(Photo above: On hand for a Cuba Tourist Board presentation in Toronto were Frank Pais Oltuski, vice-president of marketing for Gaviota; Lessner Gomez, director of the Cuba Tourist Board’s Toronto office; Cuban ambassador Josefina Vidal; and Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero.)
Efforts by the American government to squeeze the Cuban economy are cutting into the numbers of tourists Cuba receives, but they aren’t crimping expansion of Cuba’s tourism infrastructure.
Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero told an Oct. 8 Toronto gathering that his country saw 4.7 million tourists last year and was hoping this year’s figure would top five million.
But tourism officials now doubt they’ll best the five-million mark as the US government this summer began making it tougher for Americans to visit the island, among other things barring American cruise ships from calling in Cuba.
Cuba saw 3.3 million foreign tourists through September, a quarter of them Canadian.
Marrero said Cuba’s continuing with robust plans to grow its tourism infrastructure, with his government having invested over US$3 billion in tourism projects. The country’s slated to gain thousands of hotel rooms over the coming year, with Nov. 1 seeing the 250-room Hotel Paseo del Prado open in Havana. That property is part of what Marrero labelled a “new generation of luxury hotels.”
A Kempinski will open shortly in Cayo Guillermo and will have guest units over water that have drawn comparisons with similar lodging in Tahiti.
Meliá recently strengthened its position of having more Cuban hotels than any other company by opening another Varadero hotel. Meliá is also planning a hotel in the colonial city of Trinidad.
The island of Cayo Cruz – the latest in a number of islands off Cuba’s north coast marked for tourism development – is slated to get its first hotels, one a 546-room all-inclusive and the other a smallish property.
“We’re building quality hotels and quality service,” Marrero said.
There are 26,000 more rooms available for tourists in private homes.
Cuban authorities are also eyeing theme parks, including one in Matanzas that will provide historical insights into Cuba.
Marrero said Varadero’s beach has been rated “the second best in the world” and added Cuba’s beaches are free of the sargassum that has been plaguing many Caribbean beaches.
He said his government is also committed to improving hotel WiFi.
This year has seen ongoing celebrations in Havana, as the city nears its 500th anniversary date of Nov. 16. Marrero noted the Cuban capital will be the latest of several Cuban cities to reach that milestone.
Meanwhile, Marrero praised the newly arrived director for the Cuba Tourist Board’s Toronto office.
“We have a very good professional,” he said of Lessner Gomez.
Gomez has worked for years in Cuban tourism, including in Avila.
With a new sales manager for Canada, 20 new members and now more than 600 agency partners across the country and bookings up by double digits, Travel Leaders Network, Canada (TL Network) is having a banner year.
The travel agency organization held its Toronto West Fall Regional Conference Oct. 10, hosting more than 100 agent members. The event featured training sessions, a supplier partner trade show – featuring 42 suppliers – panel discussion, dinner and networking opportunities.
Upcoming regional conferences will be held in Calgary and Vancouver.
Speaking with the media prior to the day’s trade show, Roger Block, president, Travel Leaders Network, and Christine James, vice-president, Canada, noted 2019 has been a strong year for the organization.
Doing particularly well is TL Network’s Agent Profiler tool, which allows agents to create unique online profiles that matches them with potential clients based on their criteria and needs. More than 600 agents are now “live” in Canada, and James noted that leads generated are up by 61%.
“We’ve hit a home run on that,” she said. “It really sets us apart. There’s no charge. Writers write the profiles and make our members look like rock stars. There’s no reason not to do it. It really works well for those using it.”
Setting TL Network apart from its competition is the depth of the organization’s programs, said Block, noting the company’s tech department, for instance, has more than 100 people in it.
“Most of our competitors don’t even have 100 employees,” he said. “This allows us to create more complex programs.”
And despite election years in both Canada and the US, Brexit and troubles in Syria, Block said bookings remain strong across the company.
“Even through all these head winds, consumers are travelling and spending more than they used to,” he said. “We could argue that 2020 is going to be an awful year, but we’re not seeing it yet.”
Particularly strong markets include river cruising, Spain and Portugal, and destination weddings.
And with travel itineraries becoming more and more complicated, Block noted the need for expert travel advisors is more necessary than ever.
“The challenge for us is to find more remote destinations, more remote activities,” said Block. “And as people become more and more adventurous, they’re looking for more experts.”
Joining the TL Network Canada earlier this year was Kory Sterling, as sales manager.
“He’s a great asset,” said James.
As for TL Network’s upcoming International Conference – EDGE, being held in Florida in June this year, well, it’s sold out.
Groupe le Massif and Club Med have announced that the first-ever Canadian Club Med property, Club Med Québec Charlevoix, will officially open its doors in December 2021.
The new date comes following changes made in the construction schedule.
Groupe le Massif and Club Med are dedicated to involving the local ecosystem of contractors, artisans and local businesses in the construction of the resort. In order to deliver on this promise and guarantee the highest quality standards, Groupe le Massif has had to review its timetable due to Quebec’s booming construction market. Club Med Québec Charlevoix is a key project for the region, and the decision to change the opening date was made to preserve the interest of the numerous stakeholders.
“The labour shortages in Quebec’s construction industry have led us to postpone the opening of the Club Med for a year. This delay will not affect
the other projects underway at the Massif. Our expansion is moving along nicely. In October, we will be giving a sneak peek at our future summer operations during the Massif en couleurs event and launch the new real estate projects,” said André Roy, executive vice-president and general manager, Groupe Le Massif.
In early 2021, Disney Cruise Line will return to New Orleans for a limited-time engagement with sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including visits to Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay.
A lineup of popular itineraries will continue across the Disney fleet with cruises to tropical destinations from Texas, California and Florida.
Bookings opened to the public Oct. 3.
More details on the itineraries spanning from January through May 2021 can be found at:https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/featured/2021-early-itineraries
Carnival Cruise Line resumes regular calls to Grand Bahama Oct. 11 when Carnival Pride docked in Freeport.
Carnival Elation followed on Oct. 13 and Carnival Freedom on Oct. 15.
Between now and the end of the year, Carnival expects to host 39 calls in Freeport, bringing more than 100,000 visitors to the destination and providing a significant impact to the local economy. For the full year, over 400,000 guests will visit Grand Bahama on a Carnival cruise vacation aboard 10 different ships sailing from nine US home ports.
“Carnival Cruise Line is proud to be such a big year-round supporter for cruise tourism to Freeport, so we are very excited to provide our guests the opportunity to again visit this popular destination,” said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice-president of nautical and port operations. “Cruise ship visits are important to the local economy, and our shore excursion team has been working closely with local tour operators and has confirmed a variety of attractive onshore excursions for our guests.”
Senator James Kwasi Malik Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, added, “The rebuilding of Grand Bahama has begun. We welcome the return of Carnival Cruise Line back to Grand Bahama after Hurricane Dorian. Carnival is an incredible partner for the Bahamas and Grand Bahama.”
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines marked its 100th anniversary Oct. 7 with a huge celebratory event in Amsterdam, and Travel Courier was on hand. The festivities were held at Schiphol Airport’s Hangar 10 with guests treated to a gala “KLM Experience,” featuring an impressive overview of the airline’s past, present and future.
“The fact that we are celebrating our 100th anniversary is not just testimony to a century of successful enterprise, innovation, and commerce, but also to the faith that customers and partners have in KLM. It is an ode to KLM’s aviation pioneers, who literally put civil aviation on the map worldwide. KLM is the oldest international airline still operating under its original name,” noted KLM president and CEO Pieter Elbers. “We were the first airline to successfully pursue partnerships and alliances, after which many other countries and airlines followed our example. This has brought together hundreds of millions of people around the globe. We may take pride in our long list of achievements and efforts over the past 100 years. And so we stand – energetic and confident – on the threshold of a new century. Filled with the same pioneering and enterprising spirit, we look forward, with optimism, to taking on the challenges of sustainability and innovation.”