Cuba, The Jewel in the Caribbean Crown?
By: Roberto F. Campos / Photos: Manuel Muñoa and Publicitur
Doctor and professor Jose Luis Perelló of the University of Havana’s Faculty of Tourism has a full portfolio of information that helps him support his opinions, work which he describes as “data mining”.
For him, Cuba is very close to being the Caribbean’s top tourist destination, although for the moment it holds third place after the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Perelló says that up to the end of October 2015, visitor arrivals from abroad had registered a rise of 18.2 percent over the 2.4 million tourists that arrived in the same period the previous year.
The specialist draws on many relevant sources to uphold his opinion that this archipelago is close to being the apex of Caribbean tourism. His data portfolio features recent consultation documents and reports from the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) as well as American universities other research centers.
All those reports consider Cuba a significant point in the plans for the future and the interest of travelers, above all from the United States.
A recent tourism conference held in September in St. Kitts and Nevis, attended by representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amongst others, predicted Cuba’s future impact in the Caribbean region. With the chimes of those bells the Caribbean’s twenty four tourist destinations are on the alert as all indications are that Havana and its bay are about to be transformed into a major hub for the zone.
According to Perelló, there are additional signs: a Russian proposal for a possible Aeroflot hub in Havana which, combined with a new direct Beijing-Havana flight, is set to considerably increase arrivals.
All this could well lead to Havana becoming the tourist capital of the Caribbean.
The academic is also hopeful about the increasing arrival of cruise ships, carrying four to five thousand passengers each. These ships can circumnavigate the island and dock at more than one Cuban port. Cruise company Carnival for example has already announced that its ships will travel to Havana in 2016.
CHTA has called on the island states to draw up a plan, including a proposal to meet with Cuba’s tourist sector and formulate joint strategies and develop multi-destination products.
The cruise ship sector is seeing yearly growth of ten percent worldwide, and the Caribbean has 44.9% of the activity with 39.5% concentrated in the Bahamas area. Since 2009 the Caribbean sub-region has been hosting some 23 million cruise ship passengers each year.
In Perelló’s words, “the panorama of Caribbean trips will be changed forever,” and he insists that cruiser companies like Royal Caribbean Cruises, Carnival, NCL, Costa Cruises, MSC, Pearl Seas and Cruises United Caribbean Line already have contact with Cuba.
Growing numbers of US visitors, as well as more Cuban emigrants, are having a significant impact on the Cuban tourist sector. North American tourists make up the largest segment of visitors to the island, with 54.2% of all arrivals coming from the area. Canadian tourism to Cuba in 2015 is up 12.8% on last year, and visits of Cuban expatriates to the island have increased by 4.3% in the same period.
According to official data 2.85 million visitors from abroad arrived between January and October 2015. Numbers of Canadians showed an accumulated growth of 13.8%, equal to 1.78 million visitors. Cuban expatriate visits were up 8.4%, British visits increased 28.1%, Germans 25.4% and US citizens by 67.3%. Perelló thinks Cuba can easily close 2015 with 3.6 million international visitors and that it has the capacity to receive up to 5.4 million visitors from all over the world.
At present, the main Cuban hotel chains - Cubanacan, Gran Caribe, Islazul, Gaviota and Habaguanex - operate alongside eighteen international hotel groups with management contracts and joint ventures. Between them they hold 62,090 rooms in 360 hotels, 68% in four and five-star facilities. Added to the 18,742 rooms available to tourists in private homes and guesthouses, Cuba has a total of 80,832 rooms. In 2016 another 13,688 are expected to be added, mostly in beach areas.
It is projected that by 2030, Cuba will have 134,300 hotels rooms of a potential maximum estimated capacity of 273,500 rooms.
Perelló says Cuba has all the elements in place to be able to lead Caribbean tourism in a few years, without even mentioning the most appealing factor highlighted by foreign visitors in surveys: Cuban culture and the Cuban people themselves.