The Cuban Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos Garcia Granda, delivered a succinct and powerful message to about 50 travel industry guests in the Old Port of Montreal, between waves of the river, the Jacques-Cartier bridge, salmon, asparagus and sangria on the Bateau-Mouche.
"The Cuban tourism industry is still growing. Despite the pandemic, there has been a 4.5% growth in construction activities," said Minister Juan Carlos Garcia Granda. And we have high hopes for the return of travelers, this year in 2022."
The minister listed the sectors that make up Cuba's tourism offer that were put under a microscope of brainstorming and reformulating in recent months. It would have been easier to list offerings which were not dissected and re-examined.
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Cuba's tourism Minister had a simple appeal. "Please, we need you. We need to increase the number of visitors. From Canada, we have only 57 flights per week. This is not enough to reach our goals for the year 2022 to welcome 2.5 million visitors."
"In 2021, Canada lost its first place (as the number one source of visitors to Cuba). It was from Russia that travelers came in greater numbers. It was not a normal year. But since then, there are no more flights from Russia because of the conflict and Canada has regained its first place," partly also thanks to Canada's relaxation of travel restrictions, he said.
"We would like you to look at our destination in a different way. Our offering goes far beyond our 600 beaches," the minister said, citing a list of other riches which include 9 UNESCO sites, 4 intangible cultural heritages, 6 biosphere reserves, 14 national parks, and 277 national monuments, with more in development.
"We want to further develop rural tourism. We are convinced that our country can help UNWTO to benefit from this sector at home. Birdwatching, diving, museum tourism are also products for which we are hopeful. And heritage tourism more than anything else. Our country is one of the few on the continent that preserves its heritage sites so well."
Big Changes for Tourism Operations
"Due to the results of the blockade and the additional measures taken by the United States, the U.S. dollar cannot be used as a currency of exchange in Cuba," the minister went on to explain.
"We are in the process of preparing our Cuban people for the use of credit cards. We have also introduced a prepaid card in the exchange offices." This will prevent the need for cash, he added.
Shuttle services are also going to see changes, with an increase in transfers between airports and hotels underway.
Provisioning for resorts is also being improved: "It is through public and private companies in our country that we plan to improve supplies to the hotels. We know that some Canadians are dissatisfied with the food here. But please know that we are working very hard to improve conditions."
Technology is also coming into play, especially for border services. The Viajeros platform launched during the pandemic, and authorities are counting on it to continue offering technological services to smooth arrivals and departures processes into and out of Cuba.
"It is no longer necessary for travelers to fill out a form on board the plane. The traveler will be able to check in online and obtain a QR code to speed up his arrival and passage through the airport. And it will ease the workload of aviation staff," he explained.
After the nuts and bolts, the fun parts: diversity, the kindness of the people, climate, flavors and aromas, culture, the National Ballet of Cuba, theater, the Cigar Route and newer experiences, like a focus on local cocktails and spirits.
The event ended on a grateful note, when the Minister thanked the doctors and scientists of his country who managed the pandemic and created not 1, but 5 vaccines against Covid-19. "This is a miracle for Cuba, when you don't dismiss the idea that our country is not able to buy products like the Pfizer vaccine. And today, 99% of the Cuban population is already immunized," said Juan Carlos Garcia Granda.
A similar event for the trade was also held in Toronto.