Interview with Joel Hernández, tourism counselor of the Cuban Embassy in the United Kingdom, a propos WTM 2016 and the destination’s strategy regarding the British market.
Counselor, during 2016 the arrival of visitors from the United Kingdom to Cuba has shown a sustained growth with respect to 2015, what factors do you consider have favored these positive figures?
In 2015 Cuba received the record figure of 3,524,779 foreign visitors, and witnessed how its principal issuing markets grew. In the case of the United Kingdom, 155,802 Britishers flew to the island last year, which represented a 25.7% growth compared to 2014, while in 2016 it is expected that an even higher figure will be registered.
This growth has a multifactorial cause; there is no doubt that our sociopolitical current events, mainly those related to the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States, even when the blockade has still not been eliminated, stands out.
It has also been the result of years of efforts by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) and the topmost leadership of the country to build and promote an efficient tourism with unique characteristics in the region.
And thirdly, I consider that the steady work carried out by tour operators, travel agencies and our Tourism Bureau in London has played an important role.
How do you describe the British market that opts for Cuba, in terms of its preferences, travel motivations and most visited tourist destinations?
Cuba is the third destination most visited in Latin America and the Caribbean by the British market, only surpassed by powers like Brazil and Mexico.
The British tourist, independently of feeling attracted to the tropical climate, nature and a lifestyle different from the European, sees a safe, peaceful, stable nation where international scourges are not seen, like drug trafficking or terrorism, a country where at the same time they can enjoy what is authentic and, without aiming to, travel to the past, to the cultural roots of the nation, to its history.
They are also captivated by that possibility of making contact and talking on each corner with a Cuban citizen, being impressed with the friendly character, frankness and high educational level of the majority of the people.
As to the most visited places, our capital, Havana, stands out, followed by tourist destinations like Holguín, Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa María and Varadero.
How is the air transportation guaranteed to move the tourist flow from the United Kingdom?
It is an aspect in which there has been progress, although it still continues being insufficient taking into account the amount of British citizens who want to travel to the island, especially when among their preferences are direct flights and not through third countries.
Virgin Atlantic currently has two weekly London-Havana frequencies (next November they will go up to three); Thomas Cook has six weekly flights, four of them from Manchester and two from London: two on route to Cayo Coco, three to Holguín and one to Varadero. Meanwhile, TUI has a weekly London-Varadero frequency.
Which are the principal tour operators that contribute the most to marketing?
We have the privilege of working with two of the United Kingdom’s major tour operators, TUI and Thomas Cook, which, in the global sphere, have the license to transport 4.76 and 3.01 million British holidaymakers, respectively, during 2016.
In the specific case of Cuba, the Thomas Cook, TUI and Virgin Holidays tour operators, in that order, are the ones that contribute the most to marketing. While, operating to a lesser scale and with more specialized groups, there are Saga and Kuoni, among others.
Principal marketing and promotion actions as a tourist destination carried out in the market.
Because of a problem with space it is impossible to mention each one of the actions carried out, but we can affirm that the ways and means used have been diversified. For example billboards, metro stations, taxis and buses were used to place promotion images; the articles in specialized magazines were increased, the messages and images to publicize were constantly updated, and Cuba’s presence in fairs, presentations and roadshows, among other actions, increased.
Parallel to this, the use of digital means was intensified, be it through different specialized media as well as by the Bureau itself, the latter with permanent interaction in the social networks through its webpage and Facebook.
What novelties of interest to the British market is Cuba presenting at WTM 2016?
Cuba is attending the World Travel Market, WTM 2016, to show the concrete results of its work in tourism, as well as to share experiences and give confidence in the future plans and projects in which MINTUR is involved at present.
At the same time, it will have a delegation representative of its tourist sector that will present detailed information about new excursions, productions, hotels and other services.
Do you want to refer to any other aspect?
We know there is concern about Cuba’s hotel capacity and that on occasions is used to discourage and deflect the tourist potential to other destinations.
Regarding this I would like to specify that, parallel to a rigorous effort to improve the quality of our services, the country is working to double by 2019 the annual construction of rooms, which to date is 2,500. There are plans to add 3,000 new rooms before the close of 2016 to the approximately 66,000 which its hotel plant has.
According to what our Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero recently explained to me, 21 new foreign investment projects are at different development stages with several chains interested in managing hotels and granting financing for the repair of several installations, while the execution of the hotel construction program is marching at a good pace, especially in the groups of cays to the north, Varadero and Holguín.
In short, the Cuban tourist industry is in full development and its projections include meeting with diversity and competitiveness the high demand and the new challenges it faces today.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, counselor, for having given us this interview.