It’s no secret that the main professional and promotional event of the Cuban leisure and travel industry, the International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2017, which will take place May 3-6 in Holguín, will be held during this sector’s best ever moment.
Proof of this is the 17% growth in the arrival of visitors so far this year as compared to 2016, which saw the largest number of tourist arrivals to the country to date. The 10% increase in tourists from Spain, 118% rise in U.S. visitors, and the 14% increase in cruise ship passengers are yet more evidence of the island’s tourism boom.
Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) authorities have recognized their responsibility to maintain — and even surpass — what has been achieved in this sector this year, with the island set to see the arrival of an estimated 4,200,000 travelers.
In the words of María del Carmen Orellana, Mintur director general of Marketing, the 37th edition of FITCuba will allow for the analysis of future tourist seasons and provide an updated Portfolio of Foreign Investment Opportunities in a sector which over the last two decades has matured to become a dynamic industry and the country’s second largest source of hard currency earnings, behind the export of professional services.
In efforts to improve tourism products and services, especially to provide clients with prompt responses, FITCuba will influence the quality of offers, as well as stimulate interest among foreign businesspeople in this sector, and will show the world that Cuba has more to offer than simply sunshine and beaches, with a rich culture, heritage, nature, history, welcoming people and a safe environment.
Likewise, the annual event, which for the first time in being held in the east of the island, will receive airlines, tour operators, travel agencies, media, hotel and non-hotel companies, transporters, tourist entities and service companies from Cuba and across the world, following a significant investment process in the host province of Holguín, the country’s fourth most popular tourist destination.
According to Orellana, efforts are strategically aimed at generating more confidence in tour operators and intensifying work with airlines to increase passenger arrival numbers to the archipelago. “To the extent that we add new airlines, we will have assured growth,” she noted.
In this regard, she explained that today any visitor from Europe can connect with the eastern part of the island. “We have ten international airports and there are direct flights to Cayo Coco, Santa Clara and Holguín, for example, and some from Italy and Canada to Cayo Largo, but we continue to insist on reaching other parts of the country.”
Likewise, Orellana revealed that the inauguration of a direct Barcelona-Havana route with airline Plus Ultra is underway, scheduled for July 1st. She highlighted that this is a route that previously didn’t exist and which will greatly benefit visitors from that region, although there are already very well occupied daily flights operated by several Spanish airlines, with arrivals concentrated to the capital and Varadero.
In this sense, the expert added that efforts are underway seeking to encourage the Spanish market – one of the main European tourist emissary markets – toward destinations such as Cayo Santa María and Holguín.
She also referred to the still deficient domestic air connections, affected mainly by the lack of aircraft, pieces and other equipment, as a consequence of the U.S. blockade. “Although there are real limits to internal connections, two months ago Cubana de Aviación leased a 160-seat aircraft to travel early, daily and on time to Havana, Cayo Coco and Holguín. The domestic flights situation is an issue that we are carefully addressing,” she emphasized.
Meanwhile, although cruise ship arrivals to Cuba have increased, this is a highly controlled process as almost all cruise operators want to stop in Havana, but passenger flows must be properly managed in order not to over-burden the city. “We are choosing to promote other areas of the country to decongest the capital and ensure enjoyment, without rushing, and looking beyond our need for this type of tourism,” she explained.
Despite the fact that the blockade continues to prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba as tourists, forcing them to do so under one of the U.S. government’s 12 authorized categories, “The U.S. market is served like any other,” Orellana noted.
According to Mintur data, more than 94,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba during the first four months of 2016, and the total number that year was 284,937, representing growth of 74% as compared to 2015.
Analysts note that if it wasn’t for the blockade, Cuba could welcome two to five million U.S. citizens per year, in the short and medium term, respectively.
Although at the end of the first quarter of 2017 the United States emerged as the second largest emissary market of visitors to the island, behind Canada, economist José Luis Perelló has pointed out that the increasing number of U.S. visitors contrasts with the reduction of flights and readjustments to operations by U.S. airlines flying to Cuba.
Following the reestablishment of commercial flights between the two nations in 2016, U.S. airlines were authorized to operate up to 110 daily flights. However, in March U.S. carriers Silver Airways and Frontier suspended their flights to Cuba due to market saturation, while others such as American Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit have reduced their frequencies or are using smaller aircraft.
A REVITALIZED HOLGUÍN
The upcoming International Tourism Fair has the challenge of improving on the results of last year’s edition in Havana which, with more than 5,000 participants from 59 countries, was the largest in the event’s almost four decade history.
Awaiting the visit of German authorities, as guest country of honor, and other personalities from the Latin American and global tourist industry, the event will also be dedicated to circuit based tourism, one of the most popular products among German visitors. The three days of professional events will take place at the Hotel Playa Pesquero and, for the third consecutive year, a Suppliers Fair will be held, which will be distinguished by the large presence of local producers and help to promote national industries.
Orellana explained that Germany was chosen as guest of honor as it is one of the main European tourist emissary markets to the island. In 2016, some 242,000 German visitors arrived to the archipelago, representing growth of 38% as compared to 2015.
As is customary, the last day of the event will be devoted to the sale of tourist offers for the domestic market in the city of Holguín, especially focused on the summer months.
As for the circuits, the Mintur director highlighted the need to ensure accommodation in advance as not all places visited on such tours have sufficient capacity. “We are attempting to diversify the circuit offers and to make them to measure, with routes selected by the clients themselves.”
In defining Holguín, Orellana stated that it is a destination that combines sun and beach products, culture and nature, and plays a fundamental role in the development of Cuban tourism.
From the perspective of Julio César Naranjo, Mintur delegate in Holguín, the event will boost tourism businesses in the province and expand their marketing and “will be an unmissable opportunity to maintain stable operations with Europe.”
He explained that, together with the state, Mintur is working “on the suppliers’ fair, which will show the potential of the territory. So far more than 15 entities have confirmed their attendance, including the companies Cárnica Tradisa, Conservas y Vegetales Turquino, Productora y Distribuidora de Alimentos, Bebidas y Refrescos, Láctea and TecnoAzúcar.”
The Cuban Cultural Goods Fund, Artex and Egrem, along with other organizations seeking business opportunities will also be represented.
Since the beginning of the year, when the decision was announced to hold FITCuba 2017 in Holguín, efforts have been directed toward “all the necessary promotions so that Holguín is known as a tourist destination which offers sunshine and beaches, historical and cultural attributes, unspoiled areas, unique vegetation and a variety of sites for rest, adventure and nautical activities.”
Naranjo explained that an extensive improvement program and substantial changes are being carried out in hotel and non-hotel facilities in the municipalities of Banes, Rafael Freyre, Gibara and Holguín. The list includes 93 works in the Brisas-Guardalavaca and Atlántico-Guardalavaca complexes; the Don Lino resort in Playa Blanca; and in Isla Azul facilities in the provincial capital.
Prior to FITCuba 2017, Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero will preside the official launch of Gibara as a tourist destination, “a charming town, where there is a legend that assures that whoever arrives there always comes back; a new and pleasant place, with very unique handicrafts and food.”
Further detailing the works underway in the city of Holguín, Orellana mentioned the completion of the five-room Hostal Esmeralda, and of a Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, as well as the remodeling of a cabaret. Likewise, the emblematic Pernik, Mirador de Mayabe and El Bosque hotel facilities are being transformed.
As for Playa Blanca, Naranjo noted that 44 Campismo Popular rooms have been rehabilitated, while at the Don Lino complex, some 20 are in the termination phase and another block is in the process of receiving investments.
“At the same time, we are carrying out works in Transtur, Servisa and Caracol stores, entities that support tourism, decisive in providing services to customers,” he concluded.
Naranjo is absolutely certain of the efficient role played by the Playa Pesquero Hotel, the main venue of FITCuba 2017. Its staff, he says, have offered enough examples of their professionalism since the hotel was inaugurated by Fidel on January 21, 2003.
Meanwhile, Orellana referred to the development of more than 19,000 rooms in Ramón de Antilla, an area surrounded by virgin beaches, where all necessary studies are being carried out create a new resort, which would not only offer further accommodation capacity, but multiple services.
At the Hotel Saratoga, in central Holguín, which is undergoing a complete restoration, the official revealed that tourism investments for 2017 are set at just above 46,000,000 pesos.