Incentive, conference, event and meeting travel are becoming increasingly important in the world as one of the strongest lines of growth in the tourist industry.
This area is so important that some experts say that conference and incentive travel stands alone as its own industry, even though many nations include meetings and conferences as part of their tourist industry.
Despite the effects of the global economic and financial crisis, this non-leisure form of tourism has opened its own road and is building stronger ties between countries and with other industries, and one example of that is Cuba.
Cuba's indicators are sufficiently strong to point to the upward movement of this area as part of its tourism industry, given that the island is increasingly chosen, year after year, by event organizers. The country's well organized infrastructure and the possibility of combining the business travel aspect with other options are two factors that are taken into account in this decision.
With growth figures pointing to secure potential for the future, the island's authorities are boosting conference and incentive travel as part of the local tourism industry, which in 2013, is expected to welcome some three million visitors.
It would be logical to think that as one of Cuba's growth industries, the conference and incentive travel sector would have a special priority, including important meetings that cover many areas, such as education, music and culture in general, science and technology and medicine.
On an interesting note, there is one very outstanding event: the Habanos Festival, which is held in late February every year and attended by more than 1,000 people from at least 70 nations. Many participants are cigar smokers, but others are tourists who are interested in Cuba's tobacco farming industry, which not only produces Cuban cigars, known as Habanos, but also encompasses the country's history, tradition and culture. As a showcase for premium Habanos, which are made totally by hand, this gathering is one of the most important in the world, comparable only to the Big Smoke, which is held in Las Vegas in the United States.
While it is true that the smoking habit is harmful and rightly criticized all over the world, so is that of consuming sugar, and tobacco has been part of the Cuban people's idiosyncrasy since the nation's founding. This is why so many people are interested in visiting the island on an incentive trip as interesting as one related to tobacco.
Two other top areas on the island are the annual education congress (Congreso Pedagogía) and high-level meetings of specialists in health care and quality of life, with participants attracted by these sectors in Cuba.
Business travel has been boosted in recent years, as the Ministry of Tourism has been deeply immersed in providing services to and uniting those interested in promoting the solid development of conference and incentive travel in Cuba. That includes the participation of Cuban delegations at trade fairs such as the EIBTM in Spain, CMITS in Canada, IMEX in Germany, BTC in Italy, MITM in various countries, CONFEX in the UK, FIEXPO in Uruguay and MIBEXPO in Russia.
Conference travel in Cuba works like a well-oiled mechanism, and it is recognized as such by many tour operators around the world. Cuba belongs to the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA), the regional conference tourism organization COCAL (Federación de entidades organizadoras de Congresos y afines de América Latina y el Caribe), and others.
Thousands of people come to Cuba to attend events and congresses of all types, with some 400 such gatherings organized nationwide annually.
In their work, Cuba's specialists concentrate on providing quality service, with the help of emblematic sites in the national capital, such as the Palacio de Convenciones international conference center (which includes the Hotel Palco and the Pabexpo fairgrounds), the Expocuba fairgrounds, and the ORTOP events centre.
Others on this list include the Club Habana, a space that is principally for the diplomatic corps; the Salón Arcos de Cristal, of the famous Cabaret Tropicana, and other meeting rooms, auditoriums and ballrooms in hotels that include the Parque Central, Habana Libre Tryp, Meliá Cohiba, Meliá Habana, Nacional de Cuba, Ambos Mundos, Comodoro, Copacabana and Habana Riviera.
Varadero, the famous seaside resort town in Matanzas province, has the Plaza América convention center and the Hotel Meliá Varadero; the eastern city of Holguín has the hotels Meliá Río de Oro and Pernil; and Cuba's second largest city, Santiago, has the Teatro Heredia convention center and the Hotel Meliá Santiago de Cuba.
On the other end of the island, the western province of Pinar del Río has the Hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines, which is located in beautiful surroundings that include some of Cuba's most important tobacco plantations. Incentive travel organizers usually make a previous inspection to learn about the conditions of the different sites, and they are always satisfied, according to tourist authorities, especially in cases of “made-to-order” options.
As one measure of this interest, Cuba has received as many as 100,000 visitors as part of conference and incentive travel groups, and their accommodations are mostly in four- and five-star hotels, with well-organized programs.
The main issuing countries for incentive travellers to Cuba are in Europe, led by Spain, France and Italy.
Meanwhile, the main business clients for this line in Cuba are BMW, Renault, SAAB, Pernod Ricard, AGFA, Xerox, Bayer, Konica, Bavaria, MasterCard, Alcatel, Hitachi, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Fiat and Nestlé, among others.
The World Tourism Organization predicts that the total number of tourists worldwide in the year 2020 could reach 1.6 billion, many of them in event and adventure travel, and Cuba aspires to hold a significant share of that market.