Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cuba says tourism up 2% in 2008

Cuba says tourism up 2% in 2008
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By | Dec 28, 2008

$2 billion from 2.3 million visitors, with Canada, Italy, Spain and Britain topping the list.

HAVANA -- Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced that this sector grew by 2 percent in 2008 and will end the year with 2.3 million visitors, a number that breaks the record set in 2005.

Marrero said Friday that the sector managed to reverse the decrease that occurred in 2007, while giving an account of his management at a plenary session of Parliament attended by President Raul Castro.

Marrero, who gave no revenue figures for tourism, said the sector grew despite the devastation wrought by three hurricanes between August and November at resorts in the eastern cities of Holguin and Camag├╝ey and the western city of Pinar del Rio.

He said that plans for 2009 estimate that the island will welcome 2.5 million foreign visitors and increase both revenues and profits for the sector.

In 2007 Cuba received more than 2 million tourists, generating revenues close to $2 billion.

Canada remained the chief source of tourists to the island with more than 800,000 people, accounting for 24.5 percent of the growth, followed by Italy, Spain and Britain.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jamaica-Cuba Joint Destination

Jamaica and Cuba to sign tourism MoU

Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Email To Friend Print Version

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS): Jamaica will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Cuba within the next few weeks, which will provide for joint destination marketing and airlift arrangements between the Caribbean island states.

Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett. JIS Photo
Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett speaking at a media forum on issues affecting Jamaica's tourism sector at the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC) in Kingston last week, said the MoU evolved out of negotiations, which Prime Minister Bruce Golding commenced with the Cuban administration earlier this year, when he led a delegation, which included the Tourism Minister, to that Spanish-speaking nation.

"We started the negotiations, when the Foreign Affairs team, along with a team from my Ministry, visited Cuba again. about September, and we are ready now (to sign the MoU)," Bartlett explained.

The Minister informed that the agreement will facilitate the "marrying" of both countries as destinations of choice for visitors.

"Cuba has very strong European traffic at the moment. Perhaps 60 per cent of the Cuban traffic is out of Europe, for example, there are about 100,000 Italians that go to Cuba every year. The Europeans have the luxury of vacation time. they get three weeks or more," he said, noting that they could spent some of them time in Cuba and Jamaica.

Bartlett advised that Jamaica Vacations (JamVac), an agency of the Tourism Ministry, which has responsibility for developing new travel gateways for Jamaica, will be working with entities that co-ordinate flights out of Europe into Cuba, to facilitate code sharing arrangements with Air Jamaica.

In the meantime, he said that Jamaica could benefit from the possible lifting of the United States' economic embargo on Cuba.

"Jamaica and Cuba, as you know, enjoy a good relationship, and in our marketing, we have looked beyond the opening up of Cuba, and. completed (the) Memorandum of Understanding. We see Cuba's opening, not as a threat, but as an opportunity for co-marketing and for regional cooperation," Bartlett stated.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

American Society of Travel Agents Addresses Obama

ASTA Calls on New Administration to Lift Cuba Travel Ban

Requests that President-Elect Obama Support Americans’ Freedom to Travel

Alexandria, Va., Dec. 9, 2008ASTA is calling on President-elect Obama to permit Americans to travel to Cuba. During the 2008 presidential election campaign, the President-elect indicated that he supports changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, including a suspension of restrictions on family remittances, visits, and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans. While these proposals are encouraging, ASTA believes that Americans would best be served by an elimination of current restrictions on travel to Cuba.

In a letter dated Dec. 4, 2008, ASTA and a host of organizations from across the business community formally requested that the incoming Obama administration make immediate changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, including a removal of the travel ban.

“ASTA has long supported the principle that Americans ought to be allowed to travel across the globe without restriction,” said Chris Russo, ASTA’s president and chair. “While the U.S. government plays a legitimate and valuable role in exercising travel advisories to provide up-to-date information concerning the conditions in foreign countries, to use travel freedom as an instrument of foreign policy manipulation ultimately does harm to the very citizens it purports to protect.

“Were the American people allowed to travel to Havana, as they currently are allowed to travel to Pyongyang, Tehran, Khartoum, and other cities whose nations’ leaders are publicly opposed to American interests, they could serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values to the Cuban people. Routine interaction with American tourists and with Americans travelling for business, religious, or educational purposes would permit the Cuban people to see the United States in a new, more favorable light.”

Russo continued: “Beyond the obvious economic opportunities awaiting both countries if current travel restrictions were to be lifted, these changes would also benefit Cuba’s neighbors and the travel industry that services them. Whether as part of multi-destination cruises or as a stop along the way to other countries in the region, the resulting influx of travelers to Cuba cannot help but spark demand for new passenger routes, tour operations, and travel agent services.”

ASTA is committed to work with its allies from within and outside the travel and tourism industry to make the case for these policy changes, and it looks forward to working with the incoming Obama administration and the 111th Congress to ensure that Americans are free to travel the world without restriction from their own government.

For additional information on this issue, please visit or contact Colin Tooze, vice president of government affairs, at

The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. ASTA seeks a retail travel marketplace that is profitable and growing and a rewarding field in which to work, invest and do business

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cuban tourism surges as rest of Caribbean stalls

By AP | Dec 08, 2008

Havana — Cuba's vacation industry has remained as hot as the tropical sun here, even as the world economic crisis sparks cancellations and layoffs elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The communist country says it's booked solid through December and expects a record 2.34 million visitors this year — largely because global financial woes have so far been softer on Canada, its top source of visitors.

Luck also played a role: While the island suffered three devastating hurricanes, its key tourist sites were largely spared. And where beachfront resorts did get hit, the tourist-hungry government has made sure to repair hotels — in some cases even before damaged homes and infrastructure. Tourism is Cuba's second-largest source of foreign income, behind nickel production.

So while other islands in the region are laying off hotel workers and suspending construction of new property, Cuban resorts are gearing up for a strong season.

"We've had a few cancellations, but overall our numbers are still strong," said David Gregori of WowCuba, a travel agency in Charlottetown, Canada, that specializes in bicycle trips and other Cuba tours. "People still like to get away. They might try to save some money while doing it, but they're still traveling."

The number of foreign visitors has swelled nearly 11 percent this year, making up for 4 and 3 percent declines in 2006 and 2007, government figures show.

Officials offer no explanation for those slower years. But tour operators blame the island's low returning-visitor rates: Some tourists complain of poor service, crumbling infrastructure and lousy food, indicative of a communist system where shortages are common and state employees are unaccustomed to putting customer service first.

Still, the island is often cheaper than its subtropical neighbors, because many foreigners buy all-inclusive packages offering dozens of direct flights from Europe and Canada to airports all over Cuba, as well deep discounts on hotels, food and booze.

Others are enticed by the prospect of seeing one of only five communist countries left on the planet.

"A lot of people who are going for simple fly-and-flop holiday, and there are others who are going for history and culture, dancing, music," said Julia Hendry, marketing director for Europe and the United Kingdom of the Bahamas-based Caribbean Trade Organization. Cuba has both, she said, "whether it's swimming and beach or the excitement of Old Havana and Cuban history."

About 35 percent of this year's tourists have been Canadian, with 635,000 visiting through September, one-fifth more than in the same period last year. Canada's economy has not suffered the same losses now sapping the savings of homeowners in the U.S.

Russian tourists rose 40 percent to top 28,000 thru September, and Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero traveled to Moscow last month to further promote his country.

Visitors from Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany, the top suppliers of tourists after Canada, declined between 3 and 5 percent respectively, however.

Washington's trade embargo prohibits Americans from visiting, though island immigration records show about 41,000 came last year, many presumably without permission. But not relying on U.S. tourists may now be a blessing.

"Canadians are going to keep coming, especially with snow at home," said Helen Lueke of Sherwood Park, Canada, who has vacationed in Havana about once a year for decades.

Alexis Trujillo, Cuba's deputy secretary of tourism, predicted full bookings at least through next summer.

"There's no doubt tourism is always sensitive to everything," he said of global economic turmoil. "But we don't think that for Cuba that will mean an important decrease."

Tourism generated $2.2 billion for Cuba in 2007. The government has announced no plans to delay a $185 million plan to upgrade more than 200 resorts and build 50 boutique hotels by 2010 — not even after Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma hit within two months, causing more than $10 billion in damages and crippling farms and infrastructure across the countryside.

Construction crews assigned to vacation properties in Havana and elsewhere have largely continued working as normal since the storms.

In the eastern province of Holguin, the island's No. 3 tourist destination after Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, officials prioritized hotel repairs, trucking in workers to rebuild beachfront resorts. Holguin expects about 270,000 foreigners this year, about the same as 2007, despite scores of hurricane-related cancellations.

Havana's decaying yet picturesque historic district saw little damage, as did Varadero, 90 miles (140 kilometers) to the east, where white sand and warm, see-through surf has enticed everyone from Fidel Castro to Al Capone. A record million visitors are expected to stay in the town's 7,000 hotel rooms, which range in price from about $120 to $350 per night, with meals and open bar included.

Though European tour operators say sales have slowed since the financial crisis deepened in October, they expect trips to Cuba and some other Caribbean destinations to stay strong through the winter. Europeans are putting off short, side trips closer to home, but many families are still willing to splurge on once-a-year trips to the tropics, Hendry said.

"We have noticed that all-inclusive markets, where travelers can budget in advance, seem to be doing relative well. Cuba is quite well-populated with that sort of property," she said.

The industry could get another boast if President-elect Barack Obama keeps campaign promises to ease restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to visit their relatives on the island. Currently, those with family here can only come once every three years.

Nelson Gonzalez, a 56-year-old physical therapist, said his mechanic brother in Miami last came to visit in 2007. But his brother called the morning after the U.S. election to say he was reserving a seat on one of the many special charters that fly from the U.S. to Havana for the last week in January — confident Obama will ease family travel rules immediately after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

"When your family members reach a certain age, you don't know if in three more years everyone will still be here," said Gonzalez, who lives with his 80-year-old parents.

Though visiting family members spend less than tourists, Gregori said many Cuban Americans use his company to book rental cars in advance of visiting relatives.

But "if you want to rent a car in Havana in December, I don't have any," he said. "They've been sold out for months, and every year they get sold out earlier and earlier.

Friday, December 5, 2008

CUBA predicts 2.34 million tourists in 2008

Cuba consolidated as Caribbean destination
• The island is hoping to receive in excess of 2.34 million tourists this year

• FOR the fifth consecutive year, Cuba has already surpassed the two-million foreign visitors mark for this year, announced the Ministry of Tourism in a statement in which it highlighted the fact that on this particular occasion, the important target was reached on November 14, much earlier than in previous years.

These two million visitors have secured Cuba’s position as the preferred Caribbean destination and this reaffirm the recognition on the part of tourists who come to the island of its friendliness and delights and its people, including its culture, history, healthcare services, nature, safety, hospitality and quality.

This figure is even more relevant in a year in which the country has been lashed by three fierce hurricanes, testing Cuba’s organizational and response capacities in the face of such situations in order to guarantee the safety of every individual. In a short space of time, the island has managed to get back on its feet and reopen all the affected tourist resorts.

Tourism in Cuba has witnessed an accumulated growth of 10.7% compared to the same period last year, added the Ministry statement.

On celebrating the arrival of the two millionth tourist, we are also at the start of the 2008-2009 winter season and Cuba now has more rooms than ever available, with a greater level of comfort, guaranteed supplies and the same friendly treatment as always.

Destination Cuba maintains the challenge of continuing to elevate its standards of quality, prioritizing diversification of tourist options, continuing to work on the integration of culture and tourism and demonstrating to the world the potential of a destination that also possesses nature and wildlife, cities noted for their heritage, cultural and historical values and a hospitable population.

The Ministry of Tourism is confident of exceeding the figure of 2.34 million visitors by the end of 2008. (Lilliam Riera)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Arthur Frommer Predicts More Travel to Cuba

By Arthur Frommer

Published: Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.

It's obvious that the new president-elect will have more urgent matters than travel on his agenda. But after dealing with the economic crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran, health care, energy, education and more, he may have time for one or two lesser matters affecting the travel industry. Here, without partisan comment either pro or con, are the ways in which Barack Obama may affect the world of travel:

Greater support for Amtrak. The president-elect has supported larger appropriations for operating and expanding Amtrak, while his adversary, Sen. John McCain, was well-known for opposing that federal support. In addition, the Senate's most active opponent of Amtrak - Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire - was defeated for re-election, and there's no doubt that a far more favorable environment now exists for improving and expanding Amtrak.

In the campaign, Obama also favored creation of a National Infrastructure Bank for funding such initiatives as reviving the many hundreds of miles of abandoned railroad tracks, which would restore rail service to such cities as Nashville, Tenn. and Las Vegas. Though a primary purpose of that bank was to create jobs, the dividends to our travel facilities are obvious.

Support for the Travel

Promotion Act. Numerous members of Congress have endorsed a major program to establish an advertising and marketing medium for encouraging foreign travel to the United States, and Barack Obama was one of the early signatories of that legislation. Sen. McCain opposed such use of federal power, and now there is no doubt that a nationally supported organization for promoting travel to the U.S. will be launched.

Easing of restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba. Though the overall travel embargo on Cuba probably will be maintained, at least on paper if not in practice, there undoubtedly will be new regulations increasing the frequency by which Cuban-Americans can visit their relatives and raising the amount of money they can spend there. This was a major issue in South Florida during the campaign, and Sen. Obama went strongly on record as permitting greater travel there by Cuban-Americans. As to Cuban travel by the rest of us (and despite statements by President-elect Obama that he does not support ending the embargo quite yet), it's predicted by many that the federal government will no longer be eager to enforce those restrictions on leisure travel, and the situation will revert to what it was several years ago: A steady traffic there by Americans flying quietly into Havana from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico.

Major improvements in the air traffic control system: A constant emphasis was directed by candidate Obama to the need for greatly increased funding of air traffic control systems (and candidate McCain advocated the same). The new administration apparently will propose appropriating several billions of dollars to measures that should reduce delays and improve safety.

An increase in the number of foreign visitors able to come here without visas: Up until now, it was mainly citizens of Westernmost Europe (Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc.) who were allowed to visit the U.S. without first obtaining expensive visas. During the campaign, Sen. Obama suggested adding several other major countries to the visa-free list: Brazil, South Korea, Greece and others. Many observers predict that this may reverse the present downward trend of tourism to the United States.

[ Arthur Frommer is a travel guide, author and columnist. ]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

50th Anniversary Tour

Cuba Selling Tickets to Celebrate Revolution's 50th Anniversary
Fidel Castro's birthplace and the grave of Che Guevara are the hot places to be

HAVANA -- The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, which will be celebrated next Jan. 1, is the main theme of a tourism package being sold by Cuban and Argentine travel agencies including visits to sites such as Fidel Castro's birthplace and the mausoleum of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, organizers announced Tuesday.

The business manager of Cuba's Ecotur travel agency, Marlene Martinez, told Efe that the plan is a program with "social and political content" that will permit tourists to learn about the history of the island and "have an experience that won't be repeated, that is to say the 50th anniversary of the revolution."

Martinez said that the original idea for the travel package came from Argentine travel agency Carimar, which promotes the package directed at tourists from that country, but it does not exclude travelers from other Latin American nations from taking advantage of it.

Organizers forcast that some 150 tourists will purchase the plan and visit the island between Dec. 23-Jan. 3.

The itinerary begins in Havana and includes visits to the mausoleum where the remains of Argentine-born Che Guevara rest, in the central city of Santa Clara, and to the house where the Castros lived when Fidel was born, in the eastern town of Biran.

The visitors will also get to know the site where the yacht Granma landed in 1956 from Mexico carrying Cuban revolutionaries, an event marking the start of Castro's revolution.

Visitors will also travel to other spots linked with the armed struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and also will spend two days at a beach for a little pure fun and relaxation.

Wrapping up the trip will be the festivities in Santiago de Cuba marking the half-century anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, revolution. EFE

Monday, November 10, 2008

Executive Authority to Modify Travel Restrictions

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration can use its executive authority to the extent permitted by law to suspend most but not all of the limits on freedom of travel by Americans.

As a first step the new Secretary of the Treasury can instruct the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to establish general licenses for all non-tourist travel to Cuba as codified in 2000 (see below). The registration and costly reporting requirements of Travel Service Providers (TSP) can be abolished, enabling any US travel agent to book flights and accommodations for individuals and organizations entitled to general licenses.

Still prohibited, according to the law and regulations, would only be "tourist activities" which simply "means any activity with respect to travel to, from, or within Cuba that is not expressly authorized" by the codified categories. Beach resort packages, conventional cruise line itineraries, and other large scale commercial tourism, the principal potential sources of revenue to Cuba, will remain out of bounds.

OFAC's oversight and enforcement role regarding travel must be limited by the Secretary of the Treasury to providing information about the twelve authorized categories, the nature of a general license, and remaining restrictions on “tourist activities”, thus redeploying staff energies to real national security concerns. (Bush regulations should also be revoked that misuse customs agents to search for and confiscate personal goods and souvenirs brought from Cuba.)

Virtually any American with a serious interest will be immediately free to go to Cuba legally. Not-for-profit organizations, educational and cultural institutions, professional and trade associations, humanitarian and religious groups, businesses, Cuban Americans, and other motivated persons will be able to undertake, without politically motivated obstruction, any kind of visit that does not fall within the limited definition of “tourist activities”.

The categories codified in 2000 entitled to a specific or general (self-qualifying) license are:

(1) Family visits

(2) Official business

(3) Journalistic activity

(4) Professional research

(5) Educational activities

(6) Religious activities

(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and


(8) Support for the Cuban people

(9) Humanitarian projects

(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials

(12) Certain export transactions

Categories 4 to 9 offer particularly broad interpretation. “Educational activities” had already, under pre-2004 OFAC licensing, come to mean a wide range of people-to-people exchanges. The benefit of a general license is that no bureaucratic delay or partisan vetting is possible because prior approval and post-trip reporting are not required. Even if OFAC retained redundant Cuba staff with Bush era political agendas, second guessing of general license use is impractical except in the case of flagrant public disregard of the non-tourist prohibition, e.g. commercial promotion of a holiday at a beach resort or conventional cruise line itineraries.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cruise opportunity

• Almost as soon as news surfaced some time ago that Fidel Castro had resigned as president of Cuba, the cruise industry started buzzing about the possibility of being able to sail to the Caribbean's largest island. A leisure travel analyst with UBS Investment Research said the "potential for Cuba to be opened to American tourism represents a significant opportunity for cruise operators."

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin in Rochester, MN. He can be reached at (507) 285-7704.