OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Cuban tourism continues its growth, recovering rapidly from damage caused by Hurricane Irma. Photo: Alberto Borrego

THROUGH the month of November, Cuba had already received 4,257,754 international visitors this year, reflecting growth of 19.7%, as compared to the same period in 2016. What is surprising is that this occurred within a context plagued by adversities.

Along with the damage caused to hotels and associated facilities by Hurricane Irma, the country's principal emissary market, Canada, did not provide expected levels of income, given the weakening of its currency on the international market.

Nonetheless, Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz reported, in a discussion with the National Assembly of People's Power's Services Commission this past December 19-20, that reaching 17,230,650 tourist-days reflects the implementation of strategies such as promoting the circuit tour modality and trips organized around events; new flights during high season; and additional activities for cruise ship visitors, who numbered more than 397,500, he said.

Likewise noted was that the perception of the relation between quality and price - often controversial - has improved. While in the past the rate was not as positive as hoped, it reached a level of acceptance of 90.9% in 2017, and the majority of tourists said they would recommend Cuba to friends and family, and would like to return themselves in coming months.

Marrero also reported that investment projections for the year were completed at a level of only 78.1%, primarily as a result of continuing difficulties related to poor preparation of works and delays in the arrival of materials and motor equipment.

In terms of this last item, Marrero Cruz explained that the sector did not receive the number of rental cars planned, a situation which should improve this year as the 9,000 projected in the plan are imported.

He commented that also affecting visitors' satisfaction were poor road signage, difficulties in exchanging currency, and lack of hygiene in cities. These issues are being reviewed by a government commission and some proposals have been made, such as increasing the number of automatic tellers, and working on the sanitary situation with municipal and provincial authorities, the Minister said.

HURRICANE RECOVERY
In the days prior to Hurricane Irma, 88.5% of the tourists in Cuba were staying in hotels along the country's northern coastline, precisely where the eye of the storm made landfall.

While material damage to hotel facilities in the provinces of Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Matanzas, and La Habana was not serious, the situation was very different for beach resorts on the barrier islands of Cayo Coco, Guillermo and Santa María, where some 10,625 tourists were evacuated.

Marrero indicated that the most extensive damage was to landscaping, roofing, ceilings, glass windows, and aluminum trim. How were repairs completed so rapidly? Because, he explained, we had the workforce, the materials, and the financing needed on hand to confront the situation. All the installations were insured, he continued, allowing us to cover the costs, plus the speed with which power and water supplies were restored helped a great deal.

As a result of the combined effort, operations and services were reinitiated on the northern keys November 1, he reported, adding, "We can even say that the country's beaches are in better condition than before."

In addition to the damage caused by the hurricane, the numbers of tourists visiting fell during the months of September, November, and December, as a result of the perception among travelers that "everything was in bad shape and that there was no way Cuba could recover before the high season," Marrero reported.

Despite the adversities, he emphasized, we never gave up on reaching 4,700,000 visitors, that would represent surpassing projections by 11.9 %.
MAKING TOURISM SUSTAINABLE

In accordance with the plan of measures approved this year by the Council of Ministers to confront climate change, another area of the Ministry's work is directed toward making tourism sustainable, and aligned with projections for 2050 and 2100, Marrero said.

Regulations have been established including laws governing land use on the coastline and provinces are linked to the overall task of adapting to climate change outlined in the approved Tarea Vida (Task Life), including demolishing buildings constructed directly on the beach which have a negative impact on dunes.

"Restoring heritage sites is also an effort underway, so those structures that have been abandoned, or that are in poor condition, can be converted into small hotels, and preserve their historical, architectural value," Marrero said.

As part of the environmental strategy, the Minster noted that being developed are nature, adventure, and rural tourism, while other projects have been undertaken, for example, to make use of food waste and increase energy efficiency with the installation of solar water heaters and LED lighting, in addition to the construction of plants to desalinize sea water.

In regards to this issue, Marilyn Rodríguez, deputy from the municipality of Cárdenas, in Matanzas, commented that Hurricane Irma was a learning experience for local People's Power zones, and heightened consciousness of the importance of the State Plan on Climate Change, and the need to relocate facilities and dwelling close to the coastline.

INTERNAL ACCOUNTING AND ITS FISSURES
Regarding the commitment and responsibility of workers in the sector for elevating the quality of services, as well as preventing illegalities and misappropriation of inventories was addressed bydeputy Víctor Manuel Lemagne, from Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, secretary of the Hotel and Tourism Union's National Committee.

Responding to the issue, Marrero said that in extra-hotel activities, especially restaurants, administrators and workers themselves introduce products that do not come from established suppliers, "that is, they come from the street, which almost always means their origin is illegal."

Nevertheless, he explained, the principal problems in internal accounting, and the misappropriation of resources, take place in hotels that offer all-inclusive packages. The resources are not noticed as missing since they were supposedly consumed by the tourist, when in reality this is not the case.

On other occasions, he said, even when receipts for merchandise are provided, the products do not always reach the facility, but are rerouted to other buyers. This is an issue we have worked on with the Ministry of the Interior and the Comptroller General, since the objective is not sanctioning people after the theft or indiscipline has been committed, but rather preventing such things from happening.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN CUBAN TOURISM

-          19 international hotel chains are operating on the island

-          87 administration contracts

-          42,275 rooms were built with foreign capital (62.2% of the total)

-          27 joint ventures

NON-STATE MANAGEMENT IN TOURISM

-          24,217 rooms in private homes (in the majority of cities, such rooms out-number those offered in hotels)

-          Travel agencies have contracts with 2,585 self-employed workers, primarily in private Bed & Breakfast accommodations, restaurants and transportation

-          Several Central Organizations of Enterprise Management (OSDE) have signed 3,262 contracts with self-employed workers, primarily in the areas of construction and maintenance

-          19 non-agricultural cooperatives linked to the sector

PRINCIPLE MARKETS

-          Canada, with 23% of the total number of tourist arriving to the island

-          Some 1,250,521 U.S. citizens and Cubans resident in this country traveled to the island

-          The Russian market surpassed its previous record number of annual visitors in August 2017, increasing by 68%

The traditional markets showing the most growth were France, Italy, Russia, Spain, Argentina and Brazil