The growth attained by the Cuban tourism industry was corroborated during the 36th International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2016, recently held in Havana, with tourism authorities and experts predicting a further increase for this industry based on the content of the negotiations held and prospects connected with the U.S. market.

The growth attained by the Cuban tourism industry was corroborated during the 36th International Tourism Fair, FITCuba 2016, recently held in Havana, with tourism authorities and experts predicting a further increase for this industry based on the content of the negotiations held and prospects connected with the U.S. market.In line with the 12 categories approved by the U.S. government, a total of 161,233 U.S. nationals came to Cuba (76 percent increase) in 2015, together with 390,000 Cuban-Americans.

However tourist travel bans remain in place for U.S. citizens, as well as the commercial and economic restrictions contained in the blockade policy maintained against the island for more than 50 years.

So far this year 2016, more than 94,000 U.S. tourists have come to Cuba (93 percent increase), together with 115,000 Cuban-Americans.

Tourism has been registering satisfactory indicators so far this year, with more than 1.5 million tourists’ arrivals registered by April, accounting for a 13.5 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Held between May 3 and 7 at Havana’s Morro-Cabaña historical complex, the fair welcomed over 5,000 tourism experts from 59 countries -- more than 200 from the United States -- and 17 ministers that had attended the 50th meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Commission for the Americas.

The organization’s Secretary General Taleb Rafai also came, accompanied by a team of experts from that UN organization. 

The need to improve Cuba’s tourist infrastructure and the quality of services were recurrent topics for discussion.

Cuba’s Tourism Minister, Manuel Marrero, said the country had received 3,524,779 foreign visitors in 2015, a 17 percent increase compared to 2014.

According to these figures, 1,685,000 visited Havana in 2015, while 572,000 visited the capital in the first trimester of 2016 (37.4 percent rise).

The top ten issuing markets of tourists to Cuba are Canada (1,300,000 in 2015), Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina (44 percent are repeat visitors).

Last year, several hotels were awarded the TravelChoice distinction granted by TripAdvisor. The best reviewed all inclusive hotel resorts from the Caribbean featured six from Cuba: Royalton Cayo Santa María, Meliá Cayo Coco, Paradisus Rio de Oro, Meliá Buenavista, Royalton Hicacos Varadero and Iberostar Varadero.

Meanwhile, Havana’s Old Square was placed second among the top ten places of interest in the Caribbean, and Trinidad’s Plaza Mayor in central-southern Cuba was in the eighth position.

Likewise, Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts occupied the second place among the top ten museums in the Caribbean, while Havana featured as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and the Paradisus de Cayo Largo beach as the third best preferred beach.

Direct income from tourism climbed to $2.8 billion, representing growth of 10.7 percent and a 13.4 percent increase in profits.

This sector is Cuba’s second largest source of foreign currency income, after the export of services.

A total of 126 foreign investment projects have been presented so far for the sector, as the prelude to building new international economic associations.

By the end of April, 76 administration and sales contracts had been signed with 17 foreign hotel chains, involving more than 39,400 hotel rooms (66 percent of the total number of rooms in Cuba).

Luxury hotels such as Hotels Manzana de Gómez, Packart and Prado y Malecón are being built in Havana (the project up to the year 2030 involves 22 facilities with 7,000 new rooms).

Cuban authorities regard the leisure industry as a strategic sector for the country’s economic and social development.

Progress has also been achieved by the non- state sector, with more than 1,700 private restaurants known as paladares and 16,000 rooms for rent at homestays, according to local sources.

Cuban Tourism Ministry Officials said the number of hotels is likely to have doubled by 2019 at a ratio of 5,000 rooms a year.

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