Now that that we are seeing an unprecedented rise in the rate of tourist arrivals to Cuba, motivated by the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the island and the U.S., one question is dominating the media agenda.
Will the Cuban tourist industry be able to cope with the anticipated “wave” of visitors?
After reaching a record three million visitors, the initial reports for 2015 are promising.
According to official figures, more than two million vacationers arrived in Cuba between January and July, representing a 15.9% increase, as compared to last year.
Preliminary estimates suggest that this trend will continue to grow, with four million international visitors predicted to arrive to the island by the end of the year, bearing in mind the current situation, which has seen the number of U.S. tourists double in comparison to figures registered in previous periods.
Experts note that 88,996 U.S. citizens arrived to Cuba during the first half of the year, while 150,000 more are forecast to arrive by the end of December.
”In keeping with changes being carried out by Cuba to accelerate its economic growth rates, the tourist industry has defined and implemented an extensive Development Plan through 2030,” stated Alexander Sierra Bouza, director general of Development at the Ministry of Tourism, to AIN.
DOES CUBA HAVE WHAT IT NEEDS?
With a hotel capacity which currently includes 63,000 rooms – 70% of which are four and five star rated – Cuba will continue to make investments to provide more and better lodging options and facilities over the coming years. Estimates suggest that the island will have over 85,000 rooms by 2020. According to the Director of Development, these figures are modest in comparison to the country’s actual potential. “I am sure that in 15 years we would be able build and market over 200,000 rooms.”
The non-state sector plays a key role in these plans, featuring as an attractive complement to state offers. There are currently more than 12,000 homes offering desirable lodging and gastronomic services to travelers from abroad.
In regards to existing lodging infrastructure in Cuba, the country is able to compete with regional rivals. The Riviera Maya, which receives just over three million tourists a year, has a capacity of about 50,000 rooms; while the Dominican Republic, which sees the arrival of more than five million vacationers, has around 68,000 rooms, highlighted José Luis Perelló, economist and professor at the University of Havana’s Tourism Faculty.
“Despite this, it is our rich and well preserved cultural, historical and natural heritage, that define us and make us unique in the region, not to mention throughout the Americas,” stated Sierra Bouza.
Cuba boasts 253 protected areas, 257 national monuments, seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, six Biosphere Nature Reserves and 13 Fauna Refuges, among other popular tourist zones.
What is more, the island has flight routes to more than 50 cities around the world, operated by an average of 36 international airlines which fly to the island’s principal tourist destinations, including Havana, Varadero, Cayo Santa María, Jardines del Rey, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.
Cuba also has three cruise ship terminals, seven international ports and 39 scuba diving centers, the majority of which are currently undergoing an intense program of investments to revive the archipelago’s nautical offers.
But what we have will be insufficient, if we are unable to achieve and maintain high standards of services, a fundamental line of the tourism development strategy which aims to create a truly exceptional product, and perhaps contribute toward reaching, before many might expect and without celebrating preemptively, 10 million visitors in a year.