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HAVANA, May 6 (Xinhua) Cuba has sought to become an important tourism destination for foreign visitors, eyeing China as a significant and growing market for its tourism industry.
“The number of Chinese tourists increases every year and will continue to do so through the direct flight between Beijing and Havana that Air China inaugurated in December of 2015,” Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told Xinhua on Thursday at Cuba’s annual tourism trade fair FITCuba.
A total of 28,239 Chinese travelers visited Cuba’s capital Havana, its leading beach resort of Varadero and other destinations in 2015, representing a growth of 27 percent.
To draw more Chinese travelers, Cuba’s tour operators in China are working with local agencies under new promotional strategies.
“We have no doubt that the number of Chinese tourists will grow in the coming years and we will continue to strive to bring the Air China flights completely booked,” said Marrero.
This effort will also offer Chinese companies investment opportunities to develop luxury hotels and golf courses in Havana.
“We are going to build a five-star luxury hotel at the Hemingway Marina (west of Havana) with the Chinese firm Suntime, and a resort golf course with (residential) apartments in the Bellomonte area (east of Havana) with the company Beijing Enterprise,” he said.
Both initiatives have been approved by the Cuban ministry and should break ground soon.
“With the combination of Air China flights and hotel development with Beijing Enterprise and Suntime, the growth of Chinese tourism is guaranteed,” said the top Cuban tourism official.
Zhang Xin, Air China general manager for Cuba, said the inauguration of the direct Beijing-to-Havana route in December is important to bolstering tourism ties between the two countries.
The thrice-a-week 19-hour flight, with a stop in Montreal, Canada, is the first-ever direct flight between the Chinese capital and a destination in Latin America.
“We’re sure more Chinese tourists will come in the future to Cuba,” Zhang told Xinhua, adding “we want to show them the beauty of its beaches and landscapes, its culture and rich history.”
Through the new route, Air China hopes to turn Havana into a kind of Caribbean travel hub for Chinese travelers who are interested in visiting other islands in the area.
“Cuba is a big mystery many Chinese want to explore and learn from,” said the Air China official.
China is Cuba’s second-largest trading and commercial partner, and Beijing’s participation in the development of various sectors of the island nation’s economy has enhanced bilateral strategic ties.
Cuba received 3.5 million foreign visitors last year, and is poised to become an even more important Caribbean destination as the restoration of its diplomatic ties with the United States has increased the number of U.S. travelers to the island.
HAVANA,March 13 (Telesur) Cuba has welcomed 1 million foreign tourists to date in 2016, a 14.6 percent surge over the same period last year, statistics from Cuba’s Tourism Ministry revealed on Saturday.
Tthe tourism ministry said in a broadcast on state television that 2016 has been characterized by “continuous growth” in the number of tourists to Cuba from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy and Argentina.
A spokesperson also said local hotels and tour operators plan to raise the quality of their services and increase hotel capacity in order to deal with the increased number of tourists hitting the Caribbean islands shores year round.
Cuban tourism authorities estimate that in 2016 some 3.7 million foreign tourists will visit, 175,200 more than in 2015, when the country broke the previous set record by receiving 3.5 million travelers.
Although Cuba has always been a popular destination with tourists from Europe and beyond numbers have spiked since its diplomatic relations between the U.S. started to thaw in late 2014.
ocal economists note that some 145,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2015, 79 percent more than in the previous year.
The tourism industry is now considered one of the most important facets of the Cuban economy and the second-strongest for earning foreign currency, with revenues of US$1.94 billion in 2015, up 10.7 percent over the previous year, the island’s National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, reported.
Simultaneously, on multiple continents, the brilliant Germans, Turks, Argentinians, Mexicans, and other Americans at the Havana guesthouse where we were all staying had hatched the unique idea that they needed to get to Cuba before Starbucks, Chipotle and Urban Outfitters do. One local guide claimed that U.S. tourism was up 36 percent from December, when Raul Castro and President Obama become BFFs.
My husband, Jon, as a child on a family vacation, visited Cuba before the island’s last big change. Fulgencio Batista was the dictator, the American mob ran the hotel casinos, and Fidel Castro seemed like an annoyance rather than a mortal threat.
Jon had long wanted to return. He suddenly decided now was the time, before Cuba changes. Good idea, but arranging the details wasn’t easy.
Despite America’s new opening, we had to book our trip with a tour organizer (Australian), change our money into Canadian Loonies, and fly through Cancun because of America’s embargo restrictions that presidential aspirant Marco Rubio thinks are so helpful.
Once on the island, no one took credit cards, toilet paper was not guaranteed, soap was a luxury and, most appalling to us first-worlders, there was virtually no Internet. When I did weasel my way into a fancy hotel “business center,” the guy at the next computer terminal was from Northeast Philly.
Except for the enterprising native who unsuccessfully tried to mug my husband (who also can’t get his wallet out of his jeans pocket), Cubans were welcoming, even when they had nothing to sell us. Most Cubans don’t have anything to sell tourists, though there are an amazing number of people who claim to work in cigar factories and just happen to have a few “extra” Cohibas.
My fellow Pennsylvanians can instinctively relate to Cubans because their country also sells all its liquor in government stores, the roads are full of potholes, and everyone is madly preparing for Pope Francis’ visit. It’s just that in Cuba, the state controls almost everything, including the newspapers, where I could be a cartoonist as long as I drew Raul as the handsome, brilliant genius that he is.
While in Havana, we stayed near the historic square where slaves were once sold. It’s now lined with a restaurant with tablecloths, an excellent coffee shop and a microbrewery — which could use a brewer from Philly’s Fishtown to help with its recipes.
Fortunately, there are few cars, because the ones they have are 60 years old, belch pollution, and can barely pass down the narrow streets. The cars are, however, luscious, and made me wish Detroit would return to some of those flamboyant styles. If Cubans can have tail fins, why can’t we?
While Detroit carmakers are forced by our embargo to stick to the mainline, Chinese carmakers are busily peddling their fin-less “Geelys,” most recently 719 of them, to the Cuban car rental market for tourists. Since many actual Cubans, especially outside Havana, still get around on horse-drawn carts (including trotting along on the one main “interstate”), there would seem to be room for growth. Missiles are not OK in Cuba; a growing Chinese market apparently is.
The historic architecture is beautiful but decayed — severely decayed — with trees growing out of balustraded balconies and interior stairways that would even make Pennsylvania inspectors take notice. Many families live packed in these potentially lucrative buildings that will all be renovated soon.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Raul Castro are facing the same problem: How do you make way for the new and wealthy without displacing the old and poor? It will be interesting to see if the Castros, whose rule depends on total control, can do any better than Philadelphia has.
Personally, I doubt it, as the U.S. restores its diplomatic relations with Cuba and the tsunami of Americans joins all the other world’s tourists making plans to see the “real” Cuba. Before it changes.
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