HAVANA – Cuba welcomed more than 1 million tourists in the first four months of the year, a record, according to the government, which on Tuesday announced a policy of “real estate development” linked to the sector.
At a press conference during the 30th annual FITCUBA tourism fair in Havana, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said that the island received 1,053,000 visitors between January and April, a figure that represents the “highest four-month period in the history of Cuban tourism.”
The figure is an increase of 101 percent over the number of tourists who came to Cuba during the same period in 2009, although tourism revenues for the two periods were “similar.”
Marrero referred to the significance of the visits to the island by Cuban emigrants and said that their numbers “continue increasing” and have improved by around 50 percent compared with 2009.
The minister said that Cubans living abroad “are becoming one of the most important segments” for the island’s tourism sector, adding that arrivals from the United States and other parts of the world “are increasing.”
Regarding development plans, the minister said that work is progressing on the construction of new hotels at the main tourism spots, while projects are in the works for the virgin keys in the northern part of Cuba and to convert Havana Bay into “an extraordinary tourist port.”
“This, without any doubt, will allow the beginning of another phase in the development of Cuban tourism, with the entry of new segments and the execution of investments in zones with tourist potential that still have not been exploited,” Marrero said.
Although he provided no further details about the type of real estate development that is being proposed, he said that it will be associated with boosting marinas, golf courses and other tourist investments, mainly in “virgin regions.”
In 2009, the communist-ruled island received 2.43 million tourists, a 3.5 percent rise compared with 2008, and Canada remained the main tourist-sending market for Cuba.
Marrero said that in the case of the European markets, the behavior has been more unstable – only Spain has shown any growth – while in Latin America there exists an “important (upward) trend” in Argentina.
In addition, he emphasized that the internal market “occupies a more noteworthy place each day,” after in 2008 the government of President Raul Castro eliminated restrictions on allowing Cubans living on the island access to hotels previously reserved for foreign visitors.
Regarding the meeting between Cuban officials and U.S. tourism executives last March at the Mexican resort of Cancun, the minister said that it was “very professional” and there was “much mutual respect” among the participants.
“We consider it important for the time when those restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba are eliminated,” said Marrero, referring to the travel and business limitations included in the economic embargo that Washington has imposed on the island since 1962. EFE