Cuba builds up tourism sector despite US sanctions

HAVANA (Xinhua) – Cuba continues to develop its tourism sector despite new White House measures to prevent Americans from spending their dollars in the sunny Caribbean island nation.

The biggest blow to Cuba – and to Americans keen on visiting the country – came in early June, when Washington banned United States (US) cruise ships and recreational vessels from sailing to Cuban ports.

The abrupt decision led to the cancellation of some 800,000 reservations, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the largest cruise industry trade group in the world.

“After the withdrawal of US cruise companies that visited Cuban ports, we looked for new alternatives,” Tourism Ministry’s Director of Development Jose R Daniel Alonso told reporters recently.

Cuba’s tourism industry has long thrived on international visitors from Canada and Europe, whose numbers continue to grow each year.

With these markets in mind, Cuba has made plans to build 8,500 new hotel rooms around the country in the next few years.

Havana will be holding its 500th anniversary celebrations in November, and in the lead up, new hotels will be inaugurated, including the Paseo del Prado, and others are being renovated, such as the Havana Riviera and Tryp Habana Libre.

Havana has about 12,545 rooms in all, or 17.3 per cent of the country’s hotel capacity, and is the most visited city on the island nation, hosting almost half of all tourists who visit the nation each year.

However, other parts of the country are also seeing tourism growth, especially Matanzas province and its Varadero beach resort, which is also known as Blue Beach and features 21,841 rooms.

Southern Matanzas is known for its ecotourism, which is best illustrated by an area known as Zapata Swamp, the largest wetland in the Caribbean and a venue of the international nature tourism expo TURNAT 2019 to be held in September.

In south-central Cuba, the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad – the latter a the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site since 1988 – will see new hotel openings. In the town of Trinidad founded in 1514, hotel Melia Ancon is almost completed, and another three five-star hotels will be expanded.

In Santiago de Cuba, the nation’s second-largest city, two hotels will open this year, and more are expected to break ground in 2020, including one housed in a high-tech smart building.

Cuba ended the first quarter of 2019 with a 7.2 per cent increase in foreign tourist arrivals, slightly higher than forecasted. The nation expects to receive 5.1 million visitors this year.

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest source of foreign revenue, bringing in over USD3 billion last year, an increase of 17.6 per cent compared with that of 2017.