The Cuba Tourist Board welcomed nearly 200 travel advisors and industry executives Thursday night (Oct. 20) at Le Treport Weddings and Convention Center in Toronto to update the industry on a "new and improved Cuba."
This included the island’s new advertising campaign, a travel app, a new specialist program, new destinations, more flights, and elevated services.
Unica Cuba Night, the tourist board's first live event in three years, began with a trade show, where travel advisors had the opportunity to meet with fourteen major Canadian tour operators, airlines, and hotel partners including Air Canada Vacations, Barcelo Hotel Group, Be Live Hotels, Blue Diamond Resorts, Gaviota Hotel Group, Gran Caribe Hotels, Hola Sun, Kempinski Hotels, Melia Hotels International, MGM Muthu Hotels, Sirenis Hotels, Sunwing Vacations, Swoop, and Transat.
The evening continued with dinner and a presentation featuring live music from Cuba Salsa and dancers from Cuba who gave guests a taste of Cuban rhythms.
"It's a beautiful, amazing evening," Lessner Gomez, director of the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto, told the audience. "The country is emerging better and improved, modern and sustainable, ready to receive Canadians for another successful winter season."
As part of his thanks to the travel trade, Gomez shared that Canadian arrivals have been on the rise in Cuba this year, totaling 340,876 to date, and the winter season is expected to perform similarly to 2019.
In an interview with PAX, Gomez shared that Cuba used the last two years to improve the tourist infrastructure, including renovating many hotel properties.
As of early this year, Cuba lifted all COVID travel restrictions, and excursions and night entertainment have resumed. The country is open and all facilities are fully functional, Gomez said.
Gomez shared with PAX that the tourism board is currently seeing over 100 flights per week from Canada to Cuba and expects this to increase further with continued trade support.
"It's very important to thank our Canadian tour operators and airlines for the support and hard work that they have given to Cuba during this hard time, especially our travel agents," he said.
Gomez specifically cited the efforts to increase airlift post-pandemic by Air Canada Vacations, Hola Sun/Caribe Sol with OWG Airlines, Sunwing, Transat, and Westjet.
Swoop Airlines will begin its seasonal, non-stop service between Toronto and Varadero on January 11, 2023.
Among the biggest improvement around the island is the Wi-Fi and internet service. Gomez shared with PAX that to date, Wi-Fi infrastructures have been put in place at nearly 85 per cent of the hotels in Cuba.
Currently, over 347 hotels offer free Wi-Fi access in their hotel lobby, swimming pool areas, as well as in some rooms. There's also free WiFi in most of the VIP sections of the airport.
By the end of 2023, 100 per cent internet connectivity is likely to be achieved, according to the tourism board.
Gomez updated the audience on changes to the island's currency, where the CUC has been taken out of circulation and payment can now be made in the resort areas with debit or with Visa credit cards (no cash).
Pre-paid cards are available at most hotels and tourist establishments in Cuba for visitors who do not have credit cards.
Tourists only need the Cuban peso (CUP) if they travel outside the tourist zones. They can exchange their Canadian dollars for CUP at airports, banks, hotels, and exchange houses (CADECAS).
Advance travel information site
The Cuba Tourist Board says that passengers' arrival in Cuba may just get easier.
By using the new D'VIAJEROS website, passengers will be able to fill out the health affidavit and custom declaration 48 hours before arrival, which will make the airport process more efficient.
Tourist cards are still distributed on airplanes. However, Lessner hinted this might change soon.
New destinations & hotels
This winter, new destinations and hotel openings are offered in different areas across the country, including:
- El Tesoro del Atlantico Hotel by Gaviota Hotel Group will be the first resort to open in a brand-new destination called El Ramon de Antilla Peninsula. This area is known for its secluded beaches and close proximity to the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and the natural protected areas of Pinares de Mayari and Cayo Saetia.
Jardines del Rey area (served by Cayo Coco airport)
- Gran Aston Paredon Hotel by Aston Hotels is a brand-new island that just opened, nestled between Cayo Coco and Cayo Cruz, about half an hour from Cayo Coco airport, where clients can enjoy that pristine, spectacular beach that Cuba is known for, laidback ambiance and water sports.
- The Mystique Regis Havana by Royalton Hotels
- Sol Caribe Beach by Melia Cuba Hotels with 393 rooms.
- At Ancon beach, the five-star Melia Trinidad Peninsula by Melia Cuba Hotels will add 400 rooms to the destination of Trinidad.
Cayo Largo destination
- On Nov 4, an enhanced Cayo Largo destination will reopen for Canadian travellers. All hotels will be managed by Blue Diamond Resorts, and they will be fully renovated and ready for the winter season.
- David Wright, director of sales, Ontario and Atlantic Canada for Sunwing shared with PAX the company's excitement to have eleven hotels on the island ranging from large-scale properties to smaller villa-type accommodations. Sunwing will be serving Cayo Largo with direct flights from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, and Halifax, as well as flights from Toronto and Montreal starting November 4, 2022.
- Aside from offering the most beautiful beaches in Cuba, Cayo Largo offers a variety of water sports including snorkeling from shore, fishing, scuba diving to enjoy coral reefs and wrecks, catamaran cruises, and more.
- The tourism board suggests those who would like to see more of Cuba and visit the mainland can take excursions to Havana, which is a 35-minute flight away.
Travel Specialist Certification program
It was also announced that a hybrid Cuba Travel Specialist certification program will be launched in 2023.
After successfully completing the program, travel advisors will enjoy the following benefits:
- Certificate of graduation as a Cuba Specialist presented personally by the Ministry of Tourism of Cuba
- VIP on arrivals and departures at all airports in Cuba
- VIP invitation to most FAM TRIP by Cuba Tourist Board
- Free upgrade at all hotels in Cuba
- Discount on local excursions while visiting Cuba
- Annual recognition to the top seller to Cuba with a one-week all-inclusive vacation prize
- Top sellers Agents will be listed at www.gocuba.ca
Tourist guide App
A new app was also announced. It is expected to be released at the end of 2022.
This app serves as a tourist guide for clients and travel consultants to find out more about Cuba's different destinations. With this application, they can build their itinerary, reserve tours, hotels, and other services, and make other reservations.
Launched earlier this year, the tourism board shared that a new marketing campaign will be in full swing by the end of the year.
Unica Cuba promotes the country's uniqueness, distinctive culture, history, traditions, beaches, nature, safety, and most importantly, its unique people as the best ambassadors of Cuban tourism.
Throughout the campaign, Cuba aims to show how it combines tradition with modernity and is a warm and welcoming country for international tourists and business travellers.
Gomez concluded: "Unica because of the Cuban people; the Cuban people are the ones that make Cuba Unica."