OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Commercial offices are filled during the weekends by Cubans in search of excursions. The day trips to Varadero, Viñales, Las Terrazas and Guamá are the most popular offered by Cubatur. Photo: Jorge Luis González

Once the number of international visitors to Cuba reaches its annual peak, (already over two million this year), the country’s tourism sector turns its attention to the domestic market during the summer months. As the sun reigns high, the island’s leisure industry acquires a particularly Cuban atmosphere.

If we dig further into the topic, we find that Cubans like to spend their holidays surrounded by family, thus those hotel chains providing preferential facilities for children and older adults tend to be the more popular.

We also find that, while the keys off the north-central coast are a strong rival, Varadero continues to feature among the leading sun and beach destinations for Cuban tourists.

To cite just one example, according to Oscar Mederos, director of Viajes Cubanacán Occidente, almost 60% of the travel group’s domestic customers opt for Varadero. The other top destinations in the western part of the island are Cayo Santa María and Cayo Guillermo, in that order.

According to the specialist, 56% of Viajes Cubanacán revenue is generated by Cuban clients, with demand increasing precisely during the so-called low season, when international tourist numbers fall. This is also the case across the Central American and Caribbean region.

Meanwhile, Carlos Rivera, representing the Cubatur agency in the western region of the island, notes that it is traditionally expected that over the period extending from the July 1-September 15, the domestic market supplies more than half of sales. During this period, it is common for Cuban families to make day trips to Viñales, Las Terrazas, the capital's Playas del Este or Guamá, which are more economical vacation options.

Camagüey is one of the cities with the greatest potential for domestic tourism development. Photo: Miguel Febles Hernández

With the Ministry of Tourism focused on meeting the demands of Cuban clientele and raising quality and satisfaction levels, each year advertising development is reviewed and prices examined to provide new opportunities.

However, this summer has seen a slight increase in the cost of tour packages, which authorities have recognized has resulted in a contraction of the domestic market, in a sector which serves as an important source of hard currency.

According to Oscar Mederos, although sales volumes have not been affected, today a lower number of people are taking up holiday offers.

Currently, the biggest flow of tourists originates in Havana, with notable specialization in the exclusive treatment provided to large groups and increasing inclusion of transport by different travel agencies as part of tourist packages.

THE BEST FAMILY PACKAGE

Cuban tourists are increasingly demanding when it comes to organizing their holidays. As well as expecting, and demanding, good service, Cubans increasingly negotiate to secure the best offers.

With more than fifty villas, hotels and hostels and some 26,000 rooms in operation, representing one third of the country's capacity, Gaviota Tours, responsible for the largest number of Cuban hotel facilities, continues to offer the lowest prices, the travel agency’s Promotions specialist, Mara Ramos, told Granma International.

In this competitive sector, the key to success can be found in solid business strategies, she noted.

In the case of Gaviota Tours, promotions are advertised mainly at fairs held every Saturday on the busy Havana corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, including an eight percent discount on the price of accommodation and 10% on transport.

According to Ramos, few tourists travel alone in the months of July and August and offers that benefit children are particular well received. She explained that another useful promotional tool is the agency’s website, which offers downloadable PDF files of tourism products, combined with a presence on social networks. “There are families who travel with Gaviota two to three times a month during the summer,” she noted.

Cuban tourists are increasingly demanding when it comes to their vacations. Photo: Jorge Luis González

Moreover, the domestic market in 2016 has seen a shift toward sites less visited than the Hicacos Peninsula, among them Cayo Santa María and Cayo Guillermo.

In this regard, Ramos highlighted the opening last year of the Meliá Jardines del Rey, Meliá’s largest hotel in the world, and the additional transfer service available since July 4: Varadero - Cayo Santa María - Varadero.

Viajes Cubanacán is also offering novel weekend trips this summer, which seek to combine places that Cubans do not regularly visit with hotel availability and cultural or natural sites.

Among these destinations are Cabo de San Antonio, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and El Cobre, the city of Camagüey and lakes Mayajigua and Hanabanilla, as well as the Canímar River, the resort of Elguea, Trinidad’s Playa Ancón and Rancho Luna, and the Topes de Collantes, a location that, despite being very popular in the past, ceased to be marketed.

CLOSER TO HOME

With sights set on improved communication with customers, through email, Viajes Cubanacán makes use of the “Tu Excursión Conmigo” initiative to inform more than 40,000 people regarding its varied offers, and is working to identify markets in the provinces of Mayabeque and Artemisa.

Another highlight is that all products offered by Viajes Cubanacán, which together with Cubatur, Havanatur and Ecotur, make up the Viajes Cuba Business Group, can be purchased either in Cuban Pesos or Cuban Convertible Pesos throughout the sales network.

Oscar Mederos explained that new mobile sales points have been opened in Caimito, Guanajay and Alquízar, together with permanent sales offices in Havana’s Centro Comercial Almendares, the Miramar Trade Center and the Hotel Bella Habana.

Similarly, the number of sales advisors in existing bureaus in Havana hotels has increased, and the office in the busy Plaza Commercial Carlos III has been refurbished.

Viajes Cubanacán now has a total of 36 fixed points of sale in Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque, where university students enrolled in the Tourism degree course undertake professional training during the summer. From August, the agency will also offer its excursions at Infotur tourist information offices.

Carlos Rivera noted that the Cubatur Occidente branch devotes more than

66% of its budget to sales logistics for excursions and is distinguished by its operational efficiency, which enables tourists to easily complete their purchase.

Cubatur is also seeking to reduce customer expense and inconvenience, by increasing its number of sales points, with new ones located in the municipalities of Nueva Paz, Güines, Güira de Melena, Artemisa and one in Viñales operating alternate weeks.

BEYOND THE HOTELS

Since summer tourism does not take place only within hotel infrastructure, the 14 branches and more than 1,600 installations belonging to the Cuban enterprise Palmares, part of the Cubasol Extrahotelero Business Group, are working to provide diverse services and culinary offers.

While 65 new outlets in public areas, communities and within their own facilities are now operating, the Palmares Director General, Jorge Luis Acosta, has acknowledged that quality is a pending issue for the enterprise, which is currently focused on offering the best service to both Cuban and international tourists.

Under the slogan “Palmares tastes like summer”, the enterprise has the necessary resources to ensure nothing is left out. Acosta emphasised that among its strengths are initiatives that include all age groups and seek to recover Cuban traditions, while ensuring an appropriate price-quality balance.

Responding to the ongoing call for a culture of attention to detail in the tourism sector, Acosta noted that respect and charisma as part of a good, friendly service, are essential.