have to perfect quality systems, and penalise the lack of quality”, he said, noting that in this “a smile, affable treatment, the culture of detail, cleanliness, neatness, and professionalism” will be essential components. “We have to guarantee the highest quality in all tourism products that we offer in the country, both to the international and domestic markets”, the Prime Minister said.

Also addressing the meeting, Juan Carlos García, the Minister of Tourism, said that tourism’s recovery would focus on priority markets, and on boosting the inflow of foreign exchange. The Minister noted that action was being taken to retain and preserve the skills of the industry’s qualified workforce, many of whom have be reassigned to other non-tourism work while operations have remained limited. The objective for 2021 for the industry’s more than 73,000 state workers and more than 5,000 in the non-state sector, is to deliver “quality and a culture of detail in everything”, García reportedly said.

In his remarks he confirmed that work continues on renovating significant numbers of hotel rooms that were out of service, noting that in 2020 repairs and renovation had resulted in 7,000 rooms being brought back into use.

Another priority, García said, was the digital transformation of the sector, involving developing internet availability across all hotel areas and an extra-hotel network for beach and operational areas. He noted that some 70% of all hotels now have broadband and all 4- and 5-star hotels will shortly have this a part of their offering.

The meeting heard from other speakers that among the future activities being developed is a greater emphasis on cuisine, the greater use of local inputs including fruits and vegetables, the development of a genuinely Cuban cookbook, and products for customer service being made available in workers’ dining rooms.

Stress was additionally laid by Mintur’s Director of Operations and Quality, María del Pilar Mecías, on a programme to train non-state tourism providers to ensure that they provide the same hygienic and safe tourism conditions for visitors as exist in state entities. “Compliance”, she said, “would be key from now on”.

Speaking about marketing, Bárbara Cruz, Mintur’s Marketing Director, indicated that Cuba needed to analyse what it additionally needed to do. “We need to communicate more what we do, to make ourselves known more”, she said. Cruz also noted that strategies are being developed for digital marketing and said that the slogan ‘Cuba: your safe destination’ will continue to be rolled out in both national and international markets.

On Cuba’s growing domestic tourism market, she said that this had “behaved dynamically” in 2020 and the intention is now to focus on key dates such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and relevant events including quinceañera celebrations and honeymoons.

Other Cuban reporting of the meeting additionally noted that work undertaken in 2020 had focussed on the development of facilities in the Jadines del Rey in Ciego de Ávila – the first area in Cuba to receive visitors – with special emphasis on the experience of visitors from the Russian market; and a new emphasis on improving and developing camping and cabin tourism, mainly in Mayabeque.

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