Holguin. The pioneering spirit of Cristobal Colón seemed to envelop Cuba’s northeastern region from May 2-6. In 1492 he and his crew landed on the coast of Cuba, proclaiming themselves the first Europeans to see the island’s captivating natural beauty, which it maintains to date, according to participants to the 37th edition of the International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2017.
The Cuban tourism industry’s main annual event was a resounding success from start to finish. As one of the country’s largest and highest quality accommodation establishments, the Playa Pesquero Hotel, located in the municipality of Rafael Freyre, played host to the Fair, offering expositors its elegant facilities and optimal conditions to undertake all activities associated with the event.
During the Fair’s inauguration, Cuban Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero Cruz, highlighted the role of Fidel Castro Ruz in the development of the sector, and recalled that the late revolutionary leader promoted tourism with an outlook toward achieving peace and the wellbeing of the population.
The opening ceremony was attended by national and international personalities, including Jorge Cuevas Ramos, a member of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee Secretariat.
Also seen participating alongside Marrero Cruz in subsequent activities were María Wippler, director of Germany’s Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Policy and the Service Economy Division, guest country of honor at the event; Alejandro Varela, deputy assistant director for the Americas at the World Tourism Organization; Gabriel Escarrer Juliá, President of Meliá Hotels International; Miguel Fluxá Roselló, President of the Iberostar Group, as well as renowned international tour operators, and Cuban sector officials.
Over 2,600 people from 41 countries attended the Fair, reported Marrero Cruz during the Fair’s closing ceremony, which was held in the Brisas Guardalavaca hotel, in the municipality of Banes, as part of a strategy aiming to provide participants with the opportunity to visit the largest number of hotel and non-hotel facilities possible.
During the event, the Cuban Minister announced that FITCuba 2018 will be held in Cayo Santa María and dedicated to the United Kingdom. Regarding the days of intense work at the Hotel Playa Pesquero, he stated that the Cuban tourist industry, and country as a whole, have once again demonstrated their great potential in the sector and ability to organize quality events of this type.
He also made special mention of the country’s political leaders and government authorities in the province, headed by Luis Torres Iribar, a member of the Party Central Committee and first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in the province; and Julio César Estupiñán, President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power. The whole of Holguín made the event theirs, he noted.
GIBARA: AN INCREDIBLE BEGINNING
What occurred in Gibara, launched May 2 as a new Cuban tourist destination, has been reported by most of the over 150 accredited international journalists who attended FITCuba 2107. However, there always exists the risk of failing to accurately convey the impact of events such as this.
We journalists arrived to the coastal town by catamaran, after setting off from Marina Gaviota Puerto Vita, a few minutes from one of the event’s secondary sites, the Hotel Blau Costa Verde. The bay was perfectly calm, or better yet, “still” as Columbus described it when bad weather forced him to anchor there. Before mooring at a modern floating dock, we were welcomed in the same way as all those who have arrived here since 1817, from the right by the Fernando VII Fort, a defensive structure which marked the birth of the this coastal town.
After joining the group which included Minister Marrero and the aforementioned personalities, as well as political and government officials from the province and town, we set off to meet residents, “possessed” by Gibara’s magic, expressed through their cordial nature and friendly disposition.
Following this enjoyable encounter, the group visited public places such as the famous gallery belonging to celebrated artist Cosme Proenza, and later attended a ceremony to launch Gibara as a new tourist destination. Next came the inauguration of the Hotel Plaza Colón, an impressive establishment with a warm, friendly atmosphere true to its original function as a family home during the colonial period. Then the group made brief stops at the Ordoño and Arsenita hotels, both colonial heritage buildings.
The success of the visit led María Wippler to publically state that she would share what she had seen with her compatriots, and advise them to visit without delay.
That same day, the Spanish hotel chain Iberoestar, with its President in attendance, announced their carefully considered decision to sign an agreement to manage the three aforementioned hotels, as well as their readiness to do the same with the Bahía Almirante, as soon as it up and running.
Three days later, still reeling from the experience, freelance journalist Marina Matvienko from Russia, admitted to have been bowled over by Gibara, noting that despite this being her first time in Cuba, it is a destination to which she wishes to return; captivated by the fraternal nature of Cubans and the original tourist offerings, above all those in the eastern region.
INSIDE THE FAIR
The logistics of these kinds of events are complex. Everything goes on at once, from the lively performance by a Caribbean dance group, representing an expression of the country’s culture, to the serious signing of memorandums of intention and mutually beneficial agreements between associates.
The German delegation made the most of their status as special guests, with firm CON-IMPEX TOURISTIK and Cuban entity CUBAGOLF SA signing letters of intent related to the Punta Gorda Marina Real Estate Tourist Complex, in Cienfuegos.
Intent on going further, PlayaGolf and Resorts International Panamá SA and CUBAGOLF SA signed Articles of incorporation establishing the Punta Colorada SA joint venture, which will be responsible for overseeing the construction and operation of a modern golf complex in Pinar del Río, as part of the country’s tourist real estate development program.
After the signing, Jaume Roma president of PlayaGolf and Resorts International Panamá SA, praised the chosen site for its exceptional beauty, which he noted, is an example of the Cuban government’s efforts to preserve the country’s natural landscapes. He also assured that both parties will work together closely to make the facility one of the best of its kind in the world.
Meanwhile, Meliá Hotels International Cuba singed and agreement with Gran Caribe and Islazul to manage six establishments located in the provinces of Cienfuegos and Camagüey, while representatives also announced that similar contracts are set to be signed with two facilities linked to the Cubanacán Group in Trinidad.
Cubanacán’s mild mannered President Yamily Aldama Valdés, spoke with Granma International about the chain’s Encanto hotels, a line of renovated heritage establishments which feature within a strategy by the Ministry of Tourism to contribute to preserving and promoting the country’s cultural values. She confirmed that the contract established with Iberoestar to administer hotels located in Gibara is one of many steps that the Ministry will continue to take in order to improve management of its facilities. The precursor to this process, added Valdés, is located in the eastern region of Santiago de Cuba, where last month the Spanish chain assumed the management of the Imperial, Gran Hotel and Casa Granda hotels.
“Links with an international chain contribute to the transfer of knowledge. It also means incorporating higher quality standards into our services which are passed on to the staff, thus benefitting their professional development,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ileana Reyes Álvarez, representing the Cuban Medical Services enterprise, explained that together with her team, the entity met with over 20 international tour operators during the first two days of the event, all of whom, she noted, expressed great interest in Cuba’s various health tourism offers, such as its highly successful drug rehabilitation program.
“We have promoted new offers for therapies in Cuba which cost a fraction of the price of those offered by profit-driven companies in other parts of the world. For example, we offer cochlear implants for children with hearing disorders, bone-marrow transplants for people suffering from hematological diseases, surgeries using state-of-the-art technology to rectify spinal problems, and treatments for diabetic patients, among others,” she added.
A CHAIN REACTION
Without a hint of pretension, representatives at the ECOTUR Travel Agency stand explained that they are one of the most active in the sector. The reasons for such an assertion, made by Francisco Longino Franquez, are explained by the concerted promotional efforts being undertaken by the Agency, looking toward the 11th edition of the International Nature tourism Event (TURNA 2018), set to take place in September in areas across the eastern provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo.
“We have presented various offers, of which I recommend the tourist circuits available during the event, a new one being the Columbus route, as well as the Coffee and Cacao circuits. A special excursion is that around Holguin’s countryside. There are also options for those who love to scuba-dive.”
The benefits of participating in the fair are also reflected, according to Longino Franquez, in the results of new initiatives which go beyond traditional car excursions, to incorporate new route modalities for bikes, motorcycles, and camper vehicles.
“More than 50 tour operators representing lucrative markets passed by the stand interested in the possibility of establishing service contracts with our entity. We have received proposals from China, Russia, Colombia, Panama,” he added before commenting on the concerted efforts being undertaken by the a group of guides in the eastern region to identify the largest possible number of nature tours, thus providing visitors with more opportunities to enjoy the natural landscapes and wildlife in this part of the island.
One of the many international participants happy to be visiting Cuba was veteran travel journalist, Massino Terracina from Italy. Expressing his admiration for Cubans’ resistance against foreign aggression and destabilization attempts, he noted that the island is lucky to have avoided the wave of globalization which develops technologies at the same rate as it destroys national cultures.
We spoke briefly about many things. Terracina noted that his visit to Holguín gave him the opportunity to become more familiar with Cuba’s eastern region, while Gibara reminded him of Remedios and Sancti Spíritus, towns he had visited on previous occasions, captivated by their originality and well-preserved colonial heritage.
I didn’t ask him why he decided to visit Cuba instead of the Dominican Republic for example, which held its international tourism fair parallel to ours. I prefer to believe that he opted for Cuba’s natural landscapes and cultural heritage, as well as the authenticity and warmth of its people, actively supporting the sector's development.