Survey: 75% of U.S. consumers interested in Cuba visit

Sun Sentinel:

Would you consider a trip to Cuba if restrictions on U.S. travel to the island were lifted?

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A U.S. consumer survey released Tuesday found that 75 respondents would visit or at least consider a trip to Cuba, if Americans were allowed to travel freely there.

Another 1.7 percent said they’d already traveled to Cuba, according to the survey of 953 consumers conducted  by the Travel Leaders travel agency network from March 10 to April 10 across the United States.

The survey comes as the Obama administration issues new rules that make it easier for U.S. religious groups and educational groups to travel to Cuba with U.S. government approval. Most Americans are effectively barred from travel to the island under Washington’s nearly 50-year embargo on Cuba.

“Culturally and historically, Cuba fascinates a large number of Americans.  Physically, it’s amazingly close to the Florida coast, yet so far away because of continued restrictions for most citizens,” stated Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group in a statement.

“Like the traveling public, our Travel Leaders experts would welcome the opportunity to experience the country for themselves – the food, the music, the architecture, the beaches and the people – and then assist their clients in realizing a trip of their own to this forbidden destination that has been off-limits for nearly a half century,” he said.

The study found that when asked, “If all travel restrictions are lifted, how interested would you be in traveling to Cuba?”  U.S. consumers surveyed had these responses:

I’ve already been:  1.7 percent.

I’d go immediately: 20.2 percent.

I would go as soon as I believed Cuba was ready for Americans: 21.8 percent.

I might consider going: 33 percent.

I have no interest in going: 23.2 percent.


Cuba Readies for U.S. Tourists With Luxury Hotels

March 26 (Bloomberg) — Cuba’s hotels could manage a sudden influx of 1 million American tourists if the U.S. Congress lifts its 47-year ban on travel to the Communist island, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.

Additionally, the Caribbean nation is set to expand its capacity of about 50,000 rooms, with groundbreaking scheduled for at least nine hotels in 2010, Marrero said. About 200,000 rooms may be added in the “medium to long-term,” he said. Cuba is also seeking investment partners for 10 golf courses and luxury hotels aimed at Americans, according to a ministry official.

“I’m convinced that today, with the available capacity, we could be receiving the American tourists without any problem,” Marrero said in an interview yesterday in Cancun, Mexico where he was attending a conference of 40 American and Cuban tourist industry representatives.

The tourism industry meeting comes as the U.S. Congress considers a law that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba. Senator Byron Dorgan, one of 38 co-sponsors of the bill, said he has 60 votes lined up to win passage of the measure this summer. Similar legislation introduced in the House has 178 co-sponsors and needs 218 votes to pass if all 435 members vote.

“This is a 50 year-old failed policy,” Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, told the meeting yesterday in a phone call from Washington. “Punishing Americans by restricting their right to travel just makes no sense at all.”

‘New Era’

President Barack Obama said March 24 that he’s seeking a “new era” in relations with Cuba even as he denounced “deeply disturbing” human rights violations by its government. He did not say where he stands on lifting the travel ban.

Obama last year ended restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and transferring money to relatives back home. The U.S. State Department has also held talks in Havana with Cuban officials about restoring mail service and cooperation on migration issues.

Tourism to Cuba increased 3.5 percent amid the global financial crisis to 2.4 million visitors last year, with 900,000 visitors from Canada leading the way, Jose Manuel Bisbe, commercial director for the Tourism Ministry, said in an interview this week in Havana.

Bisbe expects foreign arrivals to grow by a similar amount this year. If the U.S. travel ban is lifted, hotels won’t be overburdened because Americans will visit year-round and face capacity problems only during the winter high season when occupancy reaches 85 percent, he said.

‘Forbidden City’

“Havana has been the forbidden city for so long that it will be a boom destination even in the low season,” said Bisbe, who estimates Cuba will add another 10,000 hotel rooms in the next two or three years.

Daniel Garcia, who has sold tourists used books in Old Havana since 1994, said more Americans would be good for business.

“The gringos can’t help but spend their money,” Garcia, 43, said at his stand in front of the neo-classical building that housed the U.S. Embassy before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. “They are the easiest tourists to sell to. They never ask for discounts.”

Marrero said the government can’t finance development of tourist infrastructure on its own so it’s scouting for foreign partners such as Majorca, Spain-based Sol Melia SA, which already manages 24 hotels on the Communist island.

“The Cubans have provided us with a fairly complete picture of their tourism product and future opportunities for U.S. businesses to work in this market,” Lisa Simon, president of the Lexington, Kentucky-based National Tour Association, said in an e-mailed statement. “We look forward to a follow up conference next year in Cuba, should the legislation pending in Congress be approved.” – Luxury villa for rent in Havana, Cuba

Cuba to build fourth nickel processing plant in Las Camariocas Holguin


Cuba will proceed with plans to build a ferronickel plant with its ally Venezuela, even though a dramatic drop in international prices has drained the island’s foreign income, a government official said on Monday.

The communist-run island is one the world’s biggest producers of nickel and cobalt.

“We continue to work on this new project of ferronickel that should add in the next two to two-and-a-half years a significant quantity of ferronickel,” Juan Ruiz, director of Cuba’s state-owned Nickel Export Company, said in an interview with Cuban television.

Cuba produced some 70,000 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt in 2008. The mineral is mostly exported to China.

The new $600 million ferronickel plant will be located in Las Camariocas, in Cuba’s eastern province of Holguin where the island’s nickel industry is based.

In 2007, Venezuela, Havana’s main political and economic ally, replaced China’s state-owned Minmetals Corp. as Cuba’s partner in the ferronickel joint venture.

Cuban officials have said in the past the plant could produce annually up to 68,000 tonnes of ferronickel, an alloy used in making stainless steel.

But nickel prices have dropped so sharply in recent months that Cuban authorities earlier warned that the nickel industry was on the verge of being unprofitable.

Ruiz said Cuba is undertaking a series of cost-saving measures to keep its nickel industry afloat, such as using crude oil produced in Cuba instead of imported oil to power the plants.

“Our production fortunately goes according to plan, but it’s obvious that at these price levels we can not expect to contribute much, like in past years, to the country’s economy,” he said.

Nickel has been until recently Cuba’s main source of foreign export income and accounted in recent years for more than 50 percent of the country’s export earnings aside from services.

Cuba has three nickel processing plants, one of which is operated with Canada’s Sherritt International. – Best taylor made offers to Cuba

Cuba’s EGREM Record Company Turns 45 years

Prensa Latina: The 45th anniversary of Cuba’s oldest recording company, EGREM, will be celebrated on March 31 amid a process of boosting the island state’s recording industry.

EGREM General Director Raciel Ruiz referred to the festivities to be held throughout the country to mark the anniversary, which include issuing post stamps of top Cuban musicians like Benny More, Ignacio Piñeiro, Arsenio Rodriguez, Miguelito Cuni, Pio Leyva and Ibrahim Ferrer.

The Pepe Sanchez Trova Festival, in Santiago de Cuba, was also dedicated to EGREM.

A gala dedicated to EGREM will be held on May 30 at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, where outstanding musicians will perform, while the Casas de la Musica network will present a special program on March 30.

Ruiz said the upcoming Miguel Matamoros International Son Festival, traditionally held in Santiago de Cuba, will also be dedicated to the 45th anniversary of EGREM.

He added that the International Fair Cubadisco 2009, scheduled from May 16-24 and dedicated to Puerto Rico, will also host a concert to honor the Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM). – Luxury travel to Cuba – the best places in Cuba, VIP entrance to concerts