“It’s a really good moment in our industry,” Lessner Gomez, the recently-appointed director of the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto, told PAX. “We are ready for the winter season. I think it’s going to be the best one.”
Gomez met with nearly 100 travel agents last night (Oct. 29) at Toula restaurant, located on the 38th floor of Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle hotel, to join hotels and tour operators – from both Canada and Cuba – in promoting Cuba’s latest and greatest tourism offerings.
“My mission is to work together with travel agents and agencies,” Gomez, who moved to Canada in September, told PAX at the dinner event, aptly-titled “Autentica Cuba."
To say Cuba has entered the busy travel season with flying Canadian colours would be an understatement.
According to the latest stats provided by Gomez, Cuba received 3,300,000 visitors at the end of September this year.
Of that amount, 858,940 visitors were from Canada.
“That is really important,” Gomez told PAX. “That means that the market to Cuba is still stable.”
New hotels are coming
With more than 26 gateways from Canada to Cuba, the sun-soaked, Caribbean destination is heading into winter full throttle as it commits to plans of opening 4,000 new hotels rooms in 2019 and 2020.
“We have practically new hotels in every single destination,” Gomez said, describing the new properties as “modern and upscale.”
Among Cuba’s newest products is a “new destination” – Cayo Cruz, which is near Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.
Valentin Cayo Cruz, which opens Nov. 1, will be the first hotel build in this destination, with 546 rooms for sale.
Surrounded by turquoise-blue waters and a beach “comparable to Cayo Largo,” Cayo Cruz is known for its fly fishing, scuba diving and range of other water sports, Gomez said.
Beside the Valentin hotel is a small boutique hotel with nearly 60 rooms: the Marina Plaza Hotel and Spa, which is operated by Gaviota Hotels.
Then there's the new Kempinski Cayo Guillermo, which sits in a region once favoured by author Ernest Hemingway (Guillermo was where Hemingway wrote his famous novel Islands in the Stream).
With 245 rooms, the contemporary hideaway will be the first non-all-inclusive hotel to open in the area.
Cuba is also making its first move into the gay and lesbian travel market: the incoming Rainbow Muthu Hotel in Playa Playuelas, next to Cayo Guillermo, is set to be Cuba’s first LGBT-focused hotel.
“It’s an opportunity for all people who want to visit Cuba to have the kind of vacation that they want and desire,” Ivan Pierri, a room division manager for MGM Muthu Hotels Cuba, told PAX.
On Cuba’s acceptance of LGBT people, Pierri called his country safe and progressive: “Developing every day, day-by-day,” he said.
By the end of this year, Havana – which is currently celebrating its 500th anniversary – will see more than a dozen new hotels.
Among them include the Vedado Azul Hotel, a 20-room hostel by Hotel Group Islazul in the central neighborhood of Vedado, the renovated Hotel Palacio Cueto in Old Havana, Paseo del Prado La Habana operated by AccorHotels (located at the corner of famous Malecón Blvd and Prado Blvd.), and Hotel Marques de Prado Ameno in the city’s historic centre.
These all follow the opening of Havana’s luxurious, brand new, 321-room Iberostar Grand Hotel Packard, which welcomed its first guests last fall.
Next year will also be a big year for Varadero, a popular beach resort town for Canadians, as it will host Cuba’s 40th annual FITCuba fair, an international event designed to promote and improve the country’s tourism experience.
As for the state of Cuba's current fuel shortage, Gomez said it is business as usual for tourism in his country.
"You can travel around Cuba," he said. "Everything is working normally."
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