Cuba expects record number of tourists in 2015

 havana-live--unseen-cuba-2192-arp-1230p_171f2b4e4ae99158c45d233c6b9adceb.nbcnews-ux-680-480HAVANA, Mai 9  (EFE)  Cuba expects to surpass this year the record sum of foreign tourists and revenues it attracted in 2014, a year when the island’s tourism industry took in $2.7 billion, according to figures released this week at the International Tourism Fair, or FitCuba.

Last year for the first time Cuba crossed the threshold of 3 million visitors, specifically with 3,002,745 million tourists, a 5.3-percent growth over 2013 and an upward trend that continued in the first quarter of 2015 when a million travelers came to the island, according to the Tourism Ministry.

“Cuban tourism is in its best moment,” Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said at FitCuba, which opened last Tuesday and ended Thursday at the tourism attraction of Jardines del Rey, an archipelago of islets off the island’s north coast.

In order to boost the number of international tourists, Cuba is currently developing 53 projects to build hotels with a total of 5,492 rooms in the four- and five-star categories, which will be added to the 61,200 that already exist on the island in some 300 hotels, the island’s official media says.

The Cuban tourist industry aims to continue these investments in order to complete more than 85,500 rooms that meet international standards by 2020.

The new hotels are being built by mixed companies and will mostly be administered by well-known hotel chains like the Melia and Iberostar from Spain, which have been established in Cuba for decades, in association with Cuban tourism groups like Gaviota and Cubanacan, among others.

Among the new hotel installations already in business are Valentin Perla Blu, with its 1,200 rooms in the central province of Villa Clara, and the Melia Jardines del Rey with 1,176 in Jardines del Rey, currently the hotels with the greatest capacity in the country.

At present there are 18 foreign companies operating 35,682 rooms, a figure that represents 57 percent of the country’s total hotel capacity, according to figures offered by Cuba’s tourism minister.

The private sector also provides lodging in 11,500 homes, while some 1,600 private restaurants offer their gastronomic services to foreign visitors.

Though Canada, China, Chile and Brazil are the chief sources of tourists for Cuba, tourism authorities have indicated that tourism from other countries like Venezuela, Germany and Italy has shown a “notable increase.”

This 35th International Tourism Fair has promoted the destination of Jardines del Rey, distinguished in Cuba by its dynamic annual 12-percent growth in the number of visitors and its 13-percent increase in the number of available rooms.

Cuba’s tourism sector has also sought to promote the island’s attractions as a seaside resort, with more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of beaches, 300 of coral, and with 26 percent of its insular shelf designated as protected marine areas.

These attractions were visited by more than 1.2 million tourists over the past three years, with more than 400,000 in 2014.