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CUBA LOOKS TO BUILD ON STRONG 2011 FOR THE NEW YEAR

12-07-2011 
As Cuba nears 1 million Canadian visitors for 2011,it prepares for more upgrades, rooms & visitors next year
Zachary-Cy Vanasse

Eduardo Acosta de Arriba, president, Gran Caribe; Antonio Cruz Ricardo, vice president, Cubanacan; Ruben Jimenez, director, Cuba Toursit Board - Toronto; Jose Manuel Bisbe York, commercial director, Mintur & Frank Pais Oltuski Rodriguez, vice president of marketing, Gaviota

Representatives from Cuba’s hotels and minister of tourism's office were in Toronto on Tuesday as part of a short trade mission to meet with Canada’s travel providers, tour operators and hotel companies that work with Cuba. The purpose of their time in Canada was to finalize details in preparation for the upcoming Sun season.

While in Canada, the Cuban representatives took time to sit down with members of the travel media in order to discuss Cuba’s strong year and upcoming developments in the destination.

“We are currently over 900,000 Canadian visitors to Cuba. We are close to seven per cent up versus last year... That’s why with the numbers we have, we are pretty confident that by Dec. 31 we will have a million Canadians for the first time in Cuba,” said Ruben Jimenez, director, Cuba Tourist Board – Toronto.

Joining Jimenez were Jose Manuel Bisbé York, commercial director, Mintur; Frank Pais Oltuski Rodriguez, vice president of marketing, Gaviota; Antonio Cruz Ricardo, vice president, Cubanacan and Eduardo Acosta de Arriba, president, Gran Caribe.

One significant change for the upcoming season is the return of a Canadian hotel chain in Cuba following the opening of Sunwing’s Memories Hotels and Resorts. This marks the first time a Canadian company has operated hotels in Cuba since Delta left the destination some years ago.

The first three Memories resorts are the four-star, 328-room Memories Caribe Beach Resort, on Cayo Coco; the five-star, 720-room Memories Azul Beach Resort on the island of Cayo Santa Maria; and the five-star, 666-room Memories Paraiso Beach Resort on Cayo Santa Maria. The fourth resort, Memories Flamenco, in Cayo Coco, currently in the final stages of construction, will be a five-star 600-room resort, set to open in early 2012.

The five-star Memories Hotels and Resorts joins a trend in Cuba that will see the number of five-star properties in the destination increase greatly in the coming year. Of the approximately 2,000 new rooms on offer in Cuba for the coming year, approximately 1,700 will be five-star, according to York.

“Most of the new projects are five-star,” said Jimenez of Cuba’s new efforts to offer more upscale properties. “It’s definitely going to change the perception (of the destination)."

Cuba is also working to upgrade much of its tourism infrastructure. One of the main investments recently is the marina at Varadero, according to Rodriguez. The marina will open in stages between now and its finalization in 2015. When complete the marina will have space for 1,200 boats, will include a five-star, 400-room hotel and include two apartment buildings.

Other infrastructure upgrades include highway upgrades, improvements at the Havana airport and the complete renovation of the Varadero airport.

There are also plans to diversify the destination's offerings as Cuba looks to offer more MICE options, eco-tours, cultural programs, marinas as well as scuba tournaments, said York.
 
The Cuba Tourist Board will be informing agents of the upgrades, new resorts and additional five-star options through a series of presentations and seminars in 2012.
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