U.S. weighs opening travel to Cuba
Even as Cuba starts work on new hotels and its tourist infrastructure, the House and Senate appear to have strong support for ending the U.S. ban on tourism to Cuba.
By Jonathan J. Levin
Copyright 2010 Associated Press
April 3, 2010
Cuba's hotels could manage a sudden influx of 1 million American tourists if Congress lifts its 47-year ban on travel to the communist island, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.
Additionally, the Caribbean nation is set to expand its capacity of about 50,000 rooms, with groundbreaking scheduled for least nine hotels this year, according to Marrero. About 200,000 rooms may be added in the "medium to long term," he added. Cuba also is seeking investment partners for 10 golf courses and luxury hotels aimed at Americans.
"I'm convinced that today, with the available capacity, we could be receiving the American tourists without any problem," Marrero said in an interview recently in Cancun, Mexico, where he was attending a conference of 40 American and Cuban tourist industry representatives.
The tourism meeting came as Congress considers a law that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., one of 38 co-sponsors of the bill, said he has 60 votes lined up to win passage of the measure this summer. Similar legislation introduced in the House has 178 co-sponsors and needs 218 votes to pass if all 435 members vote.
"This is a 50-year-old failed policy," Dorgan told the meeting by phone from Washington. "Punishing Americans by restricting their right to travel just makes no sense at all."
President Barack Obama has said he seeks a "new era" in relations with Cuba even as he denounced "deeply disturbing" human rights violations by its government. He did not say where he stands on lifting the travel ban.
Obama last year ended restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and transferring money to relatives there. The U.S. State Department also held talks in Havana with Cuban officials about restoring mail service and cooperation on migration issues.
Tourism to Cuba increased 3.5 percent amid the global financial crisis to 2.4 million visitors last year, with 900,000 visitors from Canada leading the way, according to Jose Manuel Bisbe, commercial director for the Tourism Ministry.
Bisbe expects foreign arrivals to grow by a similar amount this year. If the U.S. travel ban is lifted, hotels won't be overburdened because Americans will visit year round and face capacity problems only during the winter high season, when occupancy reaches 85 percent, he said.
"Havana has been the forbidden city for so long that it will be a boom destination even in the low season," Bisbe said.
Cubans Detail Tourism Development, Infrastructure and Investment Opportunity
March 26, 2010
CUBANS DETAIL TOURISM DEVELOPMENT, INFRASTRUCTURE AND INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
Senator Dorgan Optimistic on Travel Bill
CANCUN-During a day filled with excellent reports on the expansive and growing tourism product in Cuba, both government and travel industry leaders described the prospective business opportunities on the island to a packed house of United States tourism business professionals on March 25 at the U. S. Cuba Travel Summit in Cancun.
The featured summit speaker Thursday was Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, who outlined the growth of hotel room inventory throughout the nation, including many four and five star properties and a significant number of joint projects with international investors, expansion of Cuba's airports from three to ten, a fleet of motorcoaches and over 10,000 rental cars, fishing and sailing vessels, beaches along all the shores, cultural and heritage sites and a delightful variety of eco-tourism sites.
Minister Marrero also spoke to the open opportunity worldwide for joint investment projects, especially in the area of resort hotel development and hotel management.
"The Cubans have provided us with a fairly complete picture of their tourism product and future opportunities for U.S. businesses to work in this market," said NTA President Lisa Simon, CTP. "We are very excited to have this information and look forward to a follow up conference next year in Cuba, should the legislation pending in Congress be approved."
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) addressed the Summit by teleconference and expressed his confidence that the current bill (S 428), which authorizes open U.S. travel to Cuba, could meet the 60 vote threshold required in the U.S. Senate this year, giving the conference extra momentum. He asked the Cuban delegates to assist the movement of the legislation by helping to resolve controversies that could impede passage.
Five panels supplemented Minister Marrero's presentation. Miguel Figueras, senior advisor to the Minister of Tourism, provided a statistical analysis of Cuba's tourism growth. Katia Alonzo, director of the Ministry of Foreign Trade & Investment, detailed a broad range of investment opportunities and information on laws, responsibilities, taxes and profit potential for foreign investors. First Vice President of the Cuban Institute of Civil Aeronautics Argimiro Ojeda addressed utilization of airport development and aeronautic technology while First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Transportation Joel Archer highlighted ports, cruise activity potential growth and highway improvement.
Travel sector leaders from Gaviota, an ecotourism focused company, Havanatur, SanCristobal, Palmares, Cubanacan, Gran Caribe, Oasis Hotels and Sol Media Cuba, all of which operate either receptive tourism services, hotels, or both, and Marinas Marlin, a deep sea fishing operator, each had an opportunity to expand on key information of interest to the U.S. delegates.
The U.S.-Cuba Travel Summit is presented by Alamar Associates in association with NTA and is sponsored by the United States Tour Operators Association.
NTA is the leading association for professionals serving travelers to, from and within North America. Since its founding in 1951, the association has served a broad and diverse membership and helped them expand market reach with innovative business tools, strategic relationships and collaboration within the industry. NTA membership represents more than 40 countries. To learn more about NTA, please visit NTAonline.com/.