We reiterate our commitment that all Cuban tourism facilities will be operational in time for the upcoming high season, Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz stressed during a meeting with some 160 tour operators September 23, in Varadero’s Plaza América Convention Center, to address the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The minister explained that the necessary financial and material resources, equipment, and personnel are available for this purpose.
Marrero insisted that our “commitment to you is not limited to recovering from the effects of the hurricane, but that everything will be better than before and that we will have as a final result an updated and higher quality tourist product.”
He noted that he was speaking with authority, having toured “all the tourist sites along the north coast of the country, and several of them on more than one occasion… Cuban tourism will be operational and restored for this high season.”
The official stressed that power, water, and communications were restored in 100% of the country’s tourist resorts, including the northern Santa María, Coco and Guillermo keys.
He also offered a broad analysis of the effects caused by the adverse weather phenomenon on the local leisure industry, and described these to be generally minimal.
Marrero pointed out that tourism facilities in the territories of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Cienfuegos, Mayabeque, Artemisa, and Pinar del Río, did not suffer any damage, and have been “operating without any difficulties.”
Meanwhile, he described the damage suffered by facilities in Sancti Spíritus, especially in the north, Las Tunas, the northern coast of the province of Holguín, and Camagüey, as minor, while the damages in Havana and Varadero were also minimal.
Cuba’s Tourism minister noted that the main damage in this sector was limited to light roofing, false ceilings, broken windows, and green areas.
“Not a single hotel collapsed, nor is there any building where a concrete structure has collapsed,” Marrero explained, adding that while there were reported damages to guano (palm frond) roofs, open air structures and wood elements, these are easily replaced.
He added that many trees were blown down across hotel gardens and tourist poles, yet none of these facilities have been left without vegetation.
He noted that the main resorts to have suffered damage in this sense were Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santa María, located off the north coast of the country, but that these will be easily resolved in time for the upcoming high tourist season.
In this regard, Marrero highlighted that progress is being made in the recovery and clean-up process. Of the 18 hotels located on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, the latter of which suffered fewer damages, 14 will be fully recovered by November 1, while the local airport will also be fully operational, and in better conditions than before the hurricane struck. The remaining four hotel facilities will be completely restored to reopen their doors by November 15.
The minister explained that all extra-hotel activities in Cayo Coco will be restored and back in operation between October 15 and 20, including its marina, dolphinarium, glass tower, and beach huts.
Likewise, he added that hotels on Cayo Santa María have the necessary personnel, resources, and strategy to be fully operational and providing services to tourists by November 15.
Regarding the causeways to access these keys from the mainland, Marrero specified that provisional forms of access have been established, and that the Cayo Coco causeway will be totally repaired within 15 to 20 days, and that of Cayo Santa María by November 1.
He also informed that the Cayo Las Brujas airport will be ready by October 15, while the international air terminal in the city of Santa Clara resumed operations on September 25, with the arrival of flights from the United States.
Marrero noted that there has been concern expressed by clients regarding the state of beaches along the northern coast of the country following Irma, and stressed in this regard, “I can assure you that the beaches of the north of the country have considerably improved their conditions after the hurricane, it left us with much more sand and better dunes.”
Of the 52 hotels in the country’s main tourist destination of Varadero, all except five are open and providing services. The damages reported here were to 5,411 hotel rooms, of the total 20,790, representing 26%. So far, 374 rooms have been repaired.
Marrero stressed, “By October 30, there will not be a trace of the hurricane in Varadero,” but added that the five hotels of Puntarena, Playa Caleta, the Paradisus Varadero, Ocean Patriarca, and Meliá Península, will not reopen until November 15. “I am talking about the complete peninsula of Varadero, which is already in its final stage of recovery. Hard work has been done.”
The minister also confirmed that the 11th International Nature Tourism Event (TURNAT 2017) scheduled for September 25-30 in the eastern region of the island, will go ahead as planned, as damages there were minimal.
On the subject of tourism supplies, Marrero explained that discussions were held with the country’s food producing agencies and enterprises, and that the supply of affected products was guaranteed through their immediate import from destinations close to Cuba.
“We have the financing and the contracts for imports, and instructions have been given so that there are no problems with supplies to tourism.
“We are going to provide the standards that each hotel offers according to its category, we have personnel dedicated to this and the mechanisms for distribution throughout the country. The necessary decisions have been made to ensure quality.”
Marrero pointed out that the impact of the hurricane resulted in 50% less tourist arrivals for September; but that through September 22, the country had received 3.6 million tourists. This figure, at the same time last year, stood at about three million. As such, tourist arrivals continue to grow by around 24%.
As part of the gathering with the minister, tour operators visited 11 hotels in Varadero to confirm their excellent condition, including the Iberostar Varadero, Iberostar Bellavista, Meliá Las Américas, Sol Palmera, Memories Varadero, Royalton Hicacos, Ocean Vista Azul, and Barceló Arenas.
VERONICA AND JOSÉ’S EXPERIENCE
Verónica Orellana Rodríguez and José Antonio Triviño Bermúdez, from Cádiz, Spain, decided to spend their honeymoon in Cuba, at the five-star Ocean Vista Azul, one of the most popular hotels in Varadero, given its two magnificent beaches, its admirable infinity pool, and an efficient and personalized service.
“We are on honeymoon in Cuba and we are having a great time. It’s the first time we have come and we have enjoyed everything. Cubans are very friendly and always have a smile for us,” Verónica told Granma International while sunbathing and enjoying a warm breeze by the infinity pool.
Meanwhile, José explained that he had really enjoyed touring the cities of Cárdenas and Havana, and that he had not encountered any trace of the hurricane at the hotel. “The beach and the pool are excellent; we intend to return once we can save up a little money.”
A few steps away from Verónica and José, Mexican Jorge Alberto González Camacho, general manager of the Ocean Vista Azul, an all-inclusive hotel offering 470 rooms, inaugurated on December 1st, 2015, is attentive to everything occurring in the installation; attending to clients and welcoming a group of tour operators there to verify the rapid recovery of the island’s main tourist destination.
“Our facility didn’t suffer any damage, we took all the precautions we considered necessary beforehand to protect our areas, and we removed the loungers and umbrellas from the beach. Following the passage of the natural phenomenon, on Sunday, September 10, we were already serving the buffet table by 1:00 pm,” the young executive noted, explaining that the rest of the hotel’s services were restored in less than 48 hours.
He confirmed that the beach was not affected and that in its almost two years of operations, the hotel has seen “impressive, very positive results.”
The Ocean Vista Azul, operated by the Dominican chain H-10, in association with the Cuban hotel group Gaviota, mainly receives clients from Canada, but at the time of GI’s visit also had guests from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Russia, Chile, Colombia, China, France, Peru, and the U.S., among others.
Walter C. Martino, a Swiss national of Spanish origin, general manager of the Be Live Turquesa hotel, a four-star all-inclusive offering 268 rooms on Playa Azul beach, explained that the damages caused by Irma have already been 99% repaired.
“The restaurant will be fully restored within a week,” Martino noted, adding that tourists have been welcomed back to the hotel since September 20, and they expect to be fully occupied by October 4. “We are telling tourists to come to our hotel and to Varadero, which is a unique experience due to its people and the great hotels we have here, it’s well worth it,” he stressed.
Sheila Álvarez, deputy director general of the Be Live Turquesa, stated that the recovery efforts have been intense, with quality work completed in record time. “We worked with a lot of love and commitment, as being able to reopen and resume sales depended on us,” she stressed.