OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
More than 30% of tourists say they come to Cuba for its culture and heritage. Photo: Ismael Batista

The good news of the arrival of two million visitors to Cuba so far this year, the International Tourism Fair, FitCuba 2019, kicked off with Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz officially opening the event on May 7, in Havana’s International Conference Center.

The sector Minister noted that despite the harmful measures of the United States government associated, above all, with financial transactions, trade and especially travel, the number of visitors to the island thus far has surpassed that of last year. Marrero also noted his satisfaction with the presence at the fair of 26 United States companies and around 50 businesspeople from that country.

Regarding the blockade and the recent activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, he conveyed confidence to international businesses, and assured legal guarantees and the accompaniment of the Cuban government in the face of any threat to which they may be subjected.

“This measure cannot be applied within Cuba. All companies that have businesses in the country enjoy full legal safeguards under Law 118 on Foreign Investment, and Law 80 on the Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty,” he explained.

Spanish Minister of Industry, Trade, and Tourism, María Reyes Maroto, stressed that her country has led the resistance to activation of Title III within the European Union, and that a second debt swap program and a counterpart fund of 375 million euros will be activated, with the intention of further encouraging Spanish investment in Cuba.

Also participating in the inauguration of FitCuba 2019 were the member of the Party Central Committee Secretariat, Mercedes López Acea; Party First Secretary in Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar; and the President of the Havana Provincial Assembly, Reinaldo García Zapata.

FitCuba 2019 also opened its doors at the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress, where the main theme of the keynote address offered to delegates and guests by Havana City Historian, Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, was the inescapable link between culture and tourism development.

San Ambrosio Hall was full to capacity as those gathered listened to an always motivational speaker, who affirmed - referring to the 500th anniversary of the Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana - that this year does not simply mark a past event, but recalls the capital’s accumulated history. Leal offered the audience a summary of the restored works in the historic center of the city, as part of the program to rescue patrimonial assets, while recognizing that much remains to be done.

For his invaluable and courageous contribution to these efforts, Leal Spengler was presented with a miniature of the “living tradition that is the cannon shot at nine,” by Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz.

NEW CONTRACTS SIGNED AT FITCUBA 2019

Two new hotel administration contracts were signed in the framework of FitCuba 2019, as José Reynaldo Daniel Alonso, director general for Development at the Cuban Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), told reporters.

Canadian chain Blue Diamond and Cuban counterpart Gran Caribe will work together for the operation of a new hotel to be located in Cayo Coco and another on the Varadero islets.

The initial plans are for 380 rooms in Cayo Coco, and a total of 450 in Varadero. “They will be two top-level products that will offer the possibility of increasing operating standards in both tourist poles,” the Mintur director added.

The sector official also presented the latest updates to the Ministry of Tourism’s portfolio of foreign investment opportunities, which today covers 103 projects:

• 29 in the form of joint ventures, 25 hotels and 4 theme parks

• 60 hotel administration and marketing contracts in new and existing facilities

• 14 contracts for the administration and marketing of services in marinas and recreational parks:

- 4 in recreational centers

- 2 marinas
- 2 naval workshops

- 6 Campismo Popular accommodation facilities

The Vice President of Marketing for the Gaviota hotel group, Frank País Oltuski, also offered information regarding investments by this chain.

As he explained, in the last 12 months, 2,500 new rooms were incorporated in Havana, the keys of Villa Clara, Jardines del Rey, and Holguín; for a total of 33,020 rooms in 95 facilities.

Among the innovations of this hotel group, Oltuski announced the opening in Cayo Guillermo, in the final quarter of this year, of the first exclusively LGBTI hotel in Cuba, with a total of 250 rooms.

Likewise, due to be completed is a second high-end installation with 245 bedrooms in Playa Pilar, and operations will begin in Cayo Cruz, in Camagüey, with a 546-room hotel, along with another 60-room facility associated with a tourist plaza.

Meanwhile, Mintur’s representative in Havana, Xonia Beltrán, referred to the capital’s potential as a tourist destination, where different modalities can be combined.

“Today we are undertaking a broad investment program in honor of the 500th anniversary of Havana. The hotel capacity of the capital will increase this year by 740 rooms, and 13 new facilities will be incorporated, mostly small and medium accommodation,” she added.

At the close of April 2019, the following projects were approved:

• 97 hotel management and marketing contracts

• 19 foreign management contracts

• 1 service administration contract

These cover a total of 47,102 rooms (65% of the country)

Long-term Mintur development projects:

Total: 610

- Accommodation 332

- Recreation 51

- Real estate associated with tourism 30

- Nature tourism 50

- Camping 55

- Recreational nautical activities 22

- Tourism support entities 70

HAVANA AS AN EVENT TOURISM DESTINATION

The promising future of Havana as a destination for event, congress, and incentive tourism was highlighted by Frank País Oltuski, Grupo Gaviota S.A vice president of Marketing.

Beyond the complexities Cuba faces due to the aggressive measures of the United States government, the city is consolidating itself as a tourist destination, he stressed, while exemplifying the continuity of investments in hotel infrastructure, thanks to which this group already offers more than 33,000 rooms throughout the country.

In terms of event tourism, he mentioned the well-known IMASUB underwater photography event held at the María La Gorda International Diving Center, in Pinar del Río; as well as the Naturaleza Digital photography contest held in the Protected Natural Landscape of Topes de Collantes, in Sancti Spíritus, which in June and September will celebrate their ninth and eighth editions, respectively.

Based on foreign tourists’ growing interest in contact with nature, he noted that for the second consecutive year, the “Bolsa Destinos Gaviota” will take place from October 2 through 5, with shared headquarters in Havana and Varadero, offering promotional nature tourism packages.

He also emphasized the broad program conceived by the Gaviota Tours Travel Agency on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana.

INNOVATIVE TOURISM PRODUCTS

Several directors of Cuban agencies and guests offered detailed explanations of developments underway in event tourism and incentive travel.

Argentine Pablo Weil, president of the Latin American Federation of Congress and Associated Events Organizers, spoke about how to imbue tourist products with the added value of the cultural identity of each country, highlighting similarities and diversities, as part of the region’s distinctive cultural mix. He stressed that each country offers its own messages and leaves a unique mark on anyone visiting.

Meanwhile, the PALCO Enterprise Group offered a review of its historic development, from the opening of the Havana International Conference Center in 1979, to becoming an organization composed of 10 enterprises characterized by exclusivity in the provision of services to congresses, fairs, and national and international exhibitions.

José Manuel Bisbé York, president of Agencia Viajes Cuba, described how different tourist products are prepared to be marketed. “In the selection of destinations and events, the characteristics of the country play a very important role,” he said.

He added that tourists seek to experience unique aspects of the places visited, for example historically important sites, areas where ancient populations lived, or the flora and fauna of areas rarely frequented. In this regard, he noted: “I firmly believe that Cuba is a luxury destination.”

The San Cristóbal 500 tour catalogue, with a series of interesting visits to the Cuban capital, includes both day and night time trips to different attractions, in line with related themes that range from the harmonious coexistence of different religious manifestations, to visits to interactive high-tech museums.

Meanwhile, Artex’s Paradiso Tour Agency explained each of the festivals, fiestas and cultural events it promotes, designed to attract visitors seeking specialized tourism packages linked to literature, film, fine arts, dance, music and traditional festivals.

Regarding the destination of Varadero, the 11th edition of the Grand Golf Tournament is set to be held in October, alongside the 11th International edition of Varadero Gourmet, dedicated to gastronomy. Meanwhile, commercial company Caracol presented the 32nd Friends of Partagás Encounter, for lovers of that cigar brand.

Finally, the Ecotur agency announced the International Nature Tourism Event, TURNAT 2019, which this year will be held September 24 through 28 in Ciénaga de Zapata, Sancti Spíritus, and Cienfuegos.