As an increasingly popular destination, Cienfuegos has been prioritized for international investment. Photo: Julio Martínez Molina

For some time now, news of events related to Cuba’s tourist industry has been reported almost on a daily basis. People, whether visiting the island for pleasure, business, or both, want to learn more about a destination which can legitimately call itself one of the safest, most peaceful countries in the world, abounding in natural and historic riches. Over four million of these people travelled to the island in 2016, with 2 million arriving to the country by May 2, 2017, 39 days earlier than projected.
Beside the fact that 2016 saw a 14.5% increase in tourist arrivals to the country as compared to 2015, a steady increase in visitors to the island continues to be seen across almost all markets, with a total 46% arriving from North America, including 34% from Canada (Cuba’s largest emissary market), 33% from Europe, and 16% from South America.
With these figures representing a starting point, potential investors were provided with a better understanding of Cuba’s reality and opportunities in its tourist sector during the International Tourism and Hotel Investment Conference (SAHIC), which took place this week in Havana’s Meliá Cohíba Hotel.
During the event, approaching its 10th anniversary and held for the first time in the Caribbean, some 200 representatives from the leading hotel companies, groups, and chains, banks, and funds; as well as investors, architects, and designers from 24 countries, were able to review the almost 110 projects designed to attract new international partners to Cuba’s tourist industry.

The country's three cruise ship terminals are located in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Juvenal Balán

For President and founder of SAHIC, Arturo García, the encounter represented a dream come true. Meanwhile the broad participation of U.S. businesspeople demonstrated that there exists interest in the island from this sector, despite restrictions stemming from the United States blockade. By the end of April 2017, arrivals by U.S. citizens to the island were up by 118% as compared to the same period last year.
In this regard, Deborah Rivas, director general of Foreign Investment at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, highlighted that tourism represents one of the strategic sectors for the country’s ongoing process of economic development, noting that that the island’s level of trade relations has tripled over recent years, now extending to over 70 countries, while direct foreign investment is also being prioritized.
According to Rivas, there are currently 20 joint ventures operating on the island, which represents the third most popular and lucrative tourist destination in the insular Caribbean, only surpassed by the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
In addition to Cuba’s vast biodiversity and its well-educated, friendly people, the island is also home to 272 national monuments, 340 museums, nine World Heritage Sites, seven tourist marinas, and three international cruise terminals (Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba).

Travelers Choice awards have been granted to Cuban sites like Plaza Vieja in Havana. Photo: Alberto Borrego

Meanwhile, Janet Ayala, director of Communications at the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), noted that Travelers’ Choice award winners include places such as Havana’s Plaza Vieja and Morro-Cabaña Historical Complex; Varadero and Pilar beaches, as well as the all-inclusive Paradisus Rio de Oro and Royalton Cayo Santa María hotels.
The Cuban official went on to note that the non-state sector is an important complement to Cuba’s tourist industry, with some 2,000 privately run restaurants and 21,000 rooms on the island. She also noted that there exist 10 non-agricultural cooperatives and more than 67,000 state-run hotel rooms, 69% in four and five star establishments.
In the words of Alexis Trujillo, Cuba’s deputy minister of Tourism, as the region’s leading promoter of eco-tourism and given the growing popularity of this modality worldwide, the island is prioritizing investments with the aim of gradually raising the quality of, and diversifying, its offers; creating new hotel and non-hotel products; renovating and expanding hotel rooms; and attracting lucrative markets.
According to President of the World Travel & Tourism Council David Scowsill, who traveled to Cuba to participate in SAHIC, tourism contributes to the creation of peaceful societies, through environmental protection, job creation, and cultural exchanges - and experienced 3% growth worldwide in 2016.
Scowsill noted that despite the threat posed in certain regions of the world by terrorism, people are continuing to travel, and seeking destinations offering high levels of safety.
Likewise, the British representative stressed that efforts in the sector must be geared toward supporting the development of sustainable tourism, promoting responsible practices, new destinations, and investments; as well as understanding of the need for government support to the development of the sector through appropriate policies.
As a growing tourist destination, Cuba is prioritizing foreign investment in cities such as Havana, Cienfuegos, and Camagüey, along with the development of infrastructure to support the most dynamic sector of the national economy.
Considered an important space for business cooperation and exchanges, SAHIC 2017 provided information on new trends in hotel design, current legislation related to the industry, the performance of the leading Cuban hotel chains, the development of golf courses and marina real estate, as well as the training of sector professionals, representing over 100,000 workers, 21% of whom hold university degrees.