Why Cuba is betting heavily on the German market

Why Cuba is betting heavily on the German market

HAVANA, Oct. 21st Cuba has set ambitious goals for the winter and is also relying heavily on the German market. Ambassador Juana Martínez González and Embassy Counsellor Orlando Ramos Blanco explain how Cuba wants to set itself apart from its Caribbean competitors.

Cuba says goodbye to strict corona requirements: The “Queen of the Antilles” finally opened up to travellers again in 2022. However, while neighbouring countries such as the Dominican Republic are already recording higher numbers of arrivals than before the pandemic, tourism in Cuba has not yet fully returned.

Still a long way to 2019 levels

Just 50% of the booking volume measured against the same period in 2019 is reported by Gerd Deininger, founder of Cuba specialist Aventoura, for 2022: “Demand for travel to Cuba is not recovering with us with the same momentum as is perhaps the case in other Caribbean destinations.”

Recent figures from Cuba bear this out. During a joint visit with Ambassador Juana Martínez González, Embassy Counsellor Orlando Ramos Blanco revealed to fvw|TravelTalk that the Cuban tourist office has registered just 38,000 German arrivals since the beginning of the year. This means that even in the event of winter with strong bookings, it will not be possible to match the pre-pandemic level of 2019 (175,000 visitors).

The absence of tourists in Cuba has its reasons: First, the resurgence of the US embargo, then the pandemic, the unilateral US entry restrictions and most recently the damage caused by Hurricane Ian in the west of the island – the Cuban government has had to overcome a number of hurdles in recent months.

Regular power cuts, petrol shortages and supply bottlenecks for hygiene products and medicines are still not uncommon – and partly also affect privately organised tourism sectors such as hotels or guesthouses. Cuba’s government is therefore supporting local tourism all the more. For example, family-run casas particulares did not have to pay licence fees during the pandemic.

“Cuba Única” emphasises cultural advantages

Despite – or perhaps because of – the precarious economic situation, the Antillean island has set itself ambitious goals for the future: according to embassy counsellor Blanco, the plan is to increase hotel capacity to 95,000 rooms and the number of arrivals to more than six million annually by 2030.

To revive tourism in Cuba, a new marketing campaign was launched this year. “Cuba Única” is designed to help highlight the rich cultural heritage and tourism assets of the largest Antillean island – to set it apart from its classic Caribbean competitors, as Ambassador Martínez González points out.

While Havana, Trinidad and Co score points with restored colonial buildings, nostalgic old-timers and a rich dose of charisma, cultural facilities such as museums are few and far between on some neighbouring islands. Large parts of the Caribbean are still geared towards beach holidaymakers and package holidaymakers.

For culturally strong Cuba, this is an opportunity to develop into a real alternative to very popular Caribbean destinations such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or Mexico for round trips and group tours that are keen to learn.

Entry without test and stamp

Last but not least, specialists like Aventoura and Cuba Buddy could play an important role in achieving Cuba’s ambitious goals. Especially among German holidaymakers, who are considered to be “extremely culturally interested”, there is a growing demand for adventure and round trips that offer a glimpse of the cultural customs of the destination country.

Juana Martínez González is also counting on this: “Germany has great potential as a strong tourism source market. German tourists are special because they like nature and culture. That’s why they do a lot of round trips. We try to offer German tourists exactly this package.”

The relaxed entry requirements in Cuba play into the tourism industry’s hands: the vaccination and testing requirement was lifted in April, and quarantine can also be completed in one’s own hotel room.

What’s more, the Cuban migration authorities are currently making it easier for all tourists to enter and continue their journey by not stamping their passports. The passport is only stamped on direct request.

The reason for the decision is the continuing tense situation between Cuba and the USA. Recently, there were several problems entering the USA after the US government unilaterally put the Caribbean island state on the list of states that would support international terrorism.

Tour operators see strong upward trend

According to the tour operators, the crisis management is already showing its first effects: gradually, the situation in Cuba is showing signs of easing for the coming year. “For 2023 we are therefore also planning on 80% of the turnover of 2019,” explains Aventoura boss Deininger optimistically.

At DER Touristik, booking figures have also shown a “strong upward trend” in recent weeks. This winter season, the entire island is to be covered again: In addition to classics such as Havana, Varadero or Cayo Coco, casas particulares in the interior are also in demand.

Expansion of product range

Alltours has “significantly expanded” the portfolio in the regions of Varadero, Holguin and Cayo Santa Maria. In Havana, the Düsseldorf-based company is represented with 14 city hotels.

Schauinsland-Reisen, which is entering the race with many round trips and hotel combination packages, is also recording “good incoming bookings” for the winter. At FTI, the focus this year is on Holguin, the third largest city on the island. New in the programme is the seaside hotel Aston Costa Verde on Playa Pesquero.

Large demand for round trips

Round trip products are also considered to be particularly strong in bookings. This brings with it a problem: rental cars are still in short supply in Cuba and thus affected by price increases of 10 to 15%.

Overall, Embassy Counsellor Blanco is optimistic about the upcoming winter season. By the end of the year, Cuba hopes to break the mark of 2.5 million international tourists in the country. That would be an increase of more than 60% compared to the pandemic-stricken previous year (574,000 arrivals) – and a great success for the crisis-ridden island state.