Cuban Tourism: A Single Strategy of Stability and Growth


Havana (PL) The development of the Cuban tourist industry is a focus of attention for the government on the island, and its impressive growth was recently reiterated by Carmen Casals, director of communications of the Ministry of Tourism.

During a meeting with communicators from six Latin American countries at Havana´s José Martí International Institute of Journalism, the expert predicted a promising future for this sector.

She said that there have been many changes in Cuban tourism since 1961, because at that time it depended on the United States, and after the economic barriers imposed by Washington against Havana, which are still in force, the industry was seriously affected.

Between 1979 and 1989, the development of new holiday resorts started, along with the essential one in Varadero, 140 kilometers away to the east of the capital, and the country´s main recreational hub.

By the 1990s, with the demise of the socialist camp, Cuba opened up to international tourism as an industry as well as to new investment processes.

A country like this archipelago, with a 25 degree-centigrade average temperature, 11.2 million inhabitants, 800 thousand university graduates, a road network of 46 thousand kilometers, a 78-year life expectancy and 300 beaches, has many attractions, she stressed.

Nowadays, the main recreational hubs are Varadero, with 35 percent of all tourism on the island, Havana with 23, Jardines del Rey with nine percent and the eastern region of Holguín with 10 percent.

Other tourist destinations include such interesting places as the westernmost province of Pinar del Río or the southern area of Cayo Largo. Right now, officials are involved in enlarging the recreational industry by making the most of every site.

Cuba is connected by air to 39 cities in the world, by means of 90 airlines, either on regular or charter flights; ten international airports are in operation and the flow of visitors is steady.

She added that there are 3 cruise terminal stations, in Havana, the central province of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba in the east. In addition there are ten international marinas, including two in Havana.

Hotel accommodation has grown significantly at a rate of 7.5 percent since 1990, and, at the moment, there are 52 thousand rooms in 334 hotels, 62 percent of them being four-and-five-star.

There is foreign participation by means of 65 managerial contracts for 28,854 rooms, through the Cuban companies Cubanacán, Gran Caribe and Gaviota.

These businesses involve 13 foreign hotel chains; among them Sol Meliá, Iberostar, Riu, Barceló, Occidentales Hoteles, Hoteles Blau and Hoteles C.

Concerning employment, tourism provides jobs for 110 thousand people, 60 percent of whom are high-school graduates and 22.3 percent university graduates; one third of them are under 35 years of age, 42.8 percent are women, and 31.5 percent are blacks and mixed.

Formatur, the tourist training system, is made up of 13 schools for upgrading, training and preparing staff, by means of different courses such as post-graduate, specialty and university training, among a large range of them.

This development makes things easier for the country´s economy, even though the U.S. economic barriers against Cuba, since 1961, have affected the sector with losses amounting to more than 22 thousand million dollars.

Casals added that in less than three years Cuba moved to the third position as an outstanding destination in the island Caribbean, and since 1990 has welcomed 30 million tourists.

She revealed that for some years now more than two million travelers per year have been received, and that figure is expected to reach 2.7 million visitors for the first time by the end of 2011.

She mentioned Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Mexico, in that order, as the main sending markets to the island.

Among her ministry´s priorities, she indicated, are improving marketing methods, developing the Auténtica Cuba promotion campaign, and recreational navigation.

She emphasized the importance of giving continuity to increasing the quality of the tourist product, spreading the training system and turning each hotel into a high-quality school, apart from plans for repairs and new constructions.

She wound up by mentioning the development of golf, the recovery of heritage facilities under the name of Hotels E (for encanto, or charm) and other projects supporting the strategy of a peaceful, healthy and safe tourism, one that protects the environment and gives prominence to culture.

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Int’l tourism to Cuba rises 10.6 pct in first half of 2011


Fox News: More than 1.5 million foreign tourists visited Cubain the first six months of this year, a figure that represents an increase of 10.6 percent compared to 2010, according to a report by the National Statistics Office cited Tuesday by the official AIN news agency.

Canada headed the list of the countries sending tourists to the island, followed by Russia, Argentina, Britain, Chile and France, AIN reported.

In addition, the report said that the United States was in eighth place in terms of tourist flow to Cuba despite the economic, trade and financial embargo maintained by Washington for nearly 50 years.

Tourism, the second-biggest contributor of foreign currency to the Cuban economy after technical and professional services, last year generated $2.1 billion from the visits of some 2.5 million tourists.

Cuba hopes to receive 2.7 million tourists this year, most of them from Canada and Europe, according to predictions by the Tourism Ministry.

Revolutionary Cuba Now Lays Sand Traps for the Bourgeoisie


MEXICO CITY — One of Fidel Castro’s first acts upon taking power was to get rid of Cuba’s golf courses, seeking to stamp out a sport he and other socialist revolutionaries saw as the epitome of bourgeois excess.

Now, 50 years later, foreign developers say the Cuban government has swung in nearly the opposite direction, giving preliminary approval in recent weeks for four large luxury golf resorts on the island, the first in an expected wave of more than a dozen that the government anticipates will lure free-spending tourists to a nation hungry for cash.

The four initial projects total more than $1.5 billion, with the government’s cut of the profits about half. Plans for the developments include residences that foreigners will be permitted to buy — a rare opportunity from a government that all but banned private property in its push for social equality.

Mr. Castro and his comrade in arms Che Guevara, who worked as a caddie in his youth in Argentina, were photographed in fatigues hitting the links decades ago, in what some have interpreted as an effort to mock either the sport or the golf-loving president at the time of the revolution, Dwight D. Eisenhower — or both.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who maintains close ties with Cuba, has taken aim at the pastime in recent years as well, questioning why, in the face of slums and housing shortages, courses should spread over valuable land “just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit bourgeois can go and play golf.”

But Cuba’s deteriorating economy and the rise in the sport’s popularity, particularly among big-spending travelers who expect to bring their clubs wherever they go, have softened the government’s view, investors said. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment, but Manuel Marrero, the tourism minister, told a conference in Europe this month that the government anticipates going forward with joint ventures to build 16 golf resorts in the near future.

For the past three years, Cuba’s only 18-hole course, a government-owned spread at the Varadero Beach resort area, has even hosted a tournament. It has long ceased to be, its promoters argued, a rich man’s game.

“We were told this foray is the top priority in foreign investment,” said Graham Cooke, a Canadian golf course architect designing a $410 million project at Guardalavaca Beach, along the island’s north coast about 500 miles from Havana, for a consortium of Indians from Canada. The company, Standing Feather International, says it signed a memorandum of agreement with the Cuban government in late April and will be the first to break ground, in September.

Andrew Macdonald, the chief executive of London-based Esencia Group, which helps sponsor the golf tournament in Cuba and is planning a $300 million country club in Varadero, said, “This is a fundamental development in having a more eclectic tourist sector.”

The other developments are expected to include at least one of the three proposed by Leisure Canada, a Vancouver-based firm that recently announced a licensing agreement with the Professional Golfers Association for its planned resorts in Cuba, and a resort being designed by Foster & Partners of London.

The projects are primarily aimed at Canadian, European and Asian tourists; Americans are not permitted to spend money on the island, under the cold-war-era trade embargo, unless they have a license from the Treasury Department.

Developers working on the new projects said they believed Cuba had a dozen or so courses before the revolution, some of which were turned into military bases. Cuba and foreign investors for years have talked about building new golf resorts, but the proposals often butted against revolutionary ideals and red tape. Several policy changes adopted at a Communist Party congress in April, however, appear to have helped clear the way, including one resolution specifically naming golf and marinas as important assets in developing tourism and rescuing the sagging economy.

“Cuba saw the normal sun and salsa beach offerings and knew it was not going to be sustainable,” said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Standing Feather, which negotiated for eight years with Cuba’s state-run tourism company. “They needed more facets of tourism to offer and decided golf was an excellent way to go.”

The developers said putting housing in the complexes was important to make them more attractive to tourists and investors, and to increase profits.

Still, John Kavulich, a senior adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said Cuba had a history of pulling back on perceived big steps toward freer enterprise and might wrestle to explain how such high-dollar compounds could coexist with often dilapidated housing for everyone else.

“Will Cuba allow Cuban citizens to be members, to play?” he said. “How will that work out? Allowing someone to work there and allowing someone to prosper there is an immense deep ravine for the government.”

But Mr. Macdonald said political issues were moot, given that Cuba already had come to terms with several beach resorts near Havana that generally attracted middle-class foreign travelers.

“It’s not an issue for them,” he said. “It’s tourism. It’s people coming to visit the country.”

If the projects are built as envisioned, the tourists will enjoy not just new, state-of-the-art courses and the opportunity for a second home in Cuba, but shopping malls, spas and other luxury perks. Standing Feather, which calls its complex Estancias de Golf Loma Linda (Loma Linda Golf Estates), promises 1,200 villas, bungalows, duplexes and apartments set on 520 acres framed by mountains and beach.

The residences are expected to average $600,000, and rooms at the 170-room hotel the complex will include may go for about $200 a night, a stark contrast in a nation where salaries average $20 a month.

Standing Feather said that to build a sense of community and provide the creature comforts of home among its clientele, the complex will include its own shopping center, selling North American products under relaxed customs regulations.

“It is in the area that Castro is from, in Holguin Province,” added Mr. Cooke, the golf course architect.

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Varadero’s Architectural Charm Threatened by Tourism


HAVANA, Mar 2, 2011 (IPS) – Important architectural works from the Modern movement in Cuba appear to be doomed as a result of the expansion of massive hotel complexes, which threaten to take over the landscape in Varadero, this country’s most famous beach resort.

The alert was first sounded in 2010 when rumours began to spread about the demolition of the Hotel Internacional and the Hotel Club Cabañas del Sol, two 1950s structures located in a prime area of Varadero, which is 140 km east of Havana, in the province of Matanzas.

Two statements issued by the ICOMOS National Committee, the Cuban branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, in May and November have received no response, architect Jorge Fornés told IPS.

Fornés is chair of the National Committee of ICOMOS, an independent international non-governmental organisation of professionals dedicated to the conservation of the world’s historic monuments and sites, which works closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“Independently of any decisions, I have no doubt as an architect that it is not necessary to eliminate something valuable to build something new,” he said. “If there is interest in preserving a valuable piece of heritage, there is always a way to do so,” he added, citing cases like the conservation of the colonial fortifications in Old Havana.

Nor have demands from intellectuals and academics, mainly circulated by email, received an official public response from representatives of the Tourism Ministry or coverage by the media. An employee at the Hotel Internacional told IPS, “The decision has already been reached.”

“There are contradictory versions,” Roberto Fernández García, a poet who lives in Varadero, said in an email message that sums up the results of his inquiries and those of others interested in the case, posed to the Tourism Ministry’s provincial authorities.

Tourism Ministry officials in Matanzas said “The Hotel Internacional, which opened on Dec. 24, 1950, is very old, small and old-fashioned, with few rooms, and no longer meets the requirements of today’s tourism,” according to Fernández García’s message.

He said the 161-room hotel would be demolished to build, on the same site, a modern 800-room structure. Cabañas del Sol, other tourist installations from the first half of the 20th century — when architects of the Modern movement were seeking a fresh expression of the Cuban identity — and buildings in the old city in Varadero are also apparently facing the same fate.

But the Matanzas office of the historian offered a different explanation. According to a message circulated by the Cofradía de la Negritud, a non-governmental association of black people, in this case the response was that “The hotel’s plumbing system is in a state of collapse, so it is more economical to demolish it and build from scratch, than to repair it.”

But tourism authorities did not mention poor structural condition to the hotel’s employees. “They told us the hotel would be demolished because of environmental regulations, and that it was useless to turn to Eusebio Leal to save the hotel,” one worker told IPS.

Supposedly Leal, a national lawmaker and the head of the ICOMOS National Committee, would be unable to do anything to preserve a structure built on a sand dune, like more than 100 other buildings and thousands of metres of walls and fences that will have to be demolished, according to environmental studies.

Alfredo Cabrera, director of the office in charge of the management of Varadero’s beaches, had ensured IPS in 2007 that before a decision was reached about a demolition, his office took into account “the cultural heritage or historical value of the structure,” and whether it served “an important social function.”

An employee at the Varahicacos ecological reserve, meanwhile, who a few years ago experienced the “breakdown” of the management of that protected area due to the construction of a mega-hotel, told IPS that in the case of the Hotel Internacional, environmental and heritage interests should be reconciled.

Sources close to the Tourism Ministry confirmed that the Hotel Internacional has reached an agreement with another country to build a modern hotel, similar to so many others built in Varadero in recent years near the Internacional and Cabañas del Sol hotels.

Half of the over two million tourists who visit Cuba every year go to Varadero, which has more than 18,000 rooms in 49 hotels on 22 kilometres of beach.

The municipality of 26,600 people, which includes Varadero and two neighbouring towns, received a record of more than 31,000 visitors in one day in February, in the context of the expansion of resort tourism in Cuba.

“This is a preview of what could be about to hit us on a much, much larger scale, because the country needs money urgently,” Mario Coyula, winner of the National Architecture Prize in 2001, told IPS, without directly mentioning the complicated economic situation the country has been in since the early 1990s.

Above and beyond architectural questions, Coyula, an architect and urban designer, pointed out that “for many people these two hotels are distinctive features of the local landscape, which are fast disappearing in Varadero, as is coexistence (between the tourists) and the local population, which is increasingly marginalised and isolated.”

Architects, artists, writers and journalists who have called for saving what is left of the Varadero of the 1950s point to the enormous potential for the promotion of cultural tourism, with an offer that differs from “the standardised sun and sand tourism in all-inclusive resorts” that can be found on any Caribbean island.

“I see this as a natural result of excessive centralisation, which stands in the way of dealing with thousands of small and medium investors who could generate more stable and balanced wealth,” Coyula said. “And the most important thing: small-scale investors cannot impose their own conditions.”

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Cuban Tourism Has Ambitious Projects for Growth


Madrid, Jan 21 (Prensa Latina) Cuba announced its goal to close 2011 with 2.7 million foreign visitors as part of an ambitious project of development of this booming industry that grew 4.2 percent last year.

We have concluded 2010 with good results within the complex situation of the world, with about 2.53 million international visitors, pointed out Jose Manuel Bisbe, commercial director of the Cuban Tourism Ministry (MINTUR).

Bisbe explained that a growth above eight percent this year implies 200,000 more visitors than in 2010.

It is a strong goal, above all considering world expansion in the sector of about 4 and 5 percent, the official told Prensa Latina.

Regarding the prospects for the industry in the Island, the official said that work is ongoing to incorporate new hotel accommodations in destinations such as Cayo Santa Maria in the central province of Villa Clara, as well as refurbishing the beach resort of Varadero, Cayo Coco and Holguin.

We are undertaking important works in the infrastructure that supports tourism in the historical center of the Cuban capital and in patrimonial cities such as Trinidad, Remedios, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba and Baracao, he said.

He indicated that the Cuban government is involved in improving the quality of all the services in a small group of cities which are of interest for the Spanish market.

Among attractions for the visitors from Spain he mentioned new programs related to the Hispanic presence in Cuba such as the route of the Catalans, Asturians, Galicians and from the Canary Islands, just to mention a few.

Another product linked to this market is the cruisers with arrivals in Cuba that began last November in the ship Gemini of the Spanish Group, Quail Travel.

He explained that the Madrid fair has become an event of importance for many of tour operators who work in the Caribbean to meet with suppliers of services in the area.

Fitur is an excellent instrument of work because it gathers in one place and in a short time many contacts as well as serving as a showcase to observe what the rest of the world is doing and how to sell other destinations in our environment, he concluded.

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Cuba tourism inches up despite global economy


HAVANA  AP– Cuba says tourism on the island has inched up during the first nine months of 2010, with both revenue and the number of visitors climbing despite global economic weakness.

Revenue through September was $1.3 billion, up 3.5 percent from the $1.26 billion reported over the same period last year. The number of tourists also increased during the period, up about 50,000 to 1.89 million through September.

Canada remains the country that sends most tourists to the island — with 733,000 in the first nine months of 2010 — followed by Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany. U.S. tourists are effectively barred from coming to Cuba, and Washington has maintained a 48-year trade embargo on the island.

Tourism and nickel production are Cuba’s main sources of income. The country is in the midst of a deep economic downturn. Communist leaders are in the process of revamping the economy, injecting a measure of free market capitalism into the state-dominated system.

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Cuba sees more Russian visitors


Russia has become one of the fastest growing tourism source countries for Cuba with over 23,000 Russians visiting the Caribbean island state in the first half of 2010, up 25 percent year on year, the National Statistics Office (NSO) said Friday.

The increase can be attributed to Cuba’s efforts to explore new tourism markets such as Russia, China, Mexico and Cubans living abroad after visitors from traditional tourist source countries like Spain, Germany and Italy, declined due to the global financial crisis, it said.

The measures included opening new direct flights, among which are twice-a-week direct flights between Moscow and Varadero, a major city in Cuba.

Cuba also held the 30th International Tourism Fair in Havana to strengthen the ties among tour operators between Russia and Cuba.

According to the NSO, 1.4 million visitors came to Cuba in the first half of this year, an increase of 1 percent year on year.

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest industry, contributing about 20 percent to the island’s total foreign currency income each year.

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