Tourism in Cuba: a growth process with no turn back

On December 30, 2016, Cuba reached 4 million tourist arrivals, an increase of 13% compared to 2015, when arrivals reached almost 3.5 million tourists.

As regards the entry of foreign exchange, tourism has become the second income of Cuba behind that of professional services (among which the provision of medical services stands out), reaching US $ 2.8 billion in 2016.

In spite of the restrictions still in force, the arrival of travelers coming from the United States grows above the rest of the traditional generators of demand of Cuba, having reached increases of 77% per year. The thing is that although the embargo established in 1952 still continues, during the last years of the Obama administration the relationship has been relaxed by establishing a series of measures that have helped to increase the number of American citizens arriving to the island, through some of the 12 exceptions known as “purpose travels” that allow to waive the established prohibition.

Actually, since that December 17, 2014 when Presidents Castro and Obama surprised the world announcing the beginning of the negotiation process that would allow them to advance in the normalization of the bilateral relationship, a lot has happened. Much more than some would have wanted, still less than many expected, with the pending lifting of the commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed by the US on Cuba 54 years ago.

Embargo that is clearly opprobrious for the whole world, as shown at the last UN assembly in October 2016 when in a historic resolution 191 countries expressed their support for lifting the blockade with a favorable vote and there was no vote against.

As it is a more general rule than it would be possible to expect, politics has its times and later, but sooner than ever, it will end up adjusting what the reality made evident so long ago. Let’s hope this is one of the reasons for celebration during 2017.

Meanwhile, tourism continues to grow in Cuba and will continue to grow at surprising levels.

The tourists arrival grew 34, 7% (!!!) since December 2014. No such percentage growth for a period of only two years is recalled.

The pipeline shows a whopping 108,000 new rooms by 2030, an average of nearly 8,000 more rooms per year for the next fourteen years.

To this, it must be added that a large part of the 65 thousand existing rooms will be subject to a process of necessary renovation.

A good portion of the investments are carried out by Grupo Gaviota, the largest Cuban hotel group, which finances all of its ventures by itself.

The rest are mainly carried out by Gran Caribe, Cubanacan and Isla Azul groups, in association with foreign investors.

And we do not have to forget the mixed projects of Cuba Golf which will include hotels, real estate, golf courses and other amenities- in all cases with the participation of foreign investors.

Or the complementary investments, known by Cubans as “extra hotels” (restaurants, bars and entertainment in General), in charge of the company Palmares, with the participation of foreign investors. Also, the development of marinas, whose management will be granted to specialized international companies.

Too many opportunities for US entrepreneurs not to be interested in being part of what the rest of the world has already learned and has begun to take advantage of.

Apart from the obvious opportunity for big international hotel companies, there is a huge variety of opportunities for investors, banks, investment funds, developers, architects, designers, construction companies, logistics companies, machinery and equipment and a lot of others to which Cuba will provide incredible opportunities for growth for many years, not less than 10 or 20.

For some of these companies, only 90 miles away from the coast of their country, the opportunity is obvious and impossible to miss, for others, even more distant, opportunity is already a reality that they will continue to take advantage of.

For some and for others what is certain is that after more than 50 years, this country, which is very rich in many aspects, with incredibly skilled human resources, an amazing culture, firm values, respected traditions, great natural resources and absolutely safe, has much to develop, with a great growth potential. And that opens opportunities for all men and companies of good will, who have values to contribute to this impressive development process that Cuba will experience in the coming years.

Starwood has agreed to operate the first hotel, which is now part of the Marriott group, the Four Points Miramar of the Gaviota group, which opened last June. Shortly before, on May 2, the first Carnival cruise arrived in Havana. Charter flights multiplied and Jet Blue, Delta and American launched their direct flights. Just the tip of an immense iceberg that defies global thawing.

It is an open secret that other hotel companies plan their disembarkation soon; will there be any that would want to stay out of this game in a world where growth is law?

American plans to increase flights to more than 60 frequencies a week, while airlines like Austrian Airlines, Pegas, Virgin Atlantic, Itaca, Turkish and Eurowings, among others, are expected to start arriving on the island in 2017.

The ADP group- Aeropuertos de París-, in charge of the renowned Charles de Gaulle airport, reached an agreement with the Cuban government to take over the expansion and administration of the Havana airport, which will allow traffic of 10 million tourists per year by 2020. Royal Caribbean, PearlSeas and Norwegian have announced starting operations next summer, while Oceania and Regent are ready to do so soon, among others.

On the other hand, the famous “paladares”, the restaurants managed by Cubans themselves, do not stop multiplying and new options are added to “the long standing” who have not missed the opportunity and, without losing the values that made them stand out, have been refreshed, or “aggiornado”, to take advantage of a business that does not stop growing. In many of them, it is impossible to get a table without previous reservation. San Cristóbal, La Guarida, Cocinero are among them, even though it sounds unfair to stop naming so many others who complete an amazing offer that does not envy that of the great cities of the world. Bars and restaurants could be a favorite among the selective citizens of New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Milan, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo or any other important city on the planet.

It is too much to let it be missed. It is a sin to ignore it. To oppose the inevitable is an injustice. It would be like pretending to cover the sun with your hands and the sun in Cuba is a blessing that deserves to be enjoyed.