The 37th edition of the most important professional event in Cuban tourism, set to take place May 3-6, will offer many singular attractions, according to information recently published by the island's Minister of Tourism (Mintur), Manuel Marrero, on the ministry's Facebook page.
The upcoming International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2017, will have the challenge of surpassing last year's event in Havana, the largest to be held in almost 40 years with over 5,000 participants from 59 countries.
Set to take place in Holguín, this will be the first time FITCuba will be held in the east of the country. Meanwhile, Germany has been invited to participate as guest country of honor, as up to October 2016, the European nation was the fourth largest emissary of tourists to Cuba, only preceded by Canada, Cubans residing outside of the island, and U.S. citizens; and tops the list of traditional European markets.
Also of special importance will be the space dedicated to excursions, one of the most widely promoted tourist products in the country. At the same time, it should be noted that German tourists are among those who most prefer this form of tourism, according to information provided by Mintur.
On the other hand, in a year which is set to see the arrival of over 4,100,000 visitors, breaking the historic four million record reached in 2016, FITCuba will be working to continue improving the quality of tourist offers; as well as increasing foreign investment in the sphere, visitor arrivals to the country and promoting the island's natural, historic, cultural and patrimonial attributes.
As such, FITCuba will once again bring together airlines, tour operators, travel agencies, media outlets, hotel and transport companies, tourist entities and service providers from around the world, to lend a new perspective to the growth of a strong, income-generating industry which, for the last two decades, has gradually become a key sector for the country's development.
Cuba's third largest province, which covers at least 10% of the island's land surface, has a wealth of natural and historic charms.
Particularly worth mentioning are Holguín's beaches, protected by dense vegetation and coral formations, which offer around 50 diving sites.
Guardalavaca, Don Lino, Esmeralda and Pesquero beaches are some of the province's most famous. Playa Pesquero for example will serve as the official site of FITCuba 2017, the last day of which will be dedicated to the Cuban public and domestic market.
Other emblematic sites featured in this edition of FITCuba 2017 include La Periquera Museum; the Loma de la Cruz; Marqueta Square; the towns of Banes and Gibara; the Bariay National Monument; the Taíno Village; Bahía de Naranjo Park; Saetía Keys and Pinares de Mayarí.
As well as its broad agricultural tradition, the so called "land of nickel" has also continued to expand in regards to tourism. Thus, while production of this mineral represents Cuba's fifth-largest source of export revenue, the province of Holguín has also become the third most popular tourist destination in the country.
GUEST COUNTRY OF HONOR: GERMANY
Meanwhile, a detailed analysis of the German market, which continues to be one of the top emissary countries of tourists to Cuba and is experiencing sustained growth, is in order.
According to figures provided by the National Office of Statistics and Information, 125,438 Germans had arrived to the country by the end of the first half of 2016, representing a 44.8% increase as compared to the same period in 2015. This figure then rose to 200,000 by the end of October last year.
Mintur representatives have noted the island's popularity among German tourists on various occasions; highlighting that the longest average stays on the island (around 14 days) are made by visitors from that country, who choose to visit Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba above all.
According to María del Carmen Orellana, director general of Mintur's Marketing Department, the flow of German visitors to Cuba "is growing substantially."
Specifically, she noted that it is a market which demands options related to culture and the environment.
Meanwhile, the Mintur representative also emphasized that besides being one of the island's principle trading partners, Germany has a vast and popular network of airports, enabling thousands of passengers from other European nations to travel to Cuba.
An example of such growth was the increase in flights to the island by airlines Condor and Eurowings, in 2016.
TOURIST PRODUCT: EXCURSIONS
Meanwhile, FITCuba will also put excursions at the center of the debate, which according to event organizers constitute an example of "the variety of options available in Cuba," offered by a "different, multifaceted," tourist industry with "boundless possibilities."
To put it another way, the physical shape of the island offers a variety of options for those wanting to combine various experiences in a single visit, as the main sites of interest across the country are located relatively close to each other.
FITCuba's website notes that there are16 key tourist regions across Cuba, home to the island's most important and outstanding features.
Among the most prominent are Havana; Varadero; the north of Camagüey, northern Holguín; Santiago de Cuba; the south-central coast; and the archipelagos of Canarreos and Jardines del Rey.
The majority of excursions feature visits to the over 4,000 keys and islets and more than 300 beaches on the island, some of which are the best in the world.
Meanwhile, the site also highlights that beach resort stays are the country's "main tourist vocation and a fundamental element of excursions," a "demanding, thorough, high discipline," mode of tourism.
Added to these options are excursions to the historic areas of some of the oldest cities on the continent; in other words, the first settlements founded on the island during the colonial period: Nuestra Señora de Asunción de Baracoa (1511); San Salvador de Bayamo (1513); la Santísima Trinidad, Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe and Sancti Spíritus (1514); Santiago de Cuba (1515) and San Cristóbal de La Habana (1519).
Also worth mentioning are the dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites; Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios; el Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro; the Desembarco del Granma National Park; Viñales Valley; the site of the first coffee plantations in south-eastern Cuba; Alejandro de Humboldt National Park; the Tumba Francesa (French Drum) and the historic centers of Havana (including its network of forts), Cienfuegos and Camagüey.
Cuba's most recent excursion packages are related to Harley Davidson motorbikes, tobacco farming, national music and the recent history of the Revolution.
A HISTORY OF FITCUBA
Even before the arrival of FITCuba 2017, the island had a long history of hosting tourist events. The first international gathering related to the leisure industry in Cuba took place in Havana in October 1959, the Ninth Convention of Travel Agents, and brought together over 2,000 participants from 82 countries.
However, the First International Tourism Fair came in 1980, with the Viajes Cubatur Travel Convention. The event became an annual affair, alternating between Havana and Varadero.
Despite the fact that from 2005 to 2011 the Morro-Cabaña Park served as the official site of FITCuba, in 2012 Mintur decided to promote new destinations, by constantly changing the location of the event.
FITCuba was initially moved to the Santa María Keys in Villa Clara. Later, in 2013, it was taken to Varadero; then to Havana (2014); Coco and Guillermo Keys in Jardines del Rey (2015); and last year returned to the capital, which had just been declared a Wonder City of the World.