When it became evident that Hurricane Irma would impact the island's northern coast, steps were taken not only to protect Cuban families but also the thousands of tourists who had chosen Cuba as their vacation destination.
The country's tourism poles - the majority located along the northern coastline - guests, and workers there immediately became a priority in preparedness and disaster mitigation efforts.
Alexis Trujillo Morejón, first deputy minister of Tourism in Cuba, told Granma International that as a priority, among the measures adopted by the Ministry, along with Civil Defense authorities, was the protection of the 45,827 tourists staying in hotels along the country's northern coast, a figure that represented 88% of all the international vacationers in the country (51,807), on September 5.
There were additionally 2,216 Cubans at Campismo Popular facilities in the region, who were also evacuated.
The transfer of tourists to more secure facilities began in the province of Camagüey and the northern keys of Ciego de Ávila and Villa Clara, including the barrier islands of Cayo Coco, Guillermo and Santa María, areas where the eye of the storm was forecast to make landfall.
Staying on the keys were 10,625 visitors, 5,134 of whom were evacuated to Havana and Varadero, a process that demanded greater organization and discipline than during such events in the past. The remaining 5,491 were Canadians, whose tour operators returned them to their country before the hurricane arrived.
A tense moment came when Irma's expected turn to the north toward Florida was delayed, and the hurricane remained practically at a standstill very close to Varadero for several hours.
On the peninsula, as Irma approached, were 16,784 tourists - including those evacuated from the northern keys - as well as 4,179 workers.
Nonetheless, not one person was hurt, given the preparation, organization, and discipline achieved, Trujillo reported with pride.
In terms of the network of hotels in Havana, he recounted that the decision was made to evacuate all facilities located on the northern coast, from Jibacoa in Mayabeque to the Hemingway Marina on the west side of Havana, given the eminent danger of coastal flooding, adding that on other occasions only partial evacuations were necessary.
THE RECOVERY OF TOURIST POLES WILL BE COMPLETED IN RECORD TIME
Despite the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma along the country's northern coast, Trujillo said, "The tourist poles did not experience significant damage," reporting that no installation suffered structural damage, although glass windows, ceilings, and aluminum trim were affected, while some lightweight constructions like beach huts and outdoor eating areas succumbed to the winds.
Tourist facilities in the country's eastern region, which was not hit directly by the hurricane, are at this time operating normally, he said. Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Granma did not suffer damage, while in Las Tunas, hotel accommodations were quickly readied. Holguín, which faced only light damage, recovered within a short time, and maintained services. This resort area confronted Irma with 3,935 tourists safely lodged in its hotels.
The timeline established for the recovery work indicates that facilities in Camaguey's Santa Lucía resort area will be completely repaired by the end of September, while in the case of the keys where damage was greater, all will be in order by the beginning of the high season.
Varadero maintained operations throughout the hurricane's passage and the country's most important resort began the clean-up as soon as the recovery phase was declared, starting immediately with the task of replacing glass and other light elements. The international airport was reopened, to complement the resort's operations, and incoming and outgoing flights reestablished.
The capital will also recover in record time. Several hotels were barely affected, and others have begun repairs.
Likewise, the citywide clean-up is underway, and staff members are working feverishly to ready facilities in order to receive clients immediately.
The full recovery of all tourist poles is a priority, since tourism is a strategic sector for the economy. It has been reaffirmed that facilities will be ready and operating before the beginning of the winter high season. The human and material resources to accomplish this task are in place, Trujillo concluded.