FITCuba 2015 – the 35th edition of the International Tourism Fair – was officially opened on 5th May at the Melia Jardines del Rey resort hotel in Cayo Coco Island in Ciego de Avila. Cuban Tourism Minister, Manual Marrero cut the red ribbon in the presence of hundreds of tour operators and journalists from around the world.
Marrero in his opening speech of the event, pointed out that the number of tourists visiting Cuba has increased by 15% (three million international visitors in 2014) in the last year. The minister explained that the majority of visitors, a record increase from delegate countries, are from Canada, Chile, China, Switzerland, Colombia and Uruguay, but there is also major growth shown by visitors from Venezuela, Germany, Italy, Canada and Chile, and a 44% increase in repeat visitors. He outlined the future plans and changes to boost tourism on the Island and make Cuba a hotspot in the Caribbean.
Tourism is the third largest source of revenue for Cuba after technical and medical services. The AIN news agency reported that tourism generated over two billion dollars which shows the importance of this sector in the Cuban economy and the potential for foreign investments in the country. The minister also emphasized the willingness of the Cuban administration to invite foreign investors in order to establish new hotels and to market Cuba to a global audience. He revealed that negotiations are underway with Spanish enterprises to develop golf courses and hotel apartments in the areas of Las Colorades and El Salado. Melia Hotels International is currently the leading hotel operator with 27 sites in eight resort areas.
The minister also noted the importance of the private sector in the growth of tourism in Cuba with the opening of new high quality restaurants and lodgings with a continuing increase in room rentals, reportedly to be by 11,000 homeowners.
According to local media in Havana, British companies have initiated several agreements to invest over 400 million U.S. Dollars in Cuba in agriculture, tourism and energy. Orlando Hernandez, the President of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce said that despite the strength of economic relations between the UK and Cuba, there is still much more work to be done in respect of commerce and investment between the two countries. It is reported that approximately 150,000 Britons visit Cuba every year.
Several British companies are part of the Cuba Initiative, a project started in 1995 to promote business and commerce in the Island. The local media reported a quote from Lord Hutton, the president of the Cuba Initiative, “the Cuban government has made it clear that all sectors of the economy, except for health, education and armed forces, are open to private investment. This gives us tremendously exciting opportunities for the future.”
One of the significant aspects of FITCuba 2015 was the presence of travel professionals from USA, despite the fact that economic and political sanctions against Cuba including travel restrictions to Cuba are still in operation. There are talks between the two countries to improve diplomatic ties that were disrupted in 1961.
The main theme during FITCuba 2015 was on marine sports and activities. The event took place in the Jardines del Rey because of its extensive potential for future developments and natural beauties. Iyolexis Correa, the delegate of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism said that Jardines del Rey is comprised of over 2,500 cays and islands and it had major developments in the tourism industry since 1993 when the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro opened a hotel.
The FITCuba 2015 is dedicated to Italy as the special guest country. The Italian Under-Secretary for Cultural Assets and Tourism, Francesca Barracciu, represented Italy in the opening ceremony and delivered her speech in support of the event and as part of the initiatives for the Year of Italy in Latin America. The FITCuba 2015 was concluded after three days of meetings, exhibitions and tours.