Díaz-Canel noted the impressive progress made since the 1990s, when only 18,000 hotel rooms existed across the entire island. Photo: Estudio Revolución

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, in a recent discussion, reiterated the fundamental role tourism plays in the country’s development, as one of the sectors contributing the most to the economy.

He described the impressive progress made since the 1990s, when only 18,000 hotel rooms existed across the entire island, a figure now multiplied several times over.

Díaz-Canel recalled that the idea behind this development was precisely that tourism would become the driving force of the Cuban economy, a goal not yet met in full, despite all that has been accomplished.

He noted that Cuba as a tourist destination is appreciated throughout the world for the comfort of our hotels, the beauty of our beaches and landscapes, and the security visitors and citizens enjoy, among other attractions, but work continues in supplying the industry.

Many products that could be produced within the country are imported, he observed, which is more expensive, meaning that in order to meet the demand of tourist facilities, agriculture, renewable energy, and new technologies must be further developed.

Toward this end, the President indicated, every ministry and enterprise group must reconsider its relation to tourism, to meet the demands and needs of the so-called smokeless industry. We have an open road to development and promising prospects, that we didn’t have in the difficult days of the Special Period, when the effort began, he said,

These comments were made during a meeting of the government commission charged with promoting and assuring provisions for tourism, led by the sector minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, which has been held for several years on a monthly basis. Among items on its agenda are responding to the growing numbers of tourist arrivals; raising the quality of services and options offered visitors; and replacing imports with domestic products, and other issues.

During the meeting, Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, referred to efforts made to supply agricultural produce to tourism, including the recovery of greenhouses and investments in mini-processing plants for some foodstuffs.

Nevertheless, he noted, shortcomings continue, especially in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit that must be imported, as a result of damage caused by the HLB fungus to these groves over the years. He described as successful the direct links established between agricultural producers and hotels, which have led to increased deliveries of fresh produce, as well as processed items.

María del Carmen Concepción González, minister of Food Processing Industry, stated that the broad investment project underway in the sector will allow for a more timely response, and that demand for products currently imported will be met.

The lack of packaging and shortages of raw materials were among issues that had a negative impact in supplying tourism last year, she indicated.

For his part, Minister of Transport Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez reported on services offered by this sector related to the transportation of workers, Cuban vacationers, and tourists, which has been provided without major problems.

He emphasized work done at airports to reduce waiting times, and address issues such as air conditioning, food services, customs, and baggage handling, all of which impact the satisfaction level of visitors.

Referring to building underway in the country’s principal resort areas and cities, Construction Minister René Mesa Villafaña, listed the number of hotel projects advancing in destinations such as Varadero, Holguín, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba, which are progressing on schedule and will increase the number of hotel rooms significantly.

Detailing the technological systems and supplies required by the tourist sector, Minister of Industry Salvador Pardo Cruz emphasized the installation and maintenance of solar water heaters, elevators, security systems, and water pumps, as well as air conditioning, all of which have an impact on the comfort level of facilities.

Referring to electrical energy and the development of renewable resources, Minister of Energy and Mines Alfredo López Valdés reported that efficiency in energy use is improving in tourist facilities, above all as a result of replacing inefficient equipment. In particular, he mentioned the replacement of incandescent bulbs with LED lighting and the installation solar water heaters.

Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella, first deputy minister of Communications, detailed aspects of the effort to expand the use of new technologies, and principal steps taken to improve the quality of telecommunications services.

He reported that, to date, 300 hotels have installed wireless internet access systems in common areas, with efforts underway to provide wifi in all of the country’s resorts. At the same time, internet access for travel agencies is being expanded, and agreements have been signed with a number of tele-communications providers for the use of roaming or itinerant services in Cuba, allowing visitors from abroad to use their cell phones in the country.

Development of the water distribution system was analyzed in the meeting, as well, with Inés María Chapman Waugh, president of the National Institute of Water Resources, reporting on a study of problems which allowed for the identification of places where maintenance is needed and where major investments are required.

She stated that rational water use in tourist installations is regularly reviewed, and steps taken to reduce consumption of this valuable resource.

In particular, she reported that a thorough study of camping facilities frequented by many Cuban vacationers is being conducted, province by province, in order to resolve problems gradually, to ensure a stable water supply at these sites. On this point, she specifically mentioned work underway at campismos located on the northern shore near the capital, where some 600 meters of piping has been replaced.