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Cuba, a Favorite Tourist Destination

Cuba’s recognition worldwide has grown in recent years because of political and social events that have highlighted the nation’s strength. Photo: Jesus Rodriguez

By Josefina Pichardo

In an interview with TTC, Cuban First Deputy Minister of Tourism Alexis Trujillo Morejón speaks about the Cuban tourist sector’s projection and the presence of the German market in the Cuba destination.

Cuba’s new record when it received four million tourists in 2016 came as a surprise. According to you, which have been the most important internal and external factors that have contributed to the vertiginous growth in arrivals to the destination?

As you well said, Cuba has scored a new record after receiving more than four million visitors during the recently concluded 2016.

Cuba’s recognition worldwide has grown in recent years because of political and social events that have highlighted the nation’s strength. But we must add to these events the geographical, climate, cultural and safety characteristics that make Cuba an outstanding tourist destination in the Caribbean area.

The Largest of the Antilles is in itself an attractive multi-product for the most discerning visitors since it not only offers sun and beach, traits common to all the Caribbean islands, but also an exotic and protected nature, conserved historical and heritage sites, a cultural wealth and diversity and, its greatest strength for many, a hospitable, educated and happy people who receives foreign visitors in an environment of peace and safety.

As tangible factors, the results obtained in the improvement of hotel installations and non-hotel services must also be mentioned. They have started being appreciated by tourists, although we know that we must continue improving these aspects and we are working on that. It is equally important to highlight the naming of Havana as Wonder City of the World and a continuous promotion of the Cuba destination being carried out by local and foreign professionals throughout the world.

Thus all these factors make Cuba today a favorite tourist destination.

There is talk of higher challenges for 2017 in the flow of visitors, how is the island getting ready in terms of hotel infrastructure to assimilate an even greater amount of tourist arrivals?

One of the maxims the Cuban Ministry of Tourism aims to follow in this 2017 and for the future is a strong improvement in the hotel infrastructure and in general. An important plan for the recovery of rooms is being met every year and progress is being made in the firm purpose of raising standards.

For this, an indispensable step is the execution of investments to prolong or revitalize the existing infrastructure, while updating and drawing up short-, mid- and long-term plans included in an ambitious program of tourist development.

As part of that strategy, the infrastructure related to nature, heritage, cultural and circuits tourism, among others, is being strengthened in compliance with a policy of diversification and expansion of the offer, aspects that require a greater boost since a great deal of the hotel capacities are located in the sun and beach product. The creation of new non-hotel capacities is also being prioritized to achieve a greater complementation of the Cuban tourist product.

With regards to the number of rooms in the country, 2,316 were concluded in 2016, for a total of 66,547, and another 4,020 are about to be finished during 2017. With a mid-term focus, another 20,000 rooms should be concluded by 2020 and, if the forecasts continue being met, by 2030 there will be some 104,000 rooms.

As precise actions, it is important to mention the program in the Peninsula del Ramón to extend the Holguín tourist center, as well as in Havana and Trinidad, just to mention some.

With a view to getting ready for a future of greater tourist arrivals to the country, the business opportunities portfolio is constantly updated. It contains 110 new projects that include foreign participation, under the important premise of offering the maximum guarantee to foreign investors.

The current Foreign Investment Law issued in April 2014 incorporated the variant of the management plus financing contracts, which makes it possible for the foreign chains that will operate the hotels to finance repairs and improvements to the installations before starting to operate them, recovering this financing based on the hotel operations. Contracts under this system have already materialized.

Lastly, it is opportune to note that consistent with the declaration of 2017 as Year of Sustainable Tourism by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), all the above mentioned responds and is part of a responsible policy of making tourism sustainable.

On what bases is the designation of Germany as FITCuba 2017’s Guest of Honor Country founded?

The election of Germany as FITCuba 2017’s guest country was based on the relevance and historic presence of this market in the destination.

Since 2012 Germany has been recovering in the increase of tourists to the destination and already in 2016 it established a new record in arrivals with 242,355 visitors, which represents a 38.3% growth; it ranks in third place in general and is Cuba’s first issuing market from Europe.

Moreover, Germany has played a cardinal role as the issuer of tourists to regions like Holguín, a province where the 37th International Tourism Fair is also going to be held.

According to the World Tourism Organization, for one more year Germany is at the head of the countries issuing tourists abroad, in number of visitors as well as overnight stays.

Which are the principal marketing and promotion actions carried out in the market to increase German visitors?

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Department in Germany are working with a solid short-, mid- and long-term strategy, whose principal marketing objectives are: continuing to consolidate relations with the market’s principal operators; expanding air operations that will enable the connection with the country’s different destinations through the establishment of yearly flights, as were the cases in 2016 of the new frequencies of Air Berlin and Condor to the destination, as well as prioritizing the development of circuits.

As part of the promotion panorama, participation continues in the principal fairs of the market, professional ones as well as for the public at large (ITB, IMEX, Munich’s F.re.e., Reisen Hamburg, TURNATUR and INTERBOOT), and the implementation of the Authentic Cuba international publicity campaigns in multiple supports and media. These actions, among other complementary ones, like the press familiarization groups and joint promotion agreements with tour operators, have contributed to achieving the high figures of German visitors recently registered with regularity and stability.

How do you characterize the German market in terms of preferred modalities and local destinations?

The principal tourist modality consumed by German tourists in Cuba is that of circuits, given that it is the ideal product to enjoy all the island’s potentials: among them culture and heritage, history, nature and the beaches.

Moreover, the tourism specializing in cycling trips, trekking, cruises, kite surfing and other nautical activities have started being incorporated into the diverse portfolio that Cuba offers today as a destination and exhibits great acceptance among the Germans’ preferences.

The most requested destinations are Havana, which is visited by 44% of the Germans, and Varadero, with 41%; we should also mention Holguín (9%) and Villa Clara (2%), according to figures at the close of November 2016.

Does Germany participate someway in foreign investments in the tourist sector in Cuba?

With respect to foreign investment, we still can’t talk of sealed businesses, although right now talks are being held with close to 10 German companies that have shown interest in associating with Cuban enterprises or in participating in some of the foreign investment modalities in several fronts, let’s say nautical activities and marinas, golf, non-hotel products, real estate projects and others, some more advanced than others.

Meanwhile, the Con-Impex Company was the supplier and participated in the production of a non-hotel product in Cayo Coco called Torre de Cristal, inaugurated in May 2015. Also with this same company as supplier and producer, in Cayo Guillermo progress is currently being made in the execution of another non-hotel product, Cable Skit, soon to be concluded for its startup.

What novelties is Cuba presenting in ITB 2017?

As previously noted, the World Tourism Organization has declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism, and Cuba aims to consolidate itself as a sustainable destination by, to a great extent, meeting the challenges that exist today around that subject, a maxim that will be reaffirmed in ITB 2017.

Moreover, since ITB is one of the world’s principal tourism fairs, the Cuban presence in this event strengthens the positioning of the island’s tourist product in the German market and in other associated countries.

Emphasis will be made in the quality of multidestination in the country, in order to promote different destinations to Havana and Varadero, such as the eastern region with Holguín, Las Tunas, Granma and Guantánamo; the heritage townships like Trinidad, Camagüey and Remedios; the natural paradises of Topes de Collantes and Viñales; the central region with Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, as well as Cayo Largo in the Canarreos Archipelago, in the southwestern zone.

In terms of the diversity of tourist modalities that the Cuba destination comprises, cultural, nature, health tourism (insertion of the Cuban Medical Services product) and scuba diving, nautical activities and events and incentives will be strengthened.

In addition, the all-encompassing plan of building new hotels will be shown, an action that will expand the country’s hotel capacity and will allow for tourists from Germany and the entire world to continue arriving to get to know the island of Cuba’s attractions.

It is a favorable occasion to make presentations about the business potentials in our country.

The promotion of the 37th International Tourism Fair (FITCuba 2017), the most important event organized by the tourism industry in Cuba, will be of the utmost significance. ITB is an ideal framework for this promotion since, as was previously mentioned, Germany will be the guest of honor country in its next edition, an event that will be carried out in Holguín and whose principal tourist modality will be the circuits.