MADRID.- Following a season during which Cuba welcomed a record number of more than three million visitors, the tourism sector aspires to ensure a significant increase in the number of European holidaymakers due to renewed interest from continental travel agencies.

Following a season during which Cuba welcomed a record number of more than three million visitors, the tourism sector aspires to ensure a significant increase in the number of European holidaymakers due to renewed interest from continental travel agencies.In an interview with the Havana Reporter, Cuba’s Minister for Tourism, Manuel Marrero, highlighted hotel company, airline and tour operator projections of increased activity in the country.

As proof that these are more than hollow words, in September the Melia company will open its largest hotel in the world in Cayo Coco and from June, Iberia will again operate five Madrid-Havana flights per week.

Iberia’s return, an extension of Evelope operations and the maintenance of both Cubana Airlines and Air Europa schedules, will bring to 16 the number of weekly flights on this inter-capital route which, in Marrero’s opinion, will represent an increase of somewhere between 25 and 30 thousand travellers annually.

Undoubtedly the renewed interest by Spanish and European companies arises because of the start of U.S.- Cuba talks to restore diplomatic relations, a move that could lead to the normalization of bilateral ties.

According to Gabriel Escarrer, vice-president of Melia, the reestablishment of relations could open the door for U.S. tourism to Cuba, although he accepted that the process required time.

Minister Marrero is of the same view, assuring that there will not be an avalanche of American tourists and that European companies prefer to position themselves in time to improve their options in preparation for the day that U.S. competition becomes a reality.

Without banking on future developments or abandoning traditional sun and beach holidays, Cuban authorities are looking towards diversified developments to broaden the scope of what is on offer.

In addition to further new hotels planned for Havana, Varadero and the archipelago’s keys, there are significant world class cultural, health, nature and other tourism sector developments.

With regard to Cuban tourism options, Minister Marrero explained during his visit to the recently held Madrid International Tourism Fair that work was underway to diversify beyond the beach and sun product on offer.

He said that without abandoning the beach holiday model, holidaymakers are now being offered heritage and cultural experiences that are most attractive to European visitors in particular.

Marrero referred to the construction of a water park in Varadero, to be concluded in 2016, by the Cuban company Palmares, in a joint venture with Spanish firms and the contemporaneous development of various golf courses and complexes.

He added that another significant element was a heritage based sector, which had necessitated accelerated investment in hotels in various cities in order to satisfy unmet demand.

Marrero commented that the specialized cultural tourism agency, Paradiso, had been bolstered as the Ecotur nature tourism agency was being.

The minister recalled that in the area of health tourism, the Ministry for Public Health’s Cuban Medical Services company, in conjunction with tourist institutions had, based on scientific advances, capacity and qualified specialized staff, expanded their list of services on offer.

With more than 7,500 guest houses and over 2,500 restaurants (locally known as paladars), the non-state sector offers complimentary alternatives, he added.

In his view, flexibilization of the categories for U.S. citizens travelling to Cuba, decreed by president Barack Obama, had resulted in a collateral interest by European companies in expanding their dealings with Cuba.

The minister emphasized that they anticipate new opportunities going forward in Cuba, which stimulate interest in investment in tourism.

Marrero told businessmen in Madrid that those already established are seeking to expand their interests and others recognize that the time has come to close deals, adding that all would be attended to.

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