Author: Yisel Martínez/Granma International
International tourist arrivals worldwide have been steadily rising by about 3.5-4% over recent years. In Cuba, this figure had reached 16.2% by the end of 2017, representing not only a record for the island but also the difference between the growth of the sector in Cuba as compared to the rest of the Caribbean.
Cuba’s potential as a tourist destination saw the country receive a historic four million visitors in 2017, despite the impact of meteorological events which primarily affected the island’s northern keys.
In light of this and regardless of a swift recovery process, the situation in the Caribbean as perceived from abroad meant that many visitors changed their travel plans or decided to put off visiting Cuba until 2018.
To this must be added measures announced by the current U.S. administration, tightening travel restrictions to the island for its citizens, which has caused a significant drop in arrivals as compared to 2017, (Cuba received 159,563 U.S. visitors in the first four months of the year, as opposed to 95,520 over the same period this year).
Today, although figures are very different from those of last year, the composition of emissary markets to Cuba over the first four months of 2018 is similar to what it was over the same period in 2017.
According to Michel Bernal, marketing director at Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, speaking to the press, Canada continues to be the top emissary market of tourists to the island, followed by Cubans residing abroad and U.S. citizens, in addition to France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany, as well as Russia, up 32%, and Mexico 23%, followed by Argentina.
Meanwhile, Cuba has already received one million visitors thus far this year, a figure which continues to rise following an increase in cruise ship tourists and charter flights. During the press conference, the Mintur representative noted that the majority of the country’s key ports are fully booked with cruise ships through 2019, while the ministry has also received over 200 more requests for charter flights as compared to 2017, with both modalities serving U.S. clientele.
In this sense, Michel Bernal also mentioned new flights from Mexico and Spain, as well as Cuba’s growing popularity among the Russian market with the arrival of larger aircrafts able to transport more tourists. This year the country is aiming to reach five million visitors, vital to which will be promotional efforts and the expansion of tourist offers.
As such, Cuba’s annual International Tourism Fair FitCuba, which celebrated its 38th edition this 2018, was held on the newly renovated keys off Villa Clara’s northern coastline, following Hurricane Irma.
A SPACE FOR PROMOTION AND TRADE
The Ensenacho, Brujas and Santa María islets, as well as the cities of Villa Clara, Remedios and Sagua la Grande, were among the many attractions presented during this year’s fair, which also included the island’s wide variety of tourist options.
“FitCuba is the country’s most important tourism event because it combines promotional activities with preparation for the upcoming winter season. It’s a space attended by the major tour operators, air lines, travel and leisure agencies, in the market,” explained Janet Ayala Mintur communications director.
This year, as guest country of honor, the UK sent an official delegation to the fair, which learned about the potential for the development of tourism on the island’s northern keys, a destination of great interest to the British market.
Canada also sent a delegation to the fair which included the country’s main sector directors and tour operators, who met with their Cuban counterparts to review commercial initiatives and continue strengthening collaborative ties.
“This is the perfect space to boost and strengthen relations with tour operators and travel agencies, and to work on a series of strategies with our main emissary markets toward stimulating and promoting Cuba as a tourist destination. Here is where work meetings with our hotel chains take place, and where contracts for the 2018 summer season and 2019 winter period are signed,” stated Michel Bernal, the Ministry of Tourism’s marketing director.
FitCuba 2018 was also where other tourist modalities came to present their offers, such as Servicios Médicos Cubanos, the island’s international healthcare provider, which is gaining recognition and consolidating itself within the field of health tourism. Another highlight of the event was the presentation of the sector’s Portfolio of investment opportunities, with FitCuba 2018 being the ideal space to establish agreements and ventures aimed at supporting the development of tourism on the island.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (Citma) provided attendees with information on projects underway in Villa Clara and its northern keys, including efforts to recover and restore beaches, an activity which has greatly benefitted Cuba’s coastlines.
An important aspect of tourist development in the country is linked to local providers, who play a key role in the development of tourist offers, contribute to the creation of productive chains and stimulate the national economy. In this sense, the providers fair served as a space for participants to display some of their products, above all those linked to food and hotel supplies.
The providers fair, which also included cultural and recreational activities, was held as part of concerted efforts by Mintur to increase the presence of national industries in the country’s tourist sector, with Cuban entities presenting their latest offers looking toward the summer season.
NEW DESTINATIONS & MODALITIES
A new tourist destination Sagua la Grande, located in the province of Villa Clara, was launched in the international market during the 38th edition of FitCuba. According to Janet Ayala, Mintur director of communications, speaking at a press conference, the city has undergone construction and redevelopment works and now features two new hotels (El Palacio de Arena and Hotel Sagua la Grande), as well as non-hotel options such as the Gran Rey and El Alambique bar-cafeterias. The Cayo Esquivel beach resort was also presented as part of new offers from Villa Clara. Visitors can enjoy an excursion to this site which also boasts nautical facilities.
Cuba as a competitive destination within the region was also a focus of activities during the fair. With a rich cultural heritage and historic traditions, home to over 200 national monuments, 10 World Heritage Sites, and recognized as being one of the safest destinations in the world, the island owes its popularity to its wide range of offers from nature and health tourism, to diving holidays, trekking and cultural activities, among others.
The Ministry of Tourism is currently developing marketing strategies targeting key emissary markets across Europe and implementing policies linked to excursions giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy the country’s varied cultural and patrimonial charms.
With quality products at attractive prices Cuba’s potential as a tourist destination is growing. This year Mintur is looking to revive and promote event tourism, a modality for which Cuba has the necessary conditions and experience. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to increase offers for national tourists, with the aim of seeing this sector place among the country’s top markets.
This 2018 FitCuba, the event which every year, contributes to the development of the island’s tourist industry, sought to stimulate the sector looking toward the upcoming summer and winter season.
Exhibiting the very best of Cuba, its quality services, sites, wide range of offers, security and opportunities within the sector, are among efforts being made to reach, for the first time ever, five million visitors this year.