U.S. Tourism to Cuba Revives After Months-Long Trump Slump-Sources

U.S. tourism in Cuba bounced back in June from a months-long slump, bolstered by increased visits from cruise ships that have emerged as the most vibrant part of a sector hurt by deteriorating relations under President Donald Trump.

Three different sources with access to Cuban tourism industry data said 68,000 Americans, not including Americans of Cuban origin on family visits, travelled to the island in June, a 5 percent increase from a year ago.

Even with that revival, the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba for the first half overall - not including Cuban-Americans - slumped 24 percent to 266,000, the sources said.

In the period January through June, some 50 percent of those U.S. visitors arrived on cruise ships, compared with 25 percent a year earlier, as operators such as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd added more stops on the island to their itineraries.

The drop in U.S. travel in the first half in part mirrored a broader decline in the Cuban tourism industry as it struggled to recover from last year’s devastating hurricane season in the Caribbean, the sources said.

Still there was also a notable impact from the hostile Trump administration, which has sought to reverse some of Democratic former President Barack Obama's opening to the island and has cracked down on independent Cuban travel by Americans.

Overall tourist arrivals to Cuba were down over 5 percent in the January-June period to roughly 2.5 million. That figure included the number of visitors arriving on cruise ships during the first six months, which was 379,000, up 45 percent.

In terms of boosting the economy, cruise arrivals tend to spend little, while those vacationing on the island spend much more at hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants.

The U.S. trade embargo restricts Americans who visit the island to non-tourist activities such as cultural, religious and educational travel or family visits.

The overall visitor numbers also included Cuban-Americans visiting their homeland. That number increased by 21 percent during the first half of this year, to more than 250,000, compared with the same period in 2017, in part because it has become more difficult for relatives to visit the United States, the sources said.

Unexplained health incidents that sickened 26 U.S. diplomats, which the United States has sometimes referred to as attacks, led Washington to cut its Havana embassy to a skeletal staff last year, forcing Cubans to travel to third countries for U.S. visas.

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Growing Investments in Cuban Tourism (PART II)

Havana, Jul 12 (Prensa Latina) Cuba's investments in tourism are growing at present with a view to boosting the development of the travel industry, according to official reports.

The general director for development at the Cuban Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), Jose Daniel Alonso, is enthusiastic in that regard and is optimistic about the growing spiral in that sector.

That important investment process will add 5,000 hotel rooms in 2019, totaling 9,500 rooms completed at the end of next year.

Among the examples presented by the official is the Packard Hotel, which is scheduled for completion in 2019 in Havana.

Another program in charge of MINTUR is the extra hotel sector, which is progressing more slowly, due to the impact of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but it will have a similar importance for the country's tourist development.

That program covers the north coast of central Ciego de Avila province, Cayo Santa Maria and Varadero Beach, including improvements in the hotel rooms.

Alonso recalled that on September 15, 2017, all Cuban tourist destinations were operational despite the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

The executive highlighted Santiago de Cuba as a region that attracts many holidaymakers, because it is closely linked to the country's history and culture.

Another region where investments are being made is Havana, which will turn 500 years on November 16, 2019, thus the importance of prioritizing the Cuban capital.

These projects are complemented by the development of real estate companies, as a result of which two joint ventures were set up in the Bellomonte region in Havana.

Two new joint ventures will start up operations in 2018, one of which works in Punta Colorada, in western Pinar del Rio province, where it carries out projects consisting of a marina and a tourist port in its second stage on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula.

El Salado Beach, relatively near Havana, benefits from a real estate project by the Spanish group Globalia and the company AirEuropa. Works are scheduled for completion in 2019.

In that regard, 95 management contracts have been signed with 21 companies, and MINTUR is seeking to attract more foreign high-rank firms like Switzerland's Kempinski, India's Mundo Hoteles, and other enterprises from countries like Singapore.

In total, Cuban authorities handle 140 opportunity projects in tourism in the hotel and extra hotel sectors and new projects. There are also 13 real estate plans, 11 of which have already been identified.

That investment process is based on an increase in foreign tourist arrivals in the country, which must be visited by 4.7 million holidaymakers this year, according to official estimates.

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Domestic Market Grows in Cuban Tourist Destination

Ciego de Avila, Cuba, Jul 2 (Prensa Latina) National tourism is today the second largest visitor market for the King's Gardens (Jardines del Rey) recreation center, located on the northern coast of the central province of Ciego de Avila.

The sub-delegate of the Ministry of Tourism in the territory, Lesner Gomez, pointed out that for the current summer season they expect to surpass the figure of Cuban visitors in the 17 hotels of the Coco and Guillermo keys compared to the last stage.

National tourists will be able to enjoy a renovated hotel facility with better comfort, after the intense recovery process of the facilities seriously affected by the scourge of Hurricane Irma in last September, Gomez explained.

He stressed that the extra-hotel network was also remodeled with improvements in the image of its units, such as the dolphinarium, the Boat Adventure, the Marlin marinas of Guillermo Key and Gaviota on Coco Key, as well as the La Silla restaurant-parador and the mall, among others.

In July and August there will be excursions from the keys to the cities of Ciego de Avila and Moron, which will include visits to cultural, historical and nature sites.

King's Gardens has 17 hotel facilities with over 7,500 rooms, almost 40 kilometers of excellent beaches, lavish sea beds and a rich wildlife.

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Sol Melia Cayo Guillermo Increases Offers for National Market

Cuban nationals are the second largest market in Jardines del Rey during the months of July and August thanks to the hotel options offered to its visitors.

Sol Melia Cayo Guillermo is an installation that readjusts its prices during commercial fairs in the cities of Ciego de Avila and Moron to attract Cuban nationals that occupy the majority of their rooms during the summer, said Nelido Casay Diaz, sales director of the hotel.

She said that during the summer months, the hotel chain has special rates for adults over 60 and children from 0 to 12 years of age are free of charge.

Something that distinguishes us is the service, personalized attention, it could not be different with the Cuban visitors who take time to save money in order to enjoy some days in the keys, and if they select our installation, we must make sure they feel at home, she said.

During the summer months, they have a program called Me Dicen Cuba, which consists in reinforcing our recreational activities, domino and chess tournaments, poolside shows, Olympic afternoons and 14 night performances that includes fiestas at the beach among other options.

Not only do we welcome the tourists from Ciego de Avila province, but also from Havana, Varadero, Camaguey, Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus many of them are repeaters and share their experiences to others, said the sales representative.

Casay Diaz referred to the improvement of the installation after the effects of Hurricane Irma in the region. During the refurbishing of the hotel, they changed the color of the paint, glasswork in the lobby, the reception has a new image, and they have increased the lightening in different areas.

Adding sand to the beach area is part of the environmental protection process called Tarea Vida which began in 2016 and has benefited the hotel surroundings with a larger coastal area for its clients to enjoy.

Sol Melia Cayo Guillermo was inaugurated on May 5th, 1996 and currently has 268 rooms and one of its main attraction is the Kitesurf school of Jardines del Rey, mostly practiced in the winter season from October to April. (ACN)

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The 8th Excelencias Gourmet Seminar Now Underway in Havana

The eighth edition of the International Excelencias Gourmet Seminar kicked off Monday morning at the El Laguito protocol halls in Havana, an event organized by the Excelencias Group since 2011 and this time around zeroing in on tapas and cocktails. 

The Excelencias Group’s president and editor-in-chief, Jose Carlos de Santiago, delivered the keynote speech that officially opened the 2018 edition of this seminar that year after year has been increasingly catching the attention of Cuban and international gastronomy professionals. 

Mr. Jose Carlos de Santiago, who’s also the ambassador of the Iberian-American Gastronomy Academy to Latin America and the Caribbean, underscored the importance of tapas in Spanish cuisine and its close ties with drinks and cocktails. 

In the same breath, he highlighted the significance of a seminar that this year will be dedicated to cocktails, especially on the heels of the Iberian-American Gastronomy Academy’s decision to grant Havana the title of “Iberian-American Capital of Cocktails” in a ceremony held last month at the celebrated Tropicana Cabaret in Havana. An eye-catching lineup of international chefs, mixologists and experts is attending this year’s seminar, including Spanish bartender Frank Lola, Cuban sommelier Rene Garcia, Spanish chef Nacho Chicharro, Habanosommelier Juan Jesus Machin from Cuba, and Michelin-star Spanish chef Palmira Soler.  

The list also includes a newcomer from the UK: barista Dale Harris, winner of the 2017 World Barista Championship, and a repeater: Japanese sushi chef Hiroyuki Terada, holder of the World Guinness Record for most carrot slices in 30 seconds. The three-day event will stretch out through Wednesday with a turnout of over 300 delegates and guests from Cuba and around the world.



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Key Santa María, Host of FITCuba 2018

The 38th International Tourism Fair of Cuba (FITCuba 2018) will have at the beginning of May a very particular scenario claimed today by travelers worldwide for their vacations: Key Santa Maria.

Located in Cuba's north-central coastline, it is one of the most attractive proposals of Cuban tourism, understandably in fashion, due to its beauties and infrastructure.

FITCuba will take place there from May 2 thru 6, dedicated to the Sun and Beach modality and to the United Kingdom as guest of honor.

The beauty of Cuban landscapes have the aggregate value of a variety including getting to know gastronomic traditions, for example, life of rural families and of fishermen, getting to know what this country is all about.

Key Santa Maria is at present one of the most outstanding resorts, with many repeating visitors, above all European, confirmed by the fact that in 2012, this place was venue to FITCuba and now repeats to host the main event of this sector in the country.

The natural surroundings, an adequate infrastructure and cuisine that puts the accent on creole recipes, but complying with health values as world standards, characterize this point of the Caribbean nation.

If it is fashion we are speaking of, tourism is also part of it. Places that have much to show, enjoy and promotes coming back as is the case of Key Santa Maria, proposal of a recently justified fame.

This is paradise, with a cared-for environment and a hotel and service structure to surprise the most demanding, with a perfect combination of landscape and commodities, including nautical activities of high standards.

Islets of white sands and crystal-clear waters are characteristics that accompany other surrounding keys such as Ensenachos and Las Brujas.

To get there, the ideal way is through a stone road above the waters, known by Cubans as pedraplen, 48 kilometers long that goes from the town of Caibarien to Santa Maria key in the north central province of Villa Clara.

It is a road highlighted by the Iberoamerican Prize Bridge of Alcantara due to the respect to the environment and its length from the Bay of Buenavista, Natural Reserve of the Biosphere, to the keys.

Enjoyment includes diving, snorkeling, tours in yachts and other excursions, as authorities of the sector offer visitors more than 30 recreational options.

At present, near-by keys, with Santa Maria at the Forefront, the keys have two thousand 113 rooms in five hotels, with an architecture according with the environment.

Especially Key Santa Maria extends four kilometers long and two wide, making it the most important geographic group, with an área 18 square kilometers.

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Cuban Authorities Worried about Tourists' Visits to Viñales

The constant demand from travelers from all over the world to visit the western Cuba, particularly the Viñales Valley, has raised authorities'' concern about the need to improve the region''s protection.

An article published in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde stated that the dazzling cultural and historic values of a unique site in the world are under threat.

Viñales, due to its one-of-the-kind characteristics, has become a favorite destination for natural entertainment, mainly for foreign holidaymakers, a situation that can become a potential danger to the preservation of its landscape exclusiveness and native wealth.

The article added that Viñales is an emblematic territory in Cuba and the world.

It is a particually pleasant scenario where the valley and its town, declared a National Monument in 1978, Protected Area in 1998, Humankind's Cultural Landscape in 1999 and designated a National Park in 2001, are designed to be in total harmony.

Juventud Rebelde recalled that although this declaration was a tribute and pride for the country, as it was the first area in Latin America to get that condition, the risks that a paradisiacal site like this would attract international attention were never ignored.

Tourist arrivals in the Viñales Valley have increased, to the point that statistics from the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) show that more than 700,000 tourists visited that destination in 2016 and 600,000 did so in 2017.

The town was prepared to receive more holidaymakers every season, and it currently offers about 2,300 rooms for rent, 130 private restaurants known as 'paladares', and 5,000 self-employed workers in four hotels.

These statistics were provided by the president of the People's Power Municipal Assembly, José Antonio Valle, who is convinced that protecting is a top priority.

From the moment that the site was registered by United Nations Educational, Scienfici and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some recommendations were made to protect the site.

The vice-president of the National Heritage Council, Nilson Acosta, highlighted recently the need to take into account the possible effects of tourism.

Acosta explained that since 2000, the country has proposed to expand the accommodation capacity of the existing facilities instead of constructing new buildings.

However, the expansion of self-employment, and the fact that Pinar del Rio has no tourist resorts as such, compared to Matanzas (where Varadero Beach is located) or Holguin's northern Holguin region, has raised general interest for Viñales, he said.

Hence, people from outside the territory began to create facilities linked to tourism, such as gastronomic services and accommodation.

For her part, the director of the Technical Office of Monuments at the Provincial Center of Cultural Heritage, Nidia Cabrera, said that housing grew more than the population.

These statistics have made authorities to take appropriate measures to regulate the actions in the area, because in order to remain beautiful, harmonious and unique, Viñales should be protected, the article concludes.

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Cuban Services at Vietnam Tourism Fair

The International Tourism Fair of Vietnam has opened its doors here today as a platform in which neighboring nations and Cuba are participating, to promotes not only its traditional attractions but also the cultural product.

More than 650 travel agencies and national tourist promotion centers and 25 other countries and territories were invited to participate in this event.

The representatives exhibit their offers in 450 stands, corresponding to the plans of the Vietnamese government to promote the so-called hospitality industry and turn it into an economic pillar.

The promotion of the Caribbean nation's proposals, including health tourism, is handled by the Cuban embassy's commercial office, in a stand with abundant information on its destinations and the invitation of 'Start here your trip to Cuba'.

A key moment of the Cuban contribution to this event will be the presentation on Saturday, April 8th, of the cultural product, with music and typical dances.

The program includes a gastronomic festival with dishes not only from the hosts but also from other nations of the region and the opening tomorrow of a center for research,conservation and development of the Vietnamese cuisine, among other activities.

Deputy Culture, Sport and Tourism Minister, Huynh Vinh Ai, reiterated the importance the government has given to the development of this industry, after citing as an example the enactment of laws to encourage the growth of the tourist services.

Under the motto 'Hanoi-Vietnam's Tourism Destination' and dedicated to the United States, from where this nation intends to attract more travelers, this annual four-day fair coincides with a good moment of the sector in this country, appreciable in more than 10 million visitors last year.

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