Over five thousand professionals from fifty nine countries attended the recent 36th edition of the International Tourism Fair, FITCUBA 2016, an endorsement for the development of the Cuban leisure industry.
In addition to negotiations, excursions showing the country’s tourism products and expectations regarding the US market, Cuba demonstrated ways in which the sector is set to grow even further.
FITCuba 2016 was dedicated to Canada as guest country of honor. Culture was the featured product and Havana the featured destination.
Cuban authorities recognized the need for additional infrastructure and improved quality of services.
The Cuban Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, contributed very important data for the sector and welcomed the presence of seventeen holders of that portfolio, as part of twenty-six delegations attending the 60th World Tourism Organization Commission for the Americas (UNWTO) meeting.
The presence of the Secretary General of UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, and a strong team from this UN entity complemented the meeting’s success. Leading tourism figures from Venezuela, Aruba, Bahamas, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Ecuador, Mongolia and Zimbabwe were present. In addition, a team of two hundred American specialists joined, certifying the restoration of relations with Cuba after more than fifty years.
Last year Cuba had 3,524,770 foreign visitors, a growth of seventeen percent over 2014. There was a thirteen percent increase in tourists per day staying in its facilities.
The main sources of tourists were Canada (with 1.3 million visitors in 2015), Germany, USA, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina, the top 10 in that order.
Forty-four percent were repeat visitors, which means they came to Cuba more than once in the same year.
In surveys, ninety-six percent of travelers expressed satisfaction with the destination, eighty-nine percent recognized it as good pricequality value and ninety-four percent would recommend it.
The managers of the sector indicated that one of the main focuses is quality management, for which they are taking rigorous steps in the grading and categorization of establishments.
During 2015 several hotel facilities received Travel Choice awards from the TripAdvisor travel website. The most popular all-inclusive packages in the Caribbean included six in this archipelago: Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Coco Meliá, Paradisus Rio de Oro, Meliá Buenavista, Royalton Hicacos Varadero and Iberostar Varadero.
Among the ten top sites of interest in the Caribbean, the Plaza Vieja in Havana got second place and the Plaza Mayor in Trinidad (center-south) came eighth.
Among the Caribbean’s ten best museums, second place went to Havana’s National Fine Arts Museum. Havana was cited as one of the most popular Caribbean destinations and Paradisus Cayo Largo ranked third among the best beaches in the world, The Minister indicated that tourism revenue was $2.8 billion, a 10.7 percent increase with a 13.4 percent increase in profits.
This sector is the second biggest generator of new currency for the country and 126 business investment project proposals were presented.
At the end of April 2016 there were seventy-six approved marketing and management contracts in place with seventeen foreign hotel chains. This represents more than 39,400 rooms, sixty-six percent of all existing rooms in Cuba. There are twenty-seven joint ventures, fourteen of which already operate 5,500 rooms in four and five star facilities. The new portfolio of opportunities has twenty-three approved projects at different stages of development, with two joint ventures already in operation: one in Carboneras at the entrance of the Varadero beach resort, and one in Bellomonte, just outside of Havana. Other projects were announced in Punta Colorada, Pinar del Río and El Salado, west of the capital.
Cuba has defined tourism as a strategic sector for economic and social development until 2030. To this end the private sector contributes more than 1,700 restaurants (known as paladares) and 16,000 rooms in rental houses, in addition to eighteen culinary cooperatives.
As part of the programs foreseen for 2019, hotel openings are expected to double providing five thousand new rooms per year.
In 2015 fourteen new facilities were put into operation with 2,655 rooms and the Gaviota Group plans to build another 108,000.
Forty-eight percent of all tourism employees are under forty years of age. Sixty-five percent hold high school level education and twenty-three percent are university graduates. In 2015 there was a noted increase in commercial flight activity with 25,972 flights, representing an increase of 8.3 percent over 2014. This increase was a result of six new airlines instigating regular routes, in addition to more frequent flights provided by companies already flying to Cuba.
Last year 161,233 Americans traveled to Cuba (seventy-six percent more than in 2014), in accordance with the twelve travel categories approved by Washington – the prohibition for tourism trips is still in effect as are the commercial and economic restrictions. In addition, 390,000 Cuban-Americans came to the Island in 2015.
So far in 2016, 94,000 Americans have come to the Island, representing an increase of ninety-three percent over the same period last year, on top of 116,000 Cuban-Americans. Cuba and the United States signed an agreement to reinstate regular flights, twenty to Havana and ten to other airports on the Island.
The Carnival Cruise Company ship Adonia recently docked in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba and will continue this route as per their contract. In addition, the Royal Caribbean Cruise Company requested seventy-two stops between Miami and Havana.
The Cuban capital was also declared a Wonder City in December 2014 via online voting as part of the New 7 Wonders initiative, and received the award on June 7th on the Malecon.
Last year 1,685,000 foreigners visited Havana. So far this year 972,000 have arrived, representing a 37.4 percent increase and demonstrating the growing demand for visits to the city.
Twenty-two new high level hotel establishments will be erected in this city providing 7,000 new rooms by 2030. Figures for 2016 show tourism in Cuba continues to do very well. More than 1.5 million people have already come to the island this year, an increase of 13.5 percent over last year.
During the last five years more than 10,900 rooms were put in operation and another 7,000 were reopened, in addition to more than 14,000 rooms available in private houses. In total there are more than 62,000 rooms across the Island.
The numbers indicate a growing future, despite the need for investment and development, which could place Cuba among the top ranks of Caribbean and worldwide tourist destinations.