Cuba and Turkey seek to boost tourism

Havana, July 12 (RHC)-- Authorities from Cuba and Turkish Airlines signed a memorandum of understanding this week “to boost tourism between the two nations,” Juventud Rebelde reported.

The agreement was signed at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba by Bárbara Cruz, marketing general director of the island’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), and Mustafa Dogan, sales vice president for the Americas of the Turkish airline.

After signing the agreement, Cruz said the document will allow “having closer links in tourism and promoting mutually beneficial actions for the two nations.”

She commented that since the opening of that airline’s direct flights to the island at the end of 2016, the number of visitors from that country has multiplied, exceeding 17,500 in 2018, a figure “with the possibility of increasing.”

For his part, Dogan reported that Turkish Airlines flies to 124 countries and 320 destinations, and that thanks to the agreement signed it will be able to promote the Cuba destination in many countries, “because about 46 million tourists annually visit Turkey.”

Cuba and Turkey have signed several instruments on tourism since the intergovernmental agreement signed in 1999, Prensa Latina news agency recalled.

In 2015, the Ministries of Tourism of both countries signed a memorandum of understanding, and on February 27 they signed a Tourism Cooperation Action Plan aimed at the areas of health tourism, thermal tourism, investments in tourism and hotel management.

Edited by Jorge Ruiz Miyares
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Cuba Expects Over Four Million Tourists despite Blockade

Cuba expects to close the year with the arrival of 4,300,000 tourists, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced Friday.

It is a lower figure than the original plan, particularly because of the tightening of the U.S. blockade against Cuba, which includes new bans on visits by citizens, cruise ships, sailboats and airplanes from the northern country, the official said. Before the MPs of the National Assembly of People's Power and in the presence of President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the Minister of Tourism said that these measures caused a reduction in tourism activity of 20.33 percent in June.

In 2018, 4,732,280 tourists arrived, so the goal for 2019, after Washington's bans, will be cut by 10 percent.

He said the country intended to receive one million cruise ship passengers this year. At the moment we don't have any ship operating in Cuba,' he said.

There have been 2, 468 023 visitors and the year should end with more than four million tourists despite the effects of the blockade, Marrero assured.

He added that in 2019 Cuba will have 4,000 new rooms, while the investment process advances for the renovation and construction of hotels as well as for extra hotel activities.

Marrero pointed out that the conditions are being prepared for the construction of the country's first theme park, and the number of dolphinariums is increasing.

He emphasized the safety conditions of the Cuban destination, one of the reasons expressed by visitors to choose Cuba.

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Ministry of Tourism Promotes Cuba Destination in Mexico

Tourism Advisor of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico, Xiomara Martinez, met this Thursday with about twenty tour operators to whom she explained a plan to market Cuban destinations.

The advertising program will begin on the 23rd in Veracruz, will continue in Puebla and Toluca, and will close on the 27th in Mexico City where it is estimated that more than 250 tour operators from all over the country will attend.

In these places there will be presentations of tourist destinations with the assistance of a Cuban delegation of tourism representing the Ministry, hotels, Palco Group among others, which will participate in these events as part of the program My Authentic Cuba.

There will be presented, the official said, the tourist attractions in the different specialties including congresses and legendary city destinations, everything as part of the celebrations for the 500 years of the foundation of Havana, which makes the offers more attractive.

The Mexican Association of Travel Agencies will be at the center of all scheduled events.

AMAV is an organization that works with the aiming to join and to represent the Mexican travel agencies in all its modalities, as well as other companies related to the tourist activity.

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Despite new limits, Cuba tour operators see a way forward

Tour operators are saying that the Trump administration's ending of the people-to-people category of Cuba travel will not impact their operations.

The administration on Tuesday imposed major new restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, including a ban on people to people travel and travel by cruise ship.

However, many tour operators say their tours do not operate under the people to people category that has been banned and will continue to operate under the assumption that the other categories of authorized travel to Cuba are not affected.

One of them, "support for the Cuban people," is commonly used by Cuba tour operators, including Cuba Candela, which said that its tours remain legal under the new rules.

"Our clients participate in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people and engage in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people, through wonderful immersive cultural experiences that comply with U.S. travel rules," said Cuba Candela CEO Chad Olin. "We continue to operate business as usual, and we continue to guarantee compliance with U.S. law."

Cultural Cuba owner David Lee said, "Removing people-to-people does not affect companies like mine. We only do support for the Cuban people, humanitarian and religious travel on a private custom basis for our clients. These forms are still legal and it's business as usual for us."

Ya'lla Tours president Ronen Paldi said it has been operating tours since 2002 "with other legal provisions, other than [people-to-people]."

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, was one of several companies that was analyzing the new laws and seeing how their tours would be impacted.

"There are still a number of ways to legally visit Cuba. Commercial flights were left intact and any previously made reservations can go forward," Laverty said. "We will study the new regulations and figure out how to continue to legally take thousands of Americans to Cuba going forward."

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Havana’s 500th Anniversary: Energetic, Engaged, Enthusiastic and Defiant

One of the most fascinating places in Havana is the rooftop of the Parque Central Hotel. In the late afternoon, you can sip an excellent mojito next to the outdoor pool, while the addictive rhythms of the Buena Vista Social Club song “Chan Chan” or a pumped-up version of “Quezas, quezas, quezas” is performed by the energetic band. 

When you gaze next door, you find a 1917 building that has been totally renovated as the luxury 5-star Hotel Manzana Kempinski. And at street level, a legion of colorful classic cars from the 1940s and 1950s – now converted to taxis — are waiting for hotel customers. Farther afield lies the ornate Neo-Baroque architecture of the Gran Teatro de la Habana, with the huge dome of the Capitolo as its next-door neighbor. Resembling the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the dome of the legislative branch of Cuba’s government is partially covered by a tarpaulin, as renovations surge ahead for Nov. 16, 2019, the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Guided tours of the Capitolo reveal a truly Cuban-styled building, from the two giant bronze statues by Angelo Zanelli, representing the people and the twin ethics of work and progress, and past the bronze doors that illustrate the history of Cuba. Once inside, under the dome, is Zanelli’s statue, La Republica, standing 17 meters (55.7 feet) tall and weighing 49 tons. It is the third biggest bronze statue in the world; and after renovations are complete, the huge drapery hiding the statue will be removed in time for the 500th anniversary celebration. 

In reality, according to Manuel Marrero Cruz, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, “the 500thanniversary is no longer November 16th. It’s every day of 2019.”

Havana 500th Anniversary
Manuel Marrero Cruz, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism.


First-hand report from FITCuba 2019

At FITCuba 2019 (Feria Internacional de Tourismo de Cuba), held from May 6 to 10, the atmosphere was energetic, engaged, enthusiastic, and even defiant. At the official inauguration of the event, Minister Cruz lauded the tourism accomplishments of Cuba, since Oct. 28, 1492, when Columbus set foot on the island and noted that, “This is the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”

The tourism minister reported that Havana is the number one inbound center for tourism in Cuba, with 59 airlines directly connecting Havana to 36 cities and a cruise port serviced by 17 cruise lines (which helped to account for a 49.5% increase in cruise passengers from 2017 to 2018).  Minister Cruz noted that 4.7 million foreign visitors arrived in Cuba in 2018, with Canada accounting for 1.1 million of those visitors (roughly 23%), followed by Americans, Cuban Ex-pats; and visitors from Mexico, Russia, China, Columbia, and Portugal. 

Echoing the words of Renaldo Garcia Zapata, the President of the Government of Havana, who declared that “Havana provides an absolutely safe environment for tourism,” Minister Cruz cited a survey where 600,000 visitors said they chose Cuba for its reputation as a safe tourism destination. “There are no drug cartels or kidnappings here,” he said.

Minister Cruz stated that the Cubans are “educated, hospitable people” who care about the country and the environment. There are nine UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island; 14 national parks; and 960 kilometers (596 miles) of white sand beaches, with Veradero rated as the No. 2 beach destination in the world.

He acknowledged complaints from visitors about Cuba’s poor internet connectivity and noted that, in 2019, all 4- and 5-star hotels will have WiFi; and that the number of “hot spots” will increase throughout the country to include some of the streets and parks in major cities. 

And on the theme of “connectivity,” Minister Cruz said that “nature camping” was one of the current projects of the Ministry, as a response to travelers seeking closer ties to the land and the people. He stated that while 4,000 new hotel rooms would open in Cuba in 2019, there were already 26,000 home rental rooms available for those who preferred to experience the current travel trend of living like a local.

Minister Cruz remarked that, at this year’s 39th FITCuba Conference, there were 198 reporters representing 34 countries. Later in his closing remarks, he returned to the theme of international cooperation and respect as a beacon of strength for the future, but in the context of recent pronouncements by the U.S. of strengthening the blockade of Cuba and putting teeth into Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (allowing U.S. nationals to sue for damage for private property seized during the Cuban Revolution). The Minister defiantly proclaimed in an emotional tone, “We have proven ourselves in the past, we are proving ourselves now, and we will keep doing it in the future.” And he stated, as he did in his opening remarks, that in the spirit of “unity, fraternity, solidarity, and peace, we are convinced that a better world is possible.”

Maria Reyes Maroto Illera, the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism from Spain, the guest country for FITCuba 2019, noted outright that “Spain and the European Union are opposed to the re-enactment of Helms-Burton.”  She then paid an emotional tribute to the host city when she declared that “Havana is a mood.” She cited the architecture, the “castles of the 18th century,” and the rich cultural heritage that keeps drawing tourists back to the city.

Havan
Maria Reyes Maroto Illera, the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism from Spain, the guest country for FITCuba 2019.


A view from the street

And for this writer, my return to Havana after a five-year absence, was a meaningful, eye-opening experience. In between conference sessions, I had the opportunity to walk the Malecon (the oceanside boardwalk), to see new architecture that had replaced some of the crumbling buildings, a number of trendy-looking bars and restaurants, as well as colorful and lively art installations that were part of the Biennial Art Festival. I also walked the historic downtown core of the city several times, from the Kempinski Hotel, through the five historic plazas (Catedral, Vieja, San Francisco, Santo Cristo, and Armas), through side streets with bodegas, murals and hidden art galleries; and on to the Mercado Central de San José, that huge, warehouse, souvenir emporium near the cruise dock. 

Throughout the city, I saw buildings under renovation as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations (in fact, there are supposedly 4,500 such projects in the works); and learned that the person mostly responsible for this transformation is Eusebio Leal Spengler, the official historian of Havana. He spoke at FITCuba, driving home the point that his passion for Havana incorporates the preservation of the city’s history, heritage and traditions, without turning the city into a sterile, living museum. His goal is to create a dynamic, interactive atmosphere for locals and visitors alike. 

It has been 500 years since King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of “city” (cuidad) — and we know that not only does every city have a personality of its own, but that every visitor has special interests that inevitably intersect with what the city has to offer. In Havana, it’s a combination of fortresses, personalities (Hemingway, Marti, Guevera, Castro), the influence of Santeria, the dazzle of La Tropicana, plus architecture, food, art, history, mojitos, or a ride in a 1948 Chevy. And with myriad changes on the horizon, the 500th anniversary is certainly just the starting point for Havana.   

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Vietnam Welcomes 4.5 Million Foreign Tourists in First Quarter

More than 4.5 million foreign tourists have visited Vietnam in the first three months of 2019, a good start towards the goal to receive 18 million during the year.

That figure represents a seven percent growth over the first quarter of 2018, a year in which the nation received 15.6 million foreign vacationers, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism reported on Tuesday.

Although China tourists fell by 5.6 percent, the Chinese market still produce the largest amount of tourists travelling to Vietnam with 1.2 million, more than one third of the total.

Despite that fall, Asia continued to be the main tourist market for Vietnam with a 7.5 percent increase. The most notable growth was Thailand (49.3 percent), Taiwan (26 percent), South Korea (24.1 percent), Malaysia (11.1 percent ) and Japan (8.3 percent).

The growth in Europe (6.1 percent) and the Americas (6.3 percent) were also encouraging.

Vietnam began 2019 with a solid tourist support that in terms of lodging, the country has more than 500,000 rooms, distributed mostly in 116 five stars hotels, 259 four star hotels and 488 three star hotels.

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Cuba To Welcome 5 Million Visitors In 2019

This year could be a banner year for Cuban tourism.

As the Caribbean island continues to court foreign vacationers, the tourism ministry announced that they expect over five million visitors in 2019.

If the island hits their goal, it will be the 12th consecutive year of growth in tourism numbers for the Pearl of the Antilles, with 7.4% growth between 2018 and 2019, said the ministry. Tourism incomes are estimated to exceed 3 billion dollars in Cuba in 2019 , according to the ministry.

Experts say that the expansion of accommodation choices – including five-star hotels in Havana – as well as the increase in competitively priced hotels and casa particulares has resulted in more interest for vacationers. Additionally, in November, Havana will celebrate its 500th year anniversary.

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“Five million is realistic,” said John McAuliff, executive director of Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in an email. “Americans are slowly waking up to the reality that they are still free to travel independently under the Support for the Cuban People license.”

Continuing, he said that “the number could go even higher if Congress ends all restrictions on travel by Americans. Under Democratic control, the House could match bipartisan support in the Senate to allow normal travel and agricultural sales.”

The top two tourism markets remain Canada and the United States, although Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba for tourism explicitly. (Americans can still travel to Cuba legally under one of these 12 permitted categories.)

Cuba has also launched promotional campaigns recently to attract more travelers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain as well as emerging markets like China, Vietnam and South Africa.

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Although regulations dictate that Americans are not allowed to go on a ‘typical’ beach vacation while exploring the country, Steve Powers, owner of Hidden Treasure Tours in Long Beach, New York, said during last month's New York Times Travel Show that traveling to Cuba legally remains a great deal as compared to the rest of the Caribbean, thanks to cheap, commercial flights from the US.

In 2018, the island welcomed 4.78 million visitors with less than one million of those travelers arriving by cruise ship.

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World Awards Back Cuban Tourist Destinations' Quality

Havana, Jan 5 (Prensa Latina) Cuba holds today various awards that distinguish its accommodations and tourist destinations as some of the most outstanding in the area, and even in the world.

Thus, during the last weeks of 2018, the Buenavista and Paradisus Rio de Oro hotels, both belonging to the Melia Cuba hotel chain, received the Condé Nast Johansens 2019 Excellence Award for the region of Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The facilities, located in the tourist poles of Cayo Santa Maria and Holguin, respectively, are distinguished by high standards of comfort and a refined gastronomic offer.

According to Melia, this distinction is the result of quality surveys of guests added to the assessment of the international team of inspectors and is a relevant worldwide recognition to the travel and tourism industry.

Also, just a few days ago, Varadero was ranked third best beach in the world according to the Travellers' Choice 2018 Awards.

The award, based on the opinions of millions of visitors of different nationalities, places the Cuban resort in the third seat only preceded by Grace Bay beach (Turks and Caicos Islands), and Baia Do Sancho, in Brazil.

There are currently 52 hotels in Varadero, according to recent data released by the delegation of the Ministry of Tourism in the province of Matanzas.

On top of that, the World Travel Awards, in its 2019 edition, included seven facilities of the Melia Cuba chain in its list of nominations according to information provided by the corporation.

Created in 1993, the World Travel Awards distinguish quality in various activities related to the global travel and tourism industry and are currently recognized internationally as a seal of excellence for the tourism industry.

In addition, he added, it is estimated that for the first time tourism revenues exceed three billion dollars, representing an increase of 17 percent in this field.

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