Country hopes for a million Canadian visitations
Cuba says it’s on the verge of seeing around a million Canadian visitations this year, a goal tourism officials believe is attainable as Old Man Winter’s impending arrival spurs more of us to head south on vacation.
Lessner Gomez, director of the Cuba Tourist Board’s office for English-speaking Canada, said his homeland saw 1,973,083 tourists from around the world through September, while Canadian visits were 748,976, which represented 38% of total arrivals.
The close to 1 million visitors in 2023 Cuba hopes for from this country would translate into a 200% increase year-over-year.
“Canadians are drawn by Cuba’s laid-back charm, the friendliness of its people and its pristine beaches,” Gomez told some 250 travel agents and other tourism industry personnel at a recent Toronto gathering.
Canada-Cuba air capacity this winter has grown 12%, with more than 5,000 flights to Cuba from 21 Canadian getaways. Those flights will be arriving at the most popular destinations in Cuba, including Manzanillo and Cienfuegos, with new Sunwing flights offered.
An expanding tourism infrastructure is seeing new hotels, among them Cayo Paredon’s Gran Aston Cayo Paredon Hotel and Vila Gale, the latter managed by a Portuguese hotel chain new to Cuba.
New in Cayo Cruz is the Marina Plaza and Spa Hotel, a non all-inclusive seen as ideal for long stays. Cayo Santa Maria’s The One Gallery hotel aims to promote the arts and Cuban culture in general. “Besides its strong entertainment program and facilities, it’s located next to the main stage in Cayo Santa Maria, where nightlife activities and several major festivals take place,” Gomez reported.
Varadero is now home to the Gran Aston Varadero Hotel, while Holguin’s Sol Turquesa Beach hotel saw major renovations and is under new management by Melia.
“In Havana: the Sevilla Hotel was completely upgraded, and it’s affiliated to Melia Hotels,” Gomez continued. “Also, Blue Diamond Resorts added a new property to their portfolio in the Jibacoa area: the Starfish Jibacoa — the former Villa Tropico located next to the Memories Jibacoa — which has seen a complete makeover.”
Trinidad’s most recent opening is the Melia Peninsula Trinidad hotel, an all-inclusive hotel on Ancon Beach, 20 minutes from the city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and what Gomez described as “one of the most charming colonial towns in Cuba.”
WiFi is available and free at all the hotels in the destination. “Currently the main goal is to improve the quality of the connectivity by setting up a fibre-optic service — which in certain areas is already installed — and it’s anticipated to be completed by the end of 2024,” Gomez stated. “All airports in Cuba have internet access, and the next step is to have internet service at catamaran tours and tourist buses, where the tourists can share their experience while enjoying their vacation.
“One of the biggest challenges has been to stabilize the supplies to Cuba, which has seen positive results through increasing the cargo from Canada and boosting import deals directly by the hotel chains,” Gomez added.
The Toronto evening saw Cuban dance and music performances, a reflection of a dance-and-music-mad country that has given the world such cultural expressions as salsa.
“Cuba celebrates many events and festivals all year round, some of them are getting very popular, like the Havana Jazz Festival, Santiago de Cuba Fire Festival, and the Havana Cigar Festival. Not less important is the Cuba International Tourism fair (FITCUBA) which will be held next year in Cayo Coco, and all the Canadian travel trade community got invited,” Gomez said.
“The Cuba Tourist Board will continue to support travel agents through the planning of more fam trips to see and explore more destinations in Cuba as the best way to learn, update and help travel advisors to sell the destination; also, through the creation of The Cuba travel specialist program, approved, and supported by the ministry of tourism.”
Gomez’s colleague Nieves Ricardo also expressed thanks to agents selling Cuba.
“We are very grateful for your partnership and all you do to support Cuba,” she said.
New advertising campaign CUBA UNICA is running across Canada and the “message is clear: Cuba’s unique people, history and culture makes Cuba unique, and ‘Unique’ is better than best,” Gomez added.